Photo/IllutrationMasaji Tabata is seen at the National Stadium, the main venue of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Courtesy of Kazuhiro Tabata)

Masaji Tabata (1898-1984), known as the father of Japan’s swimming circles, was a key figure in the efforts to bring the 1964 Summer Olympics to Tokyo.

Tabata is the main protagonist in the second half of Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK)’s yearlong period TV drama series “Idaten,” which is airing every Sunday. The second part begins June 30. He was also a political beat reporter working for The Asahi Shimbun Co.

A native of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Tabata joined the newspaper publisher in 1924 in the late Taisho Era (1912-1926) and worked on the front lines of political reporting. He interviewed such political heavyweights as Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959) and Tsuyoshi Inukai (1855-1932), whose strong trust he managed to win.

Tabata had a long, intimate talk with Inukai at his office only days before the prime minister was killed by an assassin’s bullet during an attempted coup known as the May 15 Incident.

In free moments between his interviews and other assignments, Tabata would pay frequent visits to his hometown, where he encouraged swim club members. He became so intent on coaching that he often left Tokyo without his employer’s permission. He once told a junior colleague that he got a good scolding many times over after revelations of his absence from work.

During the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932 and in Berlin four years later, Tabata enjoyed lengthy stays in the host cities as a leader of an athletes’ team. It's safe to say his employer was a little less strict about showing up for work back then.

“Tabata is half reporter and half swimmer,” someone in the upper ranks of The Asahi Shimbun likely said to defend his conduct.

In the meantime, Tabata went so far as talking in person to Korekiyo Takahashi (1854-1936), finance minister at the time, ahead of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, winning from him the financing to send a team of swimmers to the event.

After World War II ended, Tabata became president of the Japan Swimming Federation and soon left The Asahi Shimbun. He served as secretary-general of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee and died in 1984.

“He was, by nature, single-minded and straightforward,” said Tabata’s son Kazuhiro, 79. “Awake or asleep, he was always thinking about swimming and the Olympic Games.”

The serial TV drama will likely revolve around the process leading up to the last time the Games were held in Tokyo.

As a modern-day colleague of his, working for the same newspaper many decades later, I'm personally looking forward to seeing how it depicts a news reporter from the prewar and wartime periods.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 28

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.