Thursday, 16 August 2018

Why sport in Japan is often brutal

Why sport in Japan is often brutal
27 May

I think it is pretty clear to everyone that Nihon University American football head coach Masato Uchida and assistant coach Tsutomu Inoue told their quarterback Taisuke Miyagawa to injure the Kwansei Gakuin University quarterback. In their press conference they said he misunderstood their orders. Probably what they meant was injure the quarterback, but not so blatantly that it would go viral.

Sports in Japan is still feudal in some areas and violence toward players is tolerated by the institutions because they want to win and gain prestige. Isolated incident, you may be thinking? Think again.

Do you remember a few years ago when the Sakuranomiya High School basketball captain chose death by suicide, rather than face another demeaning day of 30 slaps in the face from his coach? The coach “got results,” so his coaching methods were accepted for 18 years at that school. Eighteen years baby!!! The leadership of that school was quite okay with the coach slapping students in the face 30 times a day.  How could that be?

That’s just high school, right? No!

How about when Japanese Olympic judo coach Ryuji Sonoda was described as a “sadist” in the Japan Olympic Committee’s investigation of judo coach violence.  This came to light only after the protest of elite female Olympic athletes complaining about his violent methods of instruction, “our dignity as humans was disgraced”.

Women’s volleyball in Japan is legendary for the defending diving drills, that are repeated with a ferocity and frequency designed to break you mentally and physically to supposedly toughen you up. Recently we have had professional sumo athletes getting bashed with baseball bats, killing one. In other cases, coaches and seniors used beer bottles and TV controllers to injure the junior athletes in their care.

Why? Where is this coming from?

Military drill sergeants were sent into the school system from the 1920s to toughen up the younger generation, so they could become cannon fodder for the empire. This wasn’t one or two schools. This was a coordinated effort to use violence on entire generations of the young. Japanese officers’ violence toward new conscripts, entering the Imperial forces from the late 1930s, was designed to mold youth for death or glory for the emperor. Brutalisation was at the core of the instruction.

In the postwar period, the sempai-kohai or senior-junior system kept these harsh realities going for students doing sports.  You must obey your coaches and your school seniors. This is straight out of the feudal samurai code of total obedience. These are not samurai warrior philosophers though. These are nobody ego maniac adults with power and younger spotty faced megalomaniacs, who have seized control of you, because they are higher up the hierarchy than you, by age and stage. A perfect training ground for the leadership realities you will face perhaps, when you enter a big Japanese company?

In Japan, bosses slapping subordinates who made errors has only gone out of style in the last five minutes by the way. Power harassment was a term you never heard of in Japan until very, very  recently.

I have been doing Japanese traditional karate for 46 years and have seen plenty of sempai using violence on kohai in Japan, under the pretense of strengthening their spirit. It is all about power. They call it tough love to confuse those on the receiving end. There is no love involved here, just tough beatings.

Of course, there are plenty of cases of demonic coaches and brutalisation of juniors in education and sports in the West too.  Japan being Japan though, has codified it, institutionalized it, at scale. Watch carefully. The leaders of the organisations involved always unite against the victims until public pressure makes them go after the perpetrators. This is the 21st century.  It would be good if educational and sports organizations here joined it.

Dr Greg Story is the president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.

© Japan Today


« »


Related Articles