13:06 22 mai

"Japan, at the edge of explosion"

Chronology and Introduction

 In L'Esprit du Judo n°43, we look at, in depth, the crisis that has engulfed Japanese judo, here are the main articles translated in English.                             

                                           Cover of the last magazine/ (c) L'Esprit du Judo


 : Satoshi Ishii, the 20 year old champion, gives up judo and goes into freefight

2009 : the japanese men’s team only bring two medals back and no gold. It's the worst campaign in their history

2009 : judo should be taught again in school in 2012. According to the government « it will help them return to the eternal values of Japan ». A press campaign reveals a culture of violence against young fighter in dojos. It will have a worldwide impact.

2011 :

30th November :  arrested and charged for rape on an underage girl, double Olympic champion (2004-2008) Masato Uchishiba is sent to jail

2012 :

Beginning of August : Japan loses its leadership for the first time in history after an extremely poor performance in the OG

14th September : Shinichi Shinohara is reelected manager of the men’s team

September : one of the national women fighter (said to be Megumi Tachimoto) complains of ill-treatment from Ryuji Sonoda,  women’s team manager.

October : after an internal inquiry, Sonoda is reprimanded and has to make a public apology

6th November : Shinohara quits. Kosei Inoue is elected to replace him. Ryuji Sonoda maintains her position


3th January : 15 of the high-level girls, complain about Ryuji Sonoda tothe Japanese Olympic Committee. Alleging insults, smacking, hitting with sticks and kicks…

31st January : Ryuji Sonoda resigns

February : Takeda Tsunekazu, JOC president, in charge of the « Tokyo 2020 » project, announces a national campaign against abuse in sport. He also creates an external comission charged with investigating judo excesses. The education, culture, sports, science and technology minister, Hakubun Shimonura, seeks a speedy conclusion to the investigation. He doesn’t want it to influence Tokyo’s application for the OG. He says that it is « the worst crisis in the history of Japanese sport»

4th February : Masato Uchishiba is sentenced to 5 years in jail. The victim was probably drugged with sleeping pills

5th February : Kazuhiko Tokuno, part of the women team training staff resigns, as does Kazuo Yoshimura (perfomance manager)

February/March : the  national press puts judo at the heart of the news. Revelations about Sonoda’s behaviour shows him to be a sadistic person. A famous columnist compares the AJJF to a  « stagnant marshland » and another says he is revolted by him not resigning

13th March : the Federation is accused of subsidy misappropriation

19th March : Nobuyuki Sato, from Tokai University, suggests that the Japanese Federation Board should resign. His proposal is not accepted.

20th March : the JOC launches an investigation into the alleged subsidy misappropriation.

22d March : the JOC announces a one year moratorium on the Federation’s subsidies beginning in April. The Federation loses two million euros.

27th March : Yasuhiro Yamashita, Haruki Uemura’s (President of the AJJF and of the Kodokan) main political opponent is appointed manager of « abuse eradication » in the AJJF


A strange scent has been floating around Japanese judo for a while. Very disturbing for the lovers of beautiful movement and of the japanese culture. In the calm and respected world of judo, unexpected and worrying elements – such as the forewarning gas and smoke at Fukushima. What were these semi-baroque and dramatic milestones that were left stranded by the upcoming crisis ? In 2008 after his heavy-weight title, Ishii said that he would not be Teddy Riner’s rival and that he was going into free-fight, sacrificing his career with no qualms whatsoever. How could this be possible in the powerful Japanese school ? A failure in 2009 when the whole mens team, with Shinohara at its head, totally missed the competition. The next day, we met an humiliated team, totally drunk in Rotterdam, « celebrating » this heavy defeat in an foreign country. A strange reaction to what we thought was good news for judo : the official come-back of Budo as a mandatory discipline in school in 2012. As soon as it was said, and enormous press campaign denounced violence on children in some dojos. From that moment, we started to ask questions ourselves. We had to understand it and in the same time to try and measure the outlines of the ideological forces  to which judo seemed to be the victim. It was the national symbol of a tough and demanding Japan, of an ethic caught in politics and attacked by the press, not really for its mistakes, but more about for what it represented. Things suddenly accelerated. First the revelations of the accusations against Uchishiba, double Olympic champion. The drift of a lonely man but also the beginning of a questioning, japanese judo's capacity to create cultivated, self-controlled individuals integrated into society. Then a staggering press conference where raw-nerved first team players and a weeping second team were introduced. Then the Olympics, a detonator. After the failure, the Japanese Federation could not prevent itself falling into crisis. It showed every one how incertain it became after the different accusations. We took the women's team's revelation with ambivalence. It was surprising to see how the press unleashed itself on a subject they seemed to be just discovering, when we thought it was part of their customs. Was judo victim of an unfair press campaign ? Was Sonoda an over-enthusiastic trainer as Haruki Uemura presented him ? This press campaign lost moderation, and the light it shows burns the eyes . A spark can suddenly set fire to anything when it is tinderdry
Decades of the untold  set the press  ablaze against japanese judo. Sonoda ? Mainly the incapacity of the federation to find someone else than him for the part, and the inability to understad what is and what will happen. For us, at L’Esprit du Judo, we have to be realistic : judo is not only victim of the social mutation of a schizophrenic Japan, of ideological wars it would not handle. It was guilty too. Guilty of its indiscrimination, of its lack of imagination and of its choices. Guilty of accepting these old habits when they became unbearable and worse, they went backwards instead of moving forward. Sad paradox, Tokyo would like to host the 2020 Olympics but all the scandals related to  judo have become a millstone to this application. Who said disappointing ? After the press campaign over the teachers' behaviour, the rapist champion scandal, the heavy defeat in London, the complaints about the abuses by the coaches the Japanese Federation was confronted in March to the revelation of misappropriation of funds which took away the last shreds of its dignity and backfired on everyone who still defended the federation. Now under surveillance by different commissions, the federation, mistreated and about to explode, is asked to do something quickly if it doesn’t want to die, maybe the only good news of the moment.
Whilst investigating this affair, we really wanted to do it with the critical distance you are used to, and opposing different points of view. This time though it is taken on the wings of troubling news. The opinions, judgements, perspectives, stories and analysis that we gathered from the different actors in this crisis, but also from various witnesses, to help you understand what is really happening, show, often with the bitterness of jilted lovers, the dark side of Japanese judo. A shadow that will impress you as it impressed us.

If you want to read more about this case, follow this link

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