Judo in Japan: Getting unwanted scrutiny for abuse, violence

TOKYO (AP) - Japan is home to judo, and the 19th century martial arts are sure to get more exposure than any other sport at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
But it also attracts unwanted investigations into widespread allegations of violence and the related injuries, ill-treatment and more than 100 deaths in Japan over the past few decades attributed to judo and its military-style training methods.
"I find it sad that judo is perceived as extremely dangerous and Japan's judo world needs to take it seriously," said Yasuhiro Yamashita, director of the All Japan Judo Federation, in an interview with the Associated Press.
Yamashita is also an Olympic legend - an Olympic gold medalist, a member of the International Olympic Committee, and the President of the Japanese Olympic Committee. He openly admitted that the problems in Japan are serious and that some injuries result from punishment in training.
The national judo hierarchy says it has focused on a solution for several years, but more needs to be done.
"The problem is that the news has not yet reached everyone on the grassroots," said Yamashita.
Yamashita overcame a leg injury and won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He hobbled onto the podium at the awards ceremony. He preaches that judo's attraction is to develop one's body and character.
“You share the joy with your team, you respect your opponent, you learn to control yourself. You can learn so much, not just win or lose, ”said Yamashita, who became head of Japan's Olympic Committee last year after his predecessor stepped down in a bribery scandal.
Judo, which was developed to use the strength of an opponent to create throws and pins, means "gentle way" in Japanese. However, critics say the way it is playing out in Japan was far from good.
From 1983 to 2016, 121 judo deaths were reported in Japan, according to the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association. This number applies to schools, but not to extracurricular dojos - martial arts schools - for which data are not available.
The training of "hard love" is associated with high costs. In 2019, a fifth grader died of a blood clot after hitting his head while sparring. In another case, also last year, a fourth grader was seriously injured after a litter, according to the victims' association.
The popularity of judo in Japan also appears to be waning compared to other sports such as baseball and soccer.
Michel Brousse, a judo expert in France and elsewhere, believes the problems are so serious that there is "no future for judo" in Japan unless addressed soon.
"No other country in the world has so many injuries," Brousse said in a telephone interview.
One problem is that judo teachers in Japan are usually good at judo but cannot handle the physical and psychological needs of teens, said Brousse, a seventh-degree black belt who recently retired from teaching at Bordeaux University Has.
Sexual abuse is also a problem.
In 2011, Masato Uchishiba, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was arrested for sexually assaulting one of his judo students. He pleaded innocent and said the sex was consensual. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2013.
In 2013, 15 Japanese female judo athletes anonymously released a statement alleging widespread violence and harassment in the judo community.
A recent report on sports organizations in Japan, including judo, published by Human Rights Watch said there was a lack of a standard for sanctions against abusive coaches, complaints were not properly handled, and public information on abuse reports or investigations was not available.
Noriko Mizoguchi, an Olympic silver medalist at Japan Women's College of Physical Education who has also taught in France, remembered her students in France, whom she called "Noriko". This is unthinkable in strictly hierarchical Japan.
In Japan, judo students are expected to only respond with a “shark” or “yes” and never address a manager by their first name, Mizoguchi said.
In Japan, beating and harassment are also part of the Spartan methods of judo, based on the nation's brutal militaristic training before and during World War II.
A ban on corporal punishment was made law in Japan only this year. In Japan, the pressure to win medals and trophies is extremely high. Students and parents have remained silent, and abusive coaches have gone unpunished.
"I feel like I have to speak up to stop the violence because I love judo and I was afraid that lives would be lost," said Mizoguchi.
"We're halfway there now and there is definitely more to do."
Keiko Kobayashi, a representative of the Judo Victims Association, emphasized that judo can be safe and noted that not a single child had died from judo in the US, France, Australia and the UK in the past 20 years.
Kobayashi's son suffered a brain hemorrhage 16 years ago after his junior high school teacher punished him with judo choke holds and throws and seriously injured him. The reason: he had refused to attend a sports school recommended by the teacher.
In a pattern that critics say is repeated over and over again, Teacher's actions were counted as an unfortunate accident. Kobayashi emphasized that she was not against judo, only against the violence in judo.
"I'm just determined to be the last person to go through such suffering," she said.
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Other AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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