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Community Project: Japan's National Sports Festivals


Coordinator: Douglas Shukert
Posted to The Community December 12, 2002. Revised March 6, 2003.
UPDATES May 13, June 18, July 27, August 19, and Sept 9, 2003.
(click on date to page down)

Japan Times column on the Kokutai: "A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?: National Sports Festival bars gaijin, and amateur leagues follow suit" (Sept 30, 2003)


The Kokutai is a huge annual athletic event designed to promote physical fitness for Japanese citizens. As such, foreign residents of Japan are restricted or excluded from participating in the event. The exclusion or restriction of these foreigners is a clear violation of the United Nations Declaration Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination that Japan signed in 1995.

In addition:



What is the Kokutai?

The National Sports Festival (or Kokutai) is Japan's largest national sports meet. It is held in three sessions annually (winter, summer, and fall). As many as 30,000 Japanese athletes compete each year, and the event can consume more than 50 billion yen in tax money annually (the lion's share coming from the host prefecture). The first National Sports Festival was held in 1946 in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region, mainly in Kyoto. Since then, the Festival has been held every year with prefectures competing against one another, with prefectures hosting the festival in succession. In 1961, the National Sports Festival was made an official annual event under the Sports Promotion Law, and since then the festivals have been held jointly by the Japan Amateur Sports Association, the Ministry of Education, and the hosting prefectures.

Sports Held in Each Session (As of May, 1999)
Winter Session Official sports:
Skiing, ice skating, ice hockey

Summer Session Official sports:
Swimming, boating, yachting, canoeing, bowling, golf

Fall Session Official sports:
Track and field, soccer, tennis, field hockey, boxing, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball, wresting, weight lifting, handball, cycling, soft tennis, table tennis, rubber-ball baseball, sumo wrestling, equestrian, fencing, judo, softball, badminton, kyudo, rifle shooting, kendo, rugby football, mountaineering, archery, karatedo, jukendo, clay-pigeon shooting, naginata

Exhibition sports:
High school baseball, sports arts

Referential Web Links

in English:

in Japanese:


My motto is "All sports for all people". My goal is to eliminate all artificial restrictions (even nationality) in all sports. I see no legitimate reason for preventing someone from participating in sports at any level. Even at the Olympic level, sports are just a game, played for fun. It doesn't matter if you win or lose; the important thing is to participate. Foreigners living in Japan cannot "fly home" every time they want to play some sport. Banning foreign residents is a violation of their rights of equality, freedom, and property (i.e. taxation--see below). Showing Japan's sports organizations that it is okay to ban foreigners is a violation of a foreign person's honor (a right in Asia, but almost impossible to prove in court).

My target is the Japan Amateur Sports Association (JASA) or Nihon Tai-iku Kyoukai. The Monbukagakushou provides financial support; however, most of the money for the Kokutai comes from the prefectures. Every prefecture has an amateur sports association under JASA to coordinate sending their athletes to the Kokutai. In Miyagi it is the Miyagi Amateur Sports Association (MASA) or Miyagi Tai-iku Kyoukai. There are 47 such associations in Japan. They are also targets, but in my case since I live in Miyagi, I can only complain about MASA. Under MASA are the prefecture sports organizations responsible for their individual sports. In Miyagi there are some 73 prefecture sports organizations.

(The "Foreigner as Taxpayer" argument has supporting precedent Tax money is tax money and access to its fruits legally cannot be denied to taxpayers. See AZUMAMURA CASE (1998): Public-sector swimming pool lifts ban against foreign swimmers because they were taxpayers


1. Rights: The question is whether or not foreigners have a right to participate in the Kokutai. An argument raised was that no, the Kokutai is not a business open to the general public. Access to businesses (like bathhouses) that are open to the general public is only one of our rights. The UN Convention on Racial Discrimination also states that exclusion from cultural activities (e.g. the Kokutai) is also a violation of a human rights.

My opinion is, if you are paying for it in taxes, you have a right to participate. The UN Declaration states that governments cannot support groups (like JASA) that practice discrimination.

2. Citizenship: Another argument raised was that the State (i.e. the Japanese government) is free to ignore the UN Declaration in its treatment of citizens and non-citizens. This rule is meant to keep foreigners from voting or getting into politics. JASA and other sports organizations in Japan are non-profit organizations supported by the government, not part of the government. So, I do not believe this rule gives them permission to ban foreign residents from sports.

3. Racial Discrimination: The abovementioned UN Convention states that any distinction that prevents someone from enjoying fundamental freedoms and human rights, but in particular distinctions regarding race, color, or ethnic origin is racial discrimination. One argument raised was that discrimination based on citizenship cannot be considered racial discrimination. My feeling is that it could easily become so, i.e. since many Japanese (particularly those in positions of authority) have express agreement towards Japanese society as homogeneous, they can use (and have used, in my opinion) the citizenship requirement to exclude people who are not like them. Particularly if the rules are only meant to keep inherently "superior" non-Japanese from competing with Japanese, then this clearly borders on racial discrimination.

4. Olympics: Another argument was made that the Olympics routinely choose athletes based upon national origin, therefore sports events which may produce Olympic-level athletes may be justified in banning foreigners (who after all cannot represent Japan in the Olympics). My counterargument: the JOC broke away from JASA in 1992, so that the JOC could concentrate on serious athletes, and JASA could promote sports for the general public, i.e. "Sports for All [Japanese]". JASA should not be using its resources to train athletes for the JOC.

In the end we are talking only about amateur athletics. Since the Olympics allows professionals, most Olympic athletes come from professional sports. If JASA is interested in developing amateur athletes, then prohibiting outstanding foreign athletes from training with Japanese athletes for international competition is in fact the worst thing they could do.

Very few athletic meets produce Olympians. Banning all foreigners from even lower-level competitions, including the Kokutai for this reason is misguided.

My Personal Experience with accessibility in Japanese sports
Author: Douglas Shukert (

(All views herein are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Community at large)

I first came to Japan in the summer of 1987. I had played ice hockey most of my life and was lucky enough to get on a team in Yokohama. In America I am a mediocre Senior A player, but in Japan, I am a superstar. In 1988 the team won the Kanagawa-ken championship, qualified for the national tournament, and I got my first taste of discrimination. In those days foreign players were not allowed in the Japan League (Japan's top league) or in any national tournament. So when the team left for the nationals, I was left behind in Yokohama. I fumed, walked off the team, staged a one-man protest, and wrote letters to the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Japan Ice Hockey Federation. At that time I did not fully appreciate what our team manager went through for me, but somehow miraculously he got the rules changed so that two foreign players were allowed on each team in the Japan League and in national tournaments. To me it was still discrimination, but at least I was allowed to play.

In 1990 I moved to Salzburg, Austria and ran into the same kind of discrimination. In Austria almost every league at every level is restricted to having two foreign players per team. The problem in Austria was that it was easy for teams to recruit outstanding players from Czech or Germany, pushing other residents like me into the bowels of mediocre ice hockey. In other words I was forced to play in a league well below my ability because of the fierce competition for the few available foreign player spots.

I moved to Sendai in April of 1999 and hoped to continue my hobby of playing ice hockey. Ice hockey in Miyagi is controlled by the Miyagi Ice Hockey Federation (MIHF). Hockey for adults is split into two leagues, one league of 8 teams for serious players and a second league of about 12 teams for women, the handicapped, people learning how to skate, and foreigners. No foreigners were allowed in the top league. The winners of the top league went on to represent Miyagi-ken in national tournaments and the Kokutai (where foreigners are also not allowed); and therefore, there was no need to allow foreigners into the league at all. So again I complained, wrote letters, etc. and two things happened. First, I was banned from hockey in Miyagi (not formally of course, because that would be more problematic) and second, foreigners were allowed to play in the competitive league. Now, there is exactly one foreigner player in that league, and he is there to show everyone that MIHF does not discriminate.

The Law on Human Rights

Japan signed the UN Declaration Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1995. The law says that sports organizations cannot discriminate on the basis of "National Origin." Does "National Origin" mean a foreigner, or does it mean a Japanese Citizen who was a foreigner? The fine print says that the laws are only applicable to people who have the right of citizenship. If the law against racial discrimination is only applicable to Japanese Citizens, then it has no meaning, because the equality of all Japanese is already guaranteed in Article 14 of the Constitution.

In Japan, human rights are granted by the Constitution. In America, human rights are universal; that is, if you are born a human, then you have human rights. Laws are only made to protect people's rights. The basic concept behind human rights is that all people are equal, and their rights are equal. The only trouble occurs when one person's rights clash with another's. Since all humans are equal, there is no question that one's rights do not depend on one's nationality, country of residence, salary, color or anything else.

Of the basic human rights, the three most commonly acccepted are: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. All other rights are just outcomes of these three. Since no one understands the concept of the pursuit of happiness, I like to replace it with the right of property or the right of ownership, in other words it is my right to "own" things. When we talk about breaking the law, we are talking about breaking other people's rights. If I steal money from someone, it is against the law. Not because stealing is bad and the Bible says so, but because I have violated someone's right of ownership (by taking something that belongs to him).

In the case of Japan's sports organizations, they are taking money in the form of taxes from foreign residents and using that money to support sporting events that those same foreign residents are not allowed to attend. It would be as if there were a Christmas party at work, the cost of which was deducted from everyone's salary, but only Japanese employees were allowed to attend. It is a violation of the foreigner's right of ownership, and therefore, should be against the law.

Personally, I see absolutely no difference between banning foreigners from some private sports club in Shinjuku and banning foreigners from the annual Kokutai. The only difference that I can see is that in the case of the sports club, foreigners are excluded before they pay. In the case of the Kokutai, foreigners pay (with taxes) and then they are excluded.

UPDATE MAY 13, 2003

From: Douglas Shukert <>
Date: Tue, 13 May 2003 16:58:53 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [communityinjapan] Kokutai Update

I had a big day in court yesterday.

Just when I thought the judge was going to throw out my case, he surprised everyone and all but demanded that Miyagi Ice Hockey Federation's (MIHF) president, Mr. Isawa, appear in court and clarify all the discrepancies between depositions that Isawa has filed with the court and the 104 pages of evidence that I presented last month. Actually, since the judge cannot demand the appearance of a witness, after MIHF's attorney refused to call Isawa, the judge asked me to do it. He even faxed me a copy of the form I need to fill out to call a witness. Sometimes it pays to be a foreigner, because I am sure that the same service would not be extended to a Japanese plaintiff. The judge also made it very clear that if I did not have any questions for Isawa, then the judges would ask a few. They even seem to be anxious, as they set the next meeting for June 17. (The judges had wanted to meet on June 3, but there were too many schedule conflicts.)

Anyway, it's a good sign. But as I tried to explain to the judge, just because Isawa is put in the hot seat (so to speak) doesn't mean he will suddenly start telling the truth. The most likely outcome is that Isawa will lie in court, we'll file for perjury, and since perjury cases are rarely tried in Japan (according to my lawyer), that will be the end of it.

There was another interesting outcome, Miyagi Ken admitted that even though foreigners are not part of the "Kokumin" they are part of the "Kenmin". Up till now, I thought that Miyagi would claim that since foreigners are not on the "Juuminhyou" they are not legal residents and therefore cannot be considered to be "Kenmin". But to my surprise, Miyagi did not try that argument. It is an important point, because when the Kokutai was put on trial ten years ago in Fukushima, the judge declared that the Kokutai was an event for the "Kokumin" and the "Kenmin". In other words, if foreigners are "Kenmin" and the Kokutai is for both "Kokumin" and "Kenmin" then the Kokutai should be for foreigners, too.

The argument I am getting from Miyagi Ken is since the purpose of the Kokutai is not racial discrimination, then the exclusion of foreigners cannot be considered to be illegal. Anyone have any thoughts on this? (To me, it is kind of like involuntary manslaughter, that is, they don't mean to do it, but it happens.)

Best regards from Sendai,
Douglas Shukert (

P.S. If anyone wants to have a mini rally at the upcoming fall Kokutai in Shizuoka, I would be very happy to organize something. Because I will be there at any rate.

UPDATE JUNE 18, 2003

From: Douglas Shukert <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003 17:01:31 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [Community] Kokutai Update

Kokutai Update 2003.6.19.2003

It's all over but the verdict. Miyagi Ice Hockey Federation's president, Heiichi Isawa, presented testimony to Sendai's High Court on Tuesday, June 17 during the final meeting in Sendai. The verdict will be delivered on July 25, and then it's off to Tokyo and the Supreme Court. As we suspected, Isawa lied shamelessly, even though I had tried hard to structure our questions so that he would not have to lie. Several times he contradicted evidence that had already been presented. Several times he even contradicted himself. He even mumbled something about being "under oath" and therefore, could not tell a lie. I almost burst out laughing. But this leads me to an interesting point. I do not know what Debito's experience is, but I have been amazed at how the Japanese (who have a reputation of being honest and law-abiding) lie like dogs in court. And yet, lawyers and judges take it all in as if it was standard practice. I wonder if judges are experts at telling who lies and who doesn't, or (as Isawa feebly tried to point out) they must believe everything a witness says simply because he is under oath.

In my case with the police, not only have the police lied by creating an elaborate fictional variation of the event, they have gone so far as to fabricate evidence to back up their story. If the police are immoral enough to falsify evidence in a civil case, what is there to prevent them from doing the same in a criminal case? It's a pretty scary thought.

But, it's all under the bridge, now. The only thing left to do is wait for the verdict. We made some good points and some not-so-good points. I would sure like to write a critique of Isawa's testimony before the verdict, but I guess that will have to wait for the Supreme Court. My feeling is that the court will decide that Isawa had legitimate reasons for banning foreigners (e.g. keeping out overpowering Canadian and Russian players in order to allow Japanese players to develop), and therefore, banning foreign athletes cannot be considered "irrational discrimination" and they will uphold the lower court's ruling. But I could be wrong.

By the way, did everyone order your 2003 Kokutai opening ceremony tickets? Sale ends 7/15. You can call Shizuoka Prefecture's office at 054-221-3683 or visit I have not received mine yet. I imagine ticket requests from Sendai are being carefully scrutinized. And any of you athletes out there who want to compete (Joel?), just go down to your prefectural amateur sports association and ask for an application form. I did yesterday. By law, they cannot refuse you on the basis of nationality.

Best regards from Sendai,
Douglas Shukert

UPDATE JULY 27, 2003

From: Douglas Shukert <>
Date: Sun, 27 Jul 2003 17:04:08 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [Community] Strike Two

Well, the verdict is in, and it is not pretty. Sendai's High Court upheld the district courts decision in its entirety. Foreigners have no right to participate in sports in Japan, the government can use our taxes for any purpose it desires and "reasonable" discrimination of foreigners cannot be considered to be illegal. The reasoning being the decision is as follows:

1. As many people on the list have already pointed out, since the average Japanese is not as capable in sports, it is unfair to expect them to compete against bigger, stronger and smarter foreigners.

2. As someone else on this list already pointed out, it is the sovereign right of kings, dictators and fascist governments to use people's taxes as they see fit. This includes using your taxes to support sporting events and organizations that you are not allowed to join. You may consider your taxes as "gratitude" for being allowed to live in this wonderful country with all its social benefits.

3. All laws in Japan are flexible. As someone else has already pointed out, even though Japan signed the Declaration Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination in 1996, how faithfully that treaty is followed will be determined by the people and the courts.

So now it is up to Japan's Supreme Court to decide if I am allowed to play ice hockey in Japan or not. It is hard to say where this trial went wrong. My feeling is that it is just too much to chew in one bite. A lawsuit may not have been the best way to attack this problem. Japanese courts do not necessarily follow law or logic. My impression is that the verdict is decided first, and then the reasons. Judges may be constrained by civil law #90, which states that decisions cannot be contrary to society. Since the government and government organizations supposedly represent the people, judges may be reluctant to make decisions against those government organizations. I believe Debito is running into the same situation in his case against the city.

Someone on this list also suggested that the courts can be used by anyone. From my experience, my advice is to avoid the courts as much as possible. Even if you are successful, it is a long, expensive, frustrating process. And the social stigma attached to being in court is not worth the effort.

Best regards from Sendai,
Douglas Shukert


From: Douglas Shukert <>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2003 21:04:28 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: [Community] Re: Kokutai Case

I just wanted to clear up a few points from a previous posting. Scott mentioned that courts are not meant to force teams to befriend everyone. He also said something about the use of taxes. I just have 2 points to make:

1) These teams, leagues, tournaments and sports associations are supported in part by everyone's taxes. That is the main point of this case. In some cases (e.g. the Kokutai, Kokutai qualification tournaments, the Miyagi Amateur Sports Association, the Japan Ice Hockey Association, etc.) they are supported almost entirely by taxes. I do not think that making me pay for something I am not allowed to participate in is right.

The funny part is that independent teams (that is, teams that are not in part supported by taxes) welcome everybody, because they need the revenue.

2) Teams cannot reject players for illegal reasons, i.e. because I am a "gaijin." Both the UN Declaration Against Racial Discrimination and the Law for the Promotion of Human Rights Awareness make it illegal for even individuals to practice or promote racial discrimination. (But, of course, as we all know, "racial" discrimination as defined by the Japanese does not exist in Japan.)

Best regards,
Douglas Shukert
President of the Association to Abolish
Racial Discrimination in Sports, AARDS


From: Arudou Debito <>
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2003 09:14:40 +0900
Subject: Re: [Community] Ministry of Injustice

At 5:01 PM -0700 03.9.8, Douglas Shukert wrote:
> Last week I went to the District Attorney's office to
> file perjury charges against Detective Chiba for his
> false testimony on 2/13, 4/24 and 7/10 and against
> Miyagi Ice Hockey's president, Heiichi Isawa, for his
> false testimony in court on 6/17. I could have filed
> charges at police HQ, but since the police have failed
> in 1 1/2 years to do anything about the criminal
> charges I filed on 2001.4.5, I thought I would be
> smart this time and file directly with the DA.

> Well, the DA is even worse than police HQ, as the DA
> would not even register my complaint until they
> complete an "initial investigation." In other words
> there will not even be a record that I filed a
> complaint. The result is, here are 5 more Japanese
> criminals who will not appear on any criminal statistic report.

Douglas S, for what it's worth, I heartily commend you for your
follow-through on this issue. I bet they never expected you to go so far as
to file a complaint for perjury, and it's very good you did, even if it was
rejected. So file again.

Did you or your lawyers let the media know about this? That's what they're
for at a time like this. Now it's time for the media (and yourself) to keep
pressure up for a clarification of a timeframe for that "initial investigation".
Keep filing until you get that timeframe. Once you have an
approximate date, the clock starts running, and it's all grist for the mill
later when it becomes clear that they don't intend to keep their promises.
Clearly the DA is not going to cooperate with prosecuting one of their own.
But the fact you made that clear matters. Now make it as public as you can
by staying the course.

Think of the Otaru Onsen Racial Discrimination Lawsuit, for example.
When I wrote my Sept 4 Statement for the Sapporo High Court, remember, there
was years of water under the bridge, and lots of evidence that the City of
Otaru did nothing, and even avoided doing something (to the point of even
excluding foreigners from their shingikai) about discrimination in their
jurisdiction. But the fact that we were completely refused any inputs into
the deliberation process is what may come back to bite Otaru in the end.
Maybe (and probably) not, but it's better than the alterative of not having
that evidence to cite.

Douglas S, don't let the frustration get you down. The stonewalling is
precisely what you must expose. It may even work in your favor if you can
get a media record of it. The more stonewalling there is, the more patterns
will emerge. And the more third parties will start studying what you're
doing. The Otaru Case is attracting a lot of academic attention, for
starters, and the media is referring to it all over again with the recent
discovery of a new Monbetsu onsen refusing foreigners. (Big news yesterday
morning in the papers and on the TV yesterday afternoon. Report from me to

You are doing the right thing, Douglas S. Keep it up. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

REFERENCE MATERIAL: Japan Times column on the Kokutai: "A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD?: National Sports Festival bars gaijin, and amateur leagues follow suit" (Sept 30, 2003)


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