SOME THOUGHTS ON THE 2004 ATHENS OLYMPICS:
PATRIOTISM AND THE JAPANESE MEDIA
PUTTING UNDUE PRESSURE ON OUR ATHLETES
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004. Hello All. Just got back from a 700-km
cycletrek around Hokkaido (Rumoi, Shumarinaiko, Monbetsu, Abashiri,
Shari, Shibetsu, and Nemuro). Also just finished working on the
first galley of book JAPANESE ONLY in English. Off on a driving trip
around Hokkaido from today for a week, but here's a quick essay
(and a related newspaper article) on something that's bugging me:
JAPAN'S OLYMPIC COVERAGE
ALL THIS SELF-DEFEATING PRESSURE ON WINNING
I have been watching as much Olympics as possible (on breaks from galley
proofing), and one thing getting up my nose has been the Japanese mass
media's commentary. Particularly the fathead who anchors sports for NHK
Sougou Terebi 7AM News.
Yesterday, after celebrating Judo Gold Medals for Japan (Tani and Nomura),
Fathead's face darkened as he read off the events where Japan did not win,
and, racking up the day's tally of medals with a convenient sight-prop, said
how much he wished they would ganbaru even more etc. As if not winning was
I placed a call of complaint to NHK's Shichou Viewer's Center (that's what
it's there for--Phone 0570-066-066), but this morning Fathead did it
all over again, telling the Japan Silver Medalist in Judo that coming
in a mere second place must be "kuyashii" (mortifying), and
reinforcing the whole chestnut that "Medalists are Heroes, all others
Let's get this straight. Regardless of facile sentiments from
monomaniacal American Football coaches, winning isn't everything, or even
the only thing. Doing your personal best is. It is impossible for a country to
win every event, or even most events--for that is why the Olympics exist--to
bring together world-class athletes and increase worldwide proficiency in
sports. Not just win medals. Even though most countries are probably guilty
(Americans among the worst) of associating medals with national supremacy,
this is not a good thing. Because it puts undue pressure on the athletes.
Japan is a case in point. Past olympics have saluted champion Japanese
swimmers with "Yamato Damashii" headlines (Yamato Japanese Spirit--a wartime
term which even led to Kamikaze piloting) in the sports newspapers. As if
those non-medalists were not displaying the True Japanese Spirit (and what
will happen to mixed-heritage hammer-thrower Murofushi?). When figure
skater Itoh Midori took a spill on the ice in 1996, the sports papers
carried full-page stop-action photos depicting her Great Fall.
All this pressure to perform as a national representative (the word
"daihyou", as opposed to "senshu", contestant, is used to describe their role),
not an athlete doing their individual best, ultimately can be self-defeating. Not a few
contestants hang their head in shame and show their tears for merely
placing in the world's top ten. And when one of them lashes out
(swimmer Chiba Suzu in Atlanta, who bravely said after nonmedaling,
"If you think it's so easy to get a medal, why don't you try?"), the
media is there to bash them for daring to challenge the suffocating
status quo (as was Japan's olympic selection committee, which
excluded her from Sydney despite her qualifying times).
Now NHK, which (I believe) has sole broadcast rights to the olympics,
is doing it all over again? Another call to the Shichou Viewers' Center...
Time for a new paradigm. Lose the "losing is mortifying", please. Replace
it with "They did their best, on a world-class stage, and victory is highly
unusual, not obvious."
Nice if all countries did this, of course. Sorry, yet another essay
from somebody about the evils that Medalism supports. It's just that
its really flagrant in Japan, when victory is so entangled in
Do your personal best. I did. 700 kms on a mountain bike in mountainous
country (even at an average speed of 14 km/h) is not bad for me at all...
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
August 16, 2004
AUGUST 23RD, 2004 UPDATE:
Turns out Japan has been doing very well in Athens (if medals are any
measure--I think we're going to have a record number this year, if
that matters), so NHK's anchorman Fathead has been beside himself
with the pleasure of interviewing a new Gold Medalist every day (especially
from Judo) and extricating thanks from them to all of Japan for their support.
But he (and the rest of the media) still had their little needles
ready. Hammer thrower (Japanese-Hungarian, trained in the US)
Murofushi Kouji took the Silver yesterday, and Fathead just had to
ask him this morning why he didn't throw the ball 85 meters and take
the Gold. (Answer: Gravity and momentum, you twit!)
Afterwards, he interviewed Japan's women's softball team and squeezed
out a thanks to the nation from each and every player. Sadly, as
they only took the Bronze, and they were all apologetic and down
because they got the least shiny medal. Sheesh.
Fifteen-year-old table tennis star Fukuhara Ai, famous for her
fist-clenching and outcry of "gya!" (or something like that--she
won't say exactly despite repeated questioning on national TV)
whenever she gets a point, said she felt she had betrayed
(uragitta) her supporters because she didn't get a medal. She didn't
even need a cue from Fathead to say this! Let's hope the pressure of
maintaining ping-pong prodigy status doesn't keep her from getting an
education--we've seen what monomania did to Bobby Fischer...
According to my friend Dan B, Taniimoto Ayumi in the Women's judo 63
kg class was told by judoka commentator Takimoto Makoto on national
television, "If you lose you won't be able to return to Japan". Right
before her semi final challenge for a gold medal. Great.
Fortunately, she won the Gold, so she won't have to remain in exile.
Not sure what will happen to the much-heralded yet clear loser Inoue Kousei, who
hangs his head every time he appears (uninterviewed) on NHK now.
We had a number of swimmers break down and cry on TV for not taking
the Gold, but Gold medalist Kitajima would not take be baited by NHK
correspondents--insisting that as he swam to victory, he was thinking of beating his
personal time, not of Japan at large. Bravo.
And on a related note, I am happy to report that yesterday, the
Tomakomai Komadai High School brought home the Koshien National H.S.
Baseball Championship to Hokkaido for the first time in history! And
it was done by a team which smiled and looked like they were having a
good time out there on the field (as opposed to those schools with a
long history of victories who treat their kids like soldiers,
training them into sullenity and probable uselessness past high school except as pro
athletes). Great game with enough fireworks and turnarounds to entertain
a non-sports-fan like myself.
Then, alas, NHK's HS Sports specialist just had to say something to
the tune of, "We look forward to their victory next year. Shame to
think of this as a one-off." C'mon, let these kids rest on
their laurels for at least one night without worrying about next year!!
Final prognostications: Japan has a nasty habit of excessive
extrapolation whenever extreme victory or defeat occurs. If athletes
lose, it is said to be because Japanese as a people are
smaller-bodied, less powerful, shorter legs, whatever (it is the
primary excuse for excluding foreigners from tax-funded national
sports contests, see http:// www.debito.org/TheCommunity/kokutaiproject.html). If they
win, this means there's something psychologically (yase-gaman, Yamato Damashii
etc.), dietarily (healthier Japanese food as opposed to those
fast-fooding Westerners, etc.), or just something innately superior
about Japan as a society. Wait for a few weeks and see what the
pundits will say about, say, Japan's extreme victoriousness in Judo
Trying to enjoy sports for a change with mixed success,
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
August 23, 2004
Japan Sports Pressure and Shortened Lifespans
(forwarding, courtesy of the author--Arudou Debito)
This Mainichi article, based on a piece that appeared in Flash four years
ago, is about the sad fate that seems to befall Japan's Olympic athletes. I
thought I'd recycle it today. Mark
Star-studded sportsmen speed swim the Styx
By Mark Schreiber
Researchers have announced findings that compared with ordinary
people, their lives are shortened by six years, asserts Kunihiko
Kato, an assistant at Tokyo University's department of physical
To whom is Kato referring? Chain smokers? Heavy boozers? People
who live in houses under high-tension power lines, or those who
refuse to pay protection to gangsters?
Indeed, what activity is scientifically recognized as being so
hazardous, it threatens to send otherwise robust citizens of the
world's longest-lived nation to an early grave?
The answer, reports Flash, is to earn a place on the Japanese
Olympic team. Or perhaps even worse, to win a medal.
Tragic examples are legion. Take Masatoshi Nekota, a member of
the volleyball gold medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympics, who
succumbed to cancer at age 39. Or three other outstanding athletes,
who also died in their 39th year: 1968 Mexico City men's gymnast and
bronze-medal winner Takeshi Kato, a cancer victim; steeplechase
runner (Mexico) Takeshi Endo, who died of heart failure; and broad
jumper Hiroomi Yamada (Mexico), who suffered a fatal stroke.
Sports glory and public acclaim failed to bring any peace of mind
to marathon runner Kokichi Tsuburaya, who took the bronze medal at
Tokyo in 1964. Psychologically tormented when injury forced him to
miss the games four years later, he committed suicide. The note he
left read, simply, "Cannot run any more." He was 27.
"Just at Japan Steel Corporation, where I was employed, seven
former olympians have already passed away," marathon silver medalist
Kenji Kimihara (Mexico) tells Flash. "Overall, I'd say about 30 or
so have died."
Kimihara, now 60, is particularly saddened when recalling those
who perished by their own hand. In addition to fellow marathoner
Tsuburaya, these include swimmer Ryoko Urakami and 80 meter hurdler
"Everyone showed them respect, but they felt stigmatized by the
title "olympic team member" attached to everything they did
subsequently," sighs Kimihara. "I suppose it just became too much of
But while mental pressures took a toll on Japan's olympians, the
sheer physical abuse can't be disregarded either.
"After driving myself so hard during my teens, I wanted to just
go back to being a normal person," recalls Mexico City weight lifting
silver medalist Masaru Ouchi, now 57. "But I'm a physical wreck.
When I reached my forties, I felt like I was already sixty."
Tokyo University's Kato is convinced scientific data contradicts
the general image of olympians and professional athletes as superb
physical specimens. "Intense activity causes stress to build up, and
excessive secretion of Corticotropin releasing hormone result in
lowered immunity. Resistance to disease declines. There's a greater
likelihood of developing cancer."
"Exercise causes oxygen consumption to increase, generating a
toxic substance called free radicals that are harmful to the body,"
One side effect of too much activity may be osteoporosis. Citing
data on 13 female long-distance runners, Kato notes that the average
bone density of eight was 90 percent or below the normal values, and
four had bone density levels equivalent to women in their seventies.
"We believe this was caused by the intense training, which
lowered the volume of fat in their bodies, causing loss of calcium
because they did not secrete sufficient female hormones."
"Upholding Japan's national honor was a heavy burden for those
olympic athletes in the past," says Kimihara. "When today's athletes
feel pressured, I'd like to see them channel their stress into
With so many depressing stories, Flash wonders, will "Q chan"
--- petite and personable Sydney marathon winner Naoko Takahashi ---
be all right?
FORWARDED ARTICLE ENDS
皆様おはようございます。有道 出人です。しばらくエッセーのポーズは道内自転車 ホリディーでした（札幌ー留萌ー朱鞠内湖ー紋別ー網走ー斜里ー標津ー根室まで、７ ００キロを回りました）。これからまたドライビングホリディーですが、オリンピッ クを観てみてちょっと感想を述べたいと思います。出かける寸前で日本語が荒くなっ てすみません。
一番気になるのは NHK総合テレビ（午前７時のニュース）です。スポーツのアンカーは昨日、柔道の谷 選手と野村選手の金メダルの獲得についてコメントしてから、顔が暗くなて、日本人 が参加して負けた選手らについて報告した。言い方は申し訳ないっぽく、「もっと頑 張ってほしい」など、まるで勝っていなかったら頑張っていない様な態度だったと気 がしました。昨日私はNHK視聴センターに電話して苦情を申し上げましたが、今朝も 、柔道の銀メダルの獲得に対してアンカーに「悔しいてしょう」と言われて、相変わ らず「メダルの獲得」のみをこだわっている放送だったと強く感じました。
あのね。五輪は「花一匁」ではございません。「負けて悔しい」ではないのです 。全部のイベントが勝つのは無理です。メダル獲得よりも「自分のパーソナルベスト の達成」が狙いにならなければいけないと思います。悪い癖ですが、我々がすぐ選手 の勝つ負けは愛国心や全国の恥じに結び付く傾向が強いと思います。例えば以前の五 輪で、金メダルの日本水泳選手についてスポーツ新聞は『大和魂』の見出しを出して （なに？負けた人は大和魂を見せていないわけですか？日本人じゃなくなるわけです か？なぜそこまで飛躍しますか？ダブルの室伏選手が勝てばどうなりますか？）、ス ケーターのミドリさんが転んだ時にストップ・アクションの転び写真を載せて、「な ぜ当たり前みたいに金を獲得しなかったの？」の雰囲気が強かったです。
もちろん、色々な理由で皆さんが選手のパフォーマンスを期待しているだろうと思 いますが、選手に悪影響を与えていると思います。これくらいプレッシャーで、パー ソナルベストを尽くしても「メダルなしで失敗した、恥じ」で泣く選手は少なくはな いです。「金メダルは『ヒーロー』、メダルなしは『ゼロ』」のは、かえってプレッ シャーで気が散るケースが多くなり、失敗することもあるのではないかと思います。
だから、「負けて悔しい」よりも「勝つのは珍しくて、負けても頑張っ たね」という態度に変わってほしい。特に独占放送先のNHKで。アテネに行った選手 の皆はもれなくワールドクラスです。そう思えば我が国の選手の為にもなると思いま す。
August 16, 2004