A Hope for renaissance of Japan’s judo
More than two months have now passed since All Japan Judo Federation(AJJF) entirely renewed its directorate with Mr. Shoji Muneoka as the new leader. It is not clear at this stage where Mr. Muneoka’s team is heading, but it would be appropriate to analyse what changes are occurring and suggest what should be further done.
An “epoch-making” opening of the executive body
The previous regime of Mr. Haruki Uemura was composed of just a small number of judokas who used to be extremely strong athletes but had little experience in managing a large organization. This resulted in the rather closed nature of their administration. The narrowness of their views was such that they could not cope with the series of scandals which had occurred earlier in a manner which the public would consider appropriate. Besides, Judo has spread throughout the entire world. The rules and the ways to organize international competitions have been evolving very fast, sometimes in problematic manners. For lack of experts and talents, Mr. Uemura’s team failed to take intiatives and coordinate efforts with the international community for the discipline that originated in Japan. Compared to the “ancien régime” of Mr. Uemura, the new team has an unprecidented openness. For the first time, a person outside the judo circles was appointed as the leader: Mr. Muneoka is the CEO of a global, giant steel-making enterprise Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. He has a vision of the world and is capable of managing a large organization such as the AJJF. Besides, Mr. Muneoka has good knowledge of judo as he was captain of the Tokyo University judo team in his student times. He appointed as his deputy(i.e.,managing director) someone from outside the judo circles. At the press conference after assuming the presidency, Muneoka expressed strong determination to carry out reforms in the organizational governance and to introduce transparency and accountability in management. Mr. Yasuhiro Yamashita, former iconic world champion, who was somewhat distanced from the power center in the previous administration, is now appointed as Vice-President and keen to support Mr. Muneoka in carrying out reforms in the traditionally conservative judo world. Another important element of openness is that, for the first time, female members, all olympic medalists, sit on the new board of administraion. These are Seiko Hashimoto, Ryoko Tani, Yoko Tanabe, Noriko Kitada as board members and Kaori Yamaguchi, a very vocal reformist, as an inspector. A few other personalities from outside of the judo world also joined in the board. This “opening” gives a good ground for expecting that the new governing body would introduce some new thinking and rationalism in the hitherto quite closed organization. I met President Muneoka, Managing Director Chikaishi and Secretary General Uno separately and felt their strong will for change.
However, this does not mean the future is all bright. This organization lacks personnel with the necessary expertise and experince at various levels of the structure. There is also a need for the efforts to create a harmonious and cooperative working relationship between the new directorate and the staff. Reorganization of the Governing Council whose overwhelming members are representatives of prefectures, normally conservative senior men and generally resistant, or at least reluctant, to reforms, remains as an important task to be done. Strengthening the federation’s international activities requires urgent actions, especially regarding rule-making and management of international affairs.
At this stage Mr. Muneoka and his colleagues have not worked out blueprints for this agenda. One may wonder whether they can act swiftly and challengingly.
Where is Japan’s judo situated ?
Where stands Japan’s judo now? The result of Japanese judo in the London Olympic Games certainly was not good. We have not yet recovered or resurrected in the post-Londonian bouts. Maybe not even its symptom, either. The improvement of our combatants’ performance in interntional competitions is a primary objecttive and for that a change in training methodes may be needed. Internally, a series of scandals, such as violence exerted by certain national coaches against female athletes, misuse of support money for instructors and ahtletes, etc., occurred since the end of last year. But the federation leaders failed to act appropriately to these cases. People are disappointed at the current status of judo. Younger generations tend to shy away from judo. The situation is thus quite critical both at the top athletes’ level and at the popular level.
There is also a need to look at the international situation. Judo as founded by the Grand Master Jigoro Kano is one of the major Olympic games and practiced ardently in the entire world. Behind this lie values of judo as means of both physical and mental education. Practitioners acquire through practice, not only physical strength, but also such virtues as endurance, self-control, respect, courtesy, spirit of mutual prosperity. France boasts of the world’s largest judo population as the youngsters and their parents and teacheres believe in judo’s values. Based on the fact that judo has earned universality because of these virtues, one may say that judo is for the world an intangible cultural asset. In Japan, however, the federation’s leaders have concentrated their major efforts on having their athletes earn gold medals, without much attention to the development of the international value of judo.
It is therefore necessary for the new federation executive team to seriously work on a broader basis of reforms, beyond the current short time objectives such as eradication of violene, finacial rectification, etc.
What more should be done ?
For Japanese judo, challenges and agenda are wide and complex. I would like to cite major items for reform which Mr. Muneoka’s team must seriously tackle.
1.Gathering a wide spectrum of talent: In order to cope with a wide range of challenges the federation should seek people with experience and talents in different fields of activities from inside and outside of judo circles. Many more women ought to be invited to responsible positions as the female point of view is very important in managing today’s judo. Japanese judo has long been managed by male predominant leadership.
2. Strengthening the organizational governance: The Board of Administration was reorganized with new members but the reorganization of the Governing Council is still under the process. Restructuring of functions and the composition of the Council members is needed in order to enhance governance. An important objective in these endeavors should be to create a culture where everyone can talk freely regardless of seniority, sex or affiliation so that reforms may be carried out with an innovative spirit. Conservatism and “ the same-as-before” mentality should be abandoned. Staff capacity ought to be much strengthened especially in the planning, financial policy, international relations, and public relations sectors.
3. Restructuring the relationship with Kodokan: Hitherto the same person cumulated the top positions of AJJF and the Kodokan, thus making their relationship ambiguous. There should now be a clear definition of roles of the two organizations. The working relationship should be mutually complementary and cooperative. The system of conferring Dan including fees for promotion exams has been a controvertial issue. It is now a good opportunity to reexamine this important question, too.
4. Promulgation of educational value of judo: The judo population in Japan has been in decline for more than a decade. From last year martial arts have become a compulsory physical education subject at the middle school. Yet at the public level, judo is perceived negatively as a dangerous exercise. Merits and positive values of judo practice must be made known widely in the country.
5. Active participation in interntional management of judo: Judo was born in Japan and we have good knowledge and a high technical stand. Rules and modes of competitions have been evolving fast at the international level. But Japan has been rather silent in the past. We should be more vocal and take intiatives in order to contribute to a sound development of judo in close cooperation with the International Judo Federation and national federations.
The Tokyo Olympics as a target
The five agenda items cited above are difficult to achieve in a short period. We need solid strategies and plannings. On this score we hope for strong leadership of the new president. The Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 provides an excellent time frame in achieving these objectives. Why not elaborate now our five-year strategy on chapters such as enhancing perfomance of our athletes, strengthening the AJJF organazational capacities, as well as promoting judo on a larger popular basis in this country.
(November 3, 2013)