My name is Gotaro Ogawa, as introduced by Executive Director Yasuhiro Yamashita just now. Until last year, I had been with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan for about 40 years. At the Ministry, people generally serve both domestic and overseas duties one after another repeatedly, and in my case, I spent about 23 out of 40 years of my service outside of Japan, in seven different countries.

In terms of overseas assignments, I have been placed in France twice for a total of seven and a half years, along with the Philippines, South Korea, Cambodia, Denmark, and the former Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era. In Hawaii, I was Japan’s Consul General. I have been involved with Judo in many different ways both inside and outside of Japan, so I would like to talk about my personal experiences and my thoughts on the subject today.

Judo Experience in France

My first Judo practice in a foreign country was in France, where I was placed in 1969. In that summer, I stayed in a town in central France called Toursl for about three months to take language courses for foreigners before starting two year studies later at the University of Bordeaux .

As soon as I registered as a student at the language school, I started looking for a dojo in the town of Tours. I found one in the center of the town. Even though it was closed for the summer, I looked for and found the man in charge of the dojo. This friendly man named Jean-Claude Becavin, who held the rank of 2-dan, came out and welcomed me with much enthusiasm. We decided to practice for the occasion and even though it was the summer vacation time, he called together some of his fellow dojo members and we started practicing. Once started, it turned out that Jean-Claude was surprisingly strong. He even used the technique called “O guruma (major wheel).” I became friendly with members of the dojo quickly, and they took good care of me by often inviting me to their homes and taking me out to different places outside of the dojo. Then it was time for university to start, and I moved to Bordeaux.

In those days, there were already many dojos in towns and villages all over France. No matter how small a village was, there was at least one dojo, without fail, so when I traveled, I always carried my Judo uniform in my car. Wherever I went, I looked for a dojo, and I was so welcomed every time that I did not even have to worry about a place to stay or food to eat. I have so many fond memories like that.

In Japan, most of the people I knew that practiced Judo belonged to a dojo that was run by a university, police force, or business. In France, though, different kinds of people with different occupations, from elementary school children to elderly men and women, attended the dojo. There were intellectuals such as college professors and doctors next to tough guys like stonemasons and carpenters. All sorts of people were there mixed together and practicing Judo.

Among them were also young women. Since both men and women trained together, my first practice with a woman took place in France. I had never paired with a woman before, and I was also young then, so I could not help squirming with embarrassment. I could somehow manage tachi-waza (standing techniques), but when it came to ne-waza (groundfighting), all sorts of imagination entered my mind and I could not focus on my osaekomi-waza like tate-shiho (lengthwise four quarters hold) or yoko-shiho (side-four quarters hold). This one lady then told me to “do it properly,” and all I can say is that, as a result, there was a side benefit of meeting French women.

The Background of the French Judo Boom

The Judo population in France is quite large to this day, and it is estimated to number as many as 500,000 to 600,000 people. Why is Judo so popular? I have some potential reasons based on my interaction with various French people.

First, it can be said that the physical rationality of Judo was easy to accept for argumentative French people. The French are a very logical people, so when Judo techniques were explained, I believe logical instructions such as “break the opponent, and then throw him with your body like this” are easy for them to understand.

Another reason is that the French are very curious about foreign cultures, and especially interested in Japanese Bushido and Zen, as well as the spiritual aspect of Judo. I was asked so many passionate questions about the spiritual nature of Japan during my stay in France. Among the members of the dojo in Bordeaux was a man who majored in Indian Philosophy and who trained in India for many years. He was an old man, but he talked passionately about the spirit of Judo with his own words, and wrote a very good book called “Spirit of Judo.”

In addition, there are many dojos in towns and villages to support such passionate interests. You do not have to always train very hard, as you do in Japan, so I believe the environment is in place for many people to casually enjoy Judo, and that plays a big role.

Learning from the Efforts of Our Predecessors in France

What we cannot forget is that behind the popularity of Judo in France lay the existence of those Japanese teachers who contributed to the promotion of Judo in the country.

I am sure you are all aware, but the pioneer in that field was Master Mikinosuke Kawaishi. After graduating from Waseda University, he moved to France in 1935. He was quite creative in coming up with ideas of how to teach Judo to logical French people. He divided techniques like “tomoe-nage (circle throw)” and “seoi-nage (shoulder throw)” into different categories of “te-waza (hand throwing techniques),” “koshi-waza (hip throwing techniques)” and “ashi-waza (foot throwing techniques)” and classified techniques with numbers, for example if it was “Osoto-gari (major outer reaping),” as “ashi-waza No. X.”

That kind of logical explanation must have been easy for French people to understand. I have heard that Master Kawaishi passed away the year I was assigned to France, but everybody in France who practiced Judo talked about “Kawaishi method,” so it made me realize how widespread his approach was.

The second teacher to note is Master Shozo Awazu. Since moving to France in 1950, he has been engaged in energetic coaching, even now, as a member of the French Judo Federation.

The third teacher is Master Haku Michigami. He was from a martial arts academy in Kyoto and moved to France in 1953 at the invitation of the French Judo Federation, and he taught Judo for about half a century, mainly in Bordeaux, until his death in 2002.

Master Michigami not only coached in France, but he visited Africa almost every year to promote Judo. He taught athletes including the famous Anton Geesink in the Netherlands as a top technical advisor of the Netherlands Judo Federation. In the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, Geesink defeated Japanese athlete Akio Kaminaga.

I started to attend Master Michigami’s dojo in Bordeaux. Master Michigami’s strict approach toward Judo, along with his formidable techniques and skills, were reminiscent of a true samurai. That aspect of his personality probably attracted many French people. About two years ago, a man who practiced Judo with me in the past invited me to Bordeaux, as the dojo opened by Master Michigami was going to celebrate its 50th anniversary and many events were planned for the occasion,. This year, they came all the way to Japan from France to attend Master Michigami’s seventh-year memorial service and visited his hometown, Yawatahama in Ehime. I was impressed anew to witness so many French people who still keep what can be described as the sincerity of Judo and affection for their former teacher like that.

In any case, I have no doubt that the efforts of those teachers teaching in France over the past several decades have had a significant influence in promoting Judo in the country.

In addition, as many as 60 Judo club members of Ecole Polytechnique, the French elite technical college, visited Japan in 2007 to practice Judo in Japan and study Japanese culture. It was surprising that the Judo club of such an elite French institution had so many members. They voiced the following impressions after seeing Judo matches in Japan: “They grapple with each other much more than in Europe,” “they take a certain time to get up from ne-waza instead of standing up right away,” and “more fights are finished by ippon than in Europe.” They also shared their opinions and said, “Japanese Judo is the right way, and we should probably try to direct world Judo toward the Japanese way.”

Different Environments of Judo in Different Countries

I have practiced Judo in other countries. When I was assigned to the former Soviet Union, I was advised to visit the National Sports Science University because of the lack of dojos in town, and that way I trained with many strong athletes. I was not all that strong myself, so it was quite an effort to keep up with them. When you are training at a place like that with many high-level athletes, you can rid yourself of the notion that you have to win just because you are from Japan, and I simply practiced as hard as I could. What I enjoyed were things like the sauna after training. There was a huge sauna room, and once inside the humidity level was higher than saunas in Japan, so you could not really see anything because of the steam. Entering there were these bear-like Russians who had hair even on their backs, and they came in naked after practice. In a Russian sauna, it is customary to make a lot of noise by beating each other with tree branches to facilitate blood flow. Even though my Russian was not that good, when I joined the crowd and beat some really big guys with a branch I felt like I had to say something, so I said things like “hey, return the northern territories soon” in Japanese (laughter). He would ask what I was talking about, so I would cover myself by saying things like “this sauna is very hot.” We would have tea together after the sauna and deepen our exchanges.

South Korea did not have many dojos in town, either, so I visited a placed called South Korean Judo Institute, which was similar to Kodokan in Japan, and had hard training along with yet more strong athletes.

In Hawaii, because of the big Japanese American population, there were many dojos in town and at temples. I also opened the garden of the consulate’s official residence for various public events of Japanese Americans. At times, I demonstrated Judo myself, and when there was a Judo tournament held in Hawaii, I even entered the competition. The tournament I am speaking of was divided into different classes according to age, and there was nobody in my mid-50 age category. The organizer, understanding my situation, went out of his way to find an opponent for me who happened to be a Jujutsu teacher and was just over 30. I had never practiced Jujutsu in Japan, but he went down to ground immediately after the fight started and attacked my elbow joint thoroughly. I had practiced a variety of ne-waza techniques before, so I thought I could take it, but he concentrated his attacks on my elbow for a several minutes and I was defeated. I ended up with a very painful elbow and it took more than half a year to heal. That happened to me in Hawaii.

In Denmark, I was able to train sometimes at the dojo of the Tokai University Boarding School founded by Dr. Shigeyoshi Matsumae in Denmark, where Mr. Noboru Tanaka, a teacher at the boarding high school, occasionally coached me. I also participated in the Judo demonstration, one of the events for the Japan-EU Year of People-to-People Exchanges, and exhibited some techniques with the assistance of Mr. Tanaka.

On another occasion, the chairman of the Aikido Federation in Denmark, who was also my friend, asked me to exhibit Judo techiniques at the Aikido national convention. As my partner, I chose a friend of mine who had won the Danish Judo championships several times, so I asked him to support me in showing the techniques, and we exhibited some techniques including tachi-waza, ne-waza and shime-waza (strangulation techniques), with a Danish commentary based on a script I prepared. I performed a very good shime-waza on him, which caused him to have a coughing spell. It must have had a tremendous impact on the audience, because they all erupted in cheers and applauses.

Even in such a small country like Denmark, I saw how widespread the Japanese martial arts were, as many people practiced martial arts other than Judo, like Aikido, Iai, and Bo-jutsu. Through Judo, I felt the strong and deep interest people had in Japan in many countries, and was very proud of it.

The Environment of Judo in Developing Countries

On the other hand, in the hot and humid Southeast Asian nations, it was hard to practice Judo. The dojo I frequented in Manila was located underground, and it was not well ventilated, so just a little bit of movement made my dojo uniform soaking wet. It made a glass of beer after the training extra tasty, however.

In Cambodia, as you know, 1,700,000 people were said to have died due to the civil war caused by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Among them were many Judo practitioners, and hence there were no Judo instructors left anymore. When I was assigned there, peace had returned to the nation, but in regard to Judo, it was just like starting anew, and a young man from Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) was coaching. They set up a national team. Even though it was called a national team, the members were mainly young people with little Judo experience. There was only one very small dojo and they practiced there.

(The first JOCV volunteer went Cambodia to teach Judo in 1966.)

For your reference, I will show you some pictures provided by Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Cambodia office. One of them is very valuable, as the first JOCV volunteer who went there to teach Judo, back in 1966, about 40 years ago. Back then, Cambodia was peaceful and prosperous, and in good condition even compared to neighboring countries, so there were many people attending the lessons.

(Mr. Shosida of Kodokan visited Mr. Sunimoto of JOCV, and the national team was guided.)

The second picture, on the other hand, was taken in 2002 at a practice of the national team coached by the JOCV volunteer. In Cambodia, where the country itself is quite poor, the Judo lessons have began anew with insufficient tatami mats, uniforms, and coaches. However, everybody is quite serious in their lessons. I was impressed by scenes where elementary school age children got down on their knees and bowed at the beginning and the ending of the practice, and went up to the teacher to give thanks for the lesson, one-by-one. In 2003, there was an event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Japan-Cambodia relationship and there was a Judo exhibition as well, so I participated in it.

(Enbukai of the 50th anniversary of Japan and Cambodia diplomatic relation establishment event in November, 2003.)

Judo Spreading in the World and Emerging Challenges

Just through my own experiences of which I spoke today, you can tell that Judo has spread to the corners of the world. Having said that, I would like to talk about the meaning of Judo being widespread in the world, and what is happening as a consequence.

First, we cannot forget the fact that many people in the world are trying very hard to learn not only physical judo but also the discipline and spiritual side of Judo and put it in to practice.

Second, such countries include developing nations like Cambodia, and many of them are asking for assistance and cooperation in both human resources and materials from Japan. Outside the Asian and African nations, it is no different in places like the Middle East, where countries have become wealthy but are also seeking teachers.

It is important to know that Judo has a big role to play in the world. It has spread this far in the world because people are interested in the spiritual aspect of the sport, and that also means Japan has made a significant contribution to the world’s spiritual culture and thus has helped the amity and friendships in the world.

In addition, when considering the meaning of Judo’s spread across the world, we cannot overlook the fact that the rules of Judo tournaments have been changing with the internationalization of Judo, and was followed by a gradual change in the quality of Judo itself. I believe it will be a big challenge for us to think about how to approach all these issues.

The Similarity between International Sports and Diplomacy

Now I would like to change the topic a little bit and talk about the “similarity between international sports and diplomacy,” based on my 40 years of experience in Foreign Service.

The United Nations currently has 192 member counties. In comparison, the International Judo Federation has 199 member organizations, more than the UN. Considering this number, just like in diplomacy, it is a fact that mutual understanding is difficult for members with diverse cultures and attitudes. Most of the member countries are always clear about their positions and act accordingly, and assert themselves strongly, sometimes even coming close to being offensive. It is also common in both diplomacy and international sports to play various politics when you negotiate. In this respect, the Japanese Judo circles is exceptionally quiet, and in some cases, I feel it is left behind. In Japan, there is an idea that “silence is golden,” but it is necessary to be aware that when it comes to diplomacy and international sports, “silence is unprofitable.”

In international affairs, forming alliances and strategizing is something you do all the time, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering and gamesmanship are essential. Especially when deciding on international rules and electing members of the board, information gathering is important as well. If you want to exert influence, the effective way to do so is gaining a post after all, and for that purpose, every country spends much energy on elections.

In diplomacy, especially United Nations-related affairs, there are many elections, and Japan stands in these elections in order to play as great a part as possible, which means a massive workload for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As each election is quite important, the Ministry headquarters is always sending directives all over the world to “persuade concerned countries it them and persuade them against us.

Therefore, we need to have numerous approaches for even one election. Moreover, you need to talk to not just one person, but you have to visit many different concerned parties and strenuously persuade them all of how important is it for Japan to get in. Situations sometimes arise where they ask for different conditions and you have to consider them.

In any case, we really put an effort into these elections and spend considerable energy on them. I believe it is the same in the international sports world, and different nations must be making the same kind of efforts to win positions as a chairman or a commissioner. When it comes to elections, even a superpower like the United States has a hard time winning a post. If you think about it, you recognize the fact that it is obviously important to have qualifications, but it is also essential to have trusting relationships built on regular honest dialogue. Just like personalities are important on a personal level, the character of a country can be important on a national level, and I believe things like goodwill and friendly relationships have a significant effect.

The Challenges for Internationalizing Judo

Let us go back to Judo again.  

I believe there are various challenges for Judo now that it has become so international, but I would like to focus on the following three challenges today.

First, I believe that how to keep the essence of Judo will become an increasingly difficult challenge for us. Large-scale international tournaments such as Olympics and world championships are held more frequently now. In such big international tournaments, the expectations of people from your country can be so much pressure, and with internationalization, the sport becomes more commercial as well. It will be a big challenge for us to live up with the real essence of the sports under such circumstances.

Second, Judo has been going through transitions because of the changes in tournament rules, and we need to think about how we will cope with it. As is often pointed out, it has gone to a weight system, and then to a point system, and there are trends such as narrower sleeves on the uniforms, which makes it harder to hold them. Although there is a gradual improvement recently, we see Judo techniques that resemble tackling. In regard to ne-waza, I believe that having athletes frequently stop the movement and stand up while working on ne-waza is preventing its further development. I believe it will be a huge challenge for us to decide how to deal with these issues.

The third challenge would be to go beyond the “medal-first policy.” What I mean here is that I believe we have to think about the balance between the requirement to win a gold medal and the necessity to keep the essence of Judo, as both are important and it is difficult to choose one over the other.

The Responsibility of Japan: Birthplace of Judo

Regarding how to handle these challenges, I believe we have to accept the fact that internationalization cannot be avoided and we need to actively respond to this trend. It is in fact important for us to use this huge powerful wave of internationalization to our own advantage. Judo has spread this much because there is so much interest in and appreciation for things Japanese. We need to recognize this as a big asset for Japan and an opportunity to increase Japan’s influence by promoting the authentic Judo from the founding nation of the sport.

In doing so, it is important for Japan, as the founding nation of Judo, to go beyond the medal-first policy and fulfill the responsibility of promoting the right kind of Judo. As the fate of the birth nation of Judo, you cannot ignore the importance of winning tournaments, but when that becomes too important, there is a risk of losing sight of other things. Winning is necessary, but you have to also pay attention to other things as well.

From my own long experience of practicing Judo in France, I have come to notice that French people, even when they are not large-framed, have big chests and strong muscles. I was often surprised, as they would easily flip me around when I had them held under me with ne-waza. Just like this example, there are so many people in the world that are more muscular than Japanese, so it is no wonder that they can become stronger than Japanese people with as much training and mental strength. I believe we need to accept this kind of fact to move forward.

The originating nation of a sport has not always kept the top position. This applies not only to Judo, but to other sports as well. I would obviously prefer Japan to win when it comes to Judo tournaments, and I think it is necessary for Japan to win, but should Japan lose a fight, we have to be aware of this.

I am repeating myself here, but for Japan, as the birthplace of Judo, it is obviously important to win fights, but nothing is more important than restoring the right kind of Judo. I believe it will be increasingly necessary to make efforts to promote Judo in the world according to this line of thinking.

Fortunately, I do not think Japan is isolated in this regard. As you can see from the comments of the Ecole Polytechnique students I introduced earlier, I believe there are many people who share this vision that world Judo has to change and return to the original, so I think we need to work together with people from other nations such as France.

Japan should Participate in International Management of Judo

All these things are related to the matter of “international management of Judo.” What should Japan do in order to be more involved with it? To start with, it is necessary to reinforce Japan’s international activities, but since there are many counterpart nations, drastically reinforcing Japan’s manpower for international activities is necessary.

I believe Japan is blessed with many people who have experienced Judo outside of Japan, such as former JOCV volunteers, senior volunteers, and expatriate employees, so what we have to do is to gather these people and work together with them. We need people with Judo experience, foreign language skills, and international experiences for our purpose. However, I believe there are people who can become involved in the international Judo activities without all these qualifications. As long as one can speak a foreign language or has an interest in Judo, even if the person has very little experience in Judo, I believe that with a certain amount of training, he would be able to understand what he has to do. It is therefore necessary to gather as many as possible of these kinds of people and work together with them.

As a way of approach, cooperation is important to achieve our objectives. Even with countries who oppose the issues Japan advocates, it is necessary to always deal with them and persuade them with patience, while finding nations who share the same ideas with Japan and work hand-in-hand with them.

In addition, when there is a need to change the international tournament rules, Japan must be able to rationalize what has to be changed, as well as why it has to be changed, persuasively. To do so, it is important to have a series of domestic discussions first in order to consolidate different opinions in Japan. I believe the All Japan Judo Federation is already leading in this task at the initiative of Executive Director Haruki Uemura.

When cooperating with the International Judo Federation based on this step, Japan has to express her opinions as clearly as possible without reservation in international conferences. Every country will be there to say what they want to say to the fullest, and Japan needs to make her own claims as loudly and clearly as possible. To do so, it is crucial to first clarify the message and then repeat the message over and over, relentlessly, in order to persuade the concerned parties. If Japan, the birthplace of Judo, keeps explaining her opinions eloquently and repeatedly, I am convinced that nations who would listen and support the Japanese path would emerge.

To do so, public relations would obviously be important, but we can do this in many ways. For example, prominent people like Mr. Yasuhiro Yamashita can contribute a clear message to Judo and sports-related magazines in foreign countries, or advocate the message repeatedly on Japanese Judo websites.

In addition, elections are quite important, as I mentioned earlier, so I believe it is necessary to take time to prepare and mobilize as many people as possible and campaign repeatedly. To gain the advantage in an election, strengthening international exchanges can be useful. In addition, including the non-profit organizations like the Solidarity of International Judo Education, I believe the All Japan Judo Federation needs to step up its efforts to promote different kinds of activities.

In fact, I was asked to join the All Japan Judo Federation’s international committee as a special member. I attended the meeting the other day and discovered that they are already promoting various activities, but I believe we have to be ready to go further. Among developing nations of the world, there are many who would like to ask for assistance and cooperation in Judo from Japan, so it would be important to support these countries as much as possible.

Considering how many countries need our assistance, it would be crucial to gather both internal and external talent. Some former Foreign Ministry officials might be able to help, or the Ministry could work together with non-profit organizations, so we just need to promote and spread the activity as much as we can. We might also want to consider asking former JOCV volunteers and senior volunteers who have Judo teaching experience in developing nations to go back occasionally to the countries where they were stationed and continue their work.

In regard to the crucial issue of budget, I believe it is important to gain the support of corporations as much as possible. You can see that many Japanese companies are already sponsoring various international Judo tournaments. To accomplish Japan’s aims, as well as to obtain budget, we need people with knowledge and techniques from outside the Judo circles, and we must work on Japanese corporations to support us. None of these things would be easy, but it would be necessary to form a clear strategy and pursue it with a long-term perspective


To summarize my points roughly, first, Japan needs to step up its efforts in terms of the international management of Judo. In order to deal with the complex and diverse international community, we have to gather talent from both inside and outside the Judo circles and reinforce the lineup with a long-term perspective. As a leading nation of Judo, Japan has to clarify its thoughts and return to the spirit of realizing international Jita Kyoei (mutual welfare and benefit) taught by Master Jigoro Kano. Japan, with its clear assertions, has to keep up its efforts to cooperate internationally with countries and organizations that share the same vision, and continue the exchanges and cooperation through Judo as a long-term challenge.