The high school girl in Japan is as iconic an image of Japanese popular culture as the ninja, Mt Fuji and Hello Kitty.

For whatever pop psychology reason you want to imagine, the teenage girl in a uniform, particularly those that echo the naval uniforms of Europe in the 19th century, is a constant in Japan’s mainstream (and not so mainstream) culture. More interestingly, the fighting high school girl is a uniquely popular phenomenon in Japan – case in point, the iconic characters of Sukeban Deka and Sailor Moon.

1989 High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament
1989 High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament

In promotion of the 101st High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament, to be held on Sunday, May 21, 2017, a video called “Sumo Girls Eighty Two Techniques” was released. The Japan pop culture site, SoraNews24, provides details on these 82 techniques.

Most people, however, are likely more interested in the visuals.

 

Sumo Girls 2

Sumo Girls 1

Track and Field: USA Championships
Alysia Montaño competing at the 2014 USA Outdoor Championships

Athletes are always pushing the boundaries – doing and accomplishing things that most others would not try or even think of doing.

When Alysia Montaño was considering whether to compete in her fourth straight USA Outdoor championship in 2014, she made a decision to do so – a daring decision considering she was 8 months pregnant!

This link, which shows a list of athletes who competed in the Olympics while pregnant, is filled with names of people who were 5-months pregnant or less. I wrote about the famed Flying Dutchwoman, Fanny Blankers-Koen, who was three-months pregnant when she won four gold medals at the 1948 London Olympics. Today, it is more and more common to hear about athletes competing while pregnant.

But Montaño race at 8 months was eyepopping. She was not out to win the 800 meter competition at the USA Outdoor Championship. In fact, she completed her race 35 seconds off her personal best. Her objective, as she related in this CNN interview, was to show the world what it looks like for a pregnant woman to be working, even as late as 8 months.

I recognized it was unlikely for people to see a pregnant woman running, in general. I wanted people to recognize that fitness and pregnancy is a really good thing, and this is what it looks like being a professional woman, whether my profession happens to be a professional athlete, or a businesswoman who has to go in an office and work 9 to 5. This is what it looks like for me as a professional athlete and wanted people to see that.

Of course, everyone wonders, is it safe? And Montaño has explained in many interviews that she did consult with her doctors, who not only said it was safe, it is a very good idea for women who are pregnant to exercise. Montaño explained that the immediate concern in running is not to fall. But like walking down the street, when a pregnant woman’s center of gravity is different from when she is not pregnant, she has to always remember to keep the posture upright. Montaño concentrated on doing so during the race.

In Montaño’s interview with ABC News, Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained that “pregnancy is not a disease,” and “we have to remember, pregnancy, labor and delivery – we have to train for them.”

As explained in this article, only one out five pregnant women exercise according to a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, and that “The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for women with uncomplicated pregnancies (although contact sports, scuba diving, sky diving, hot yoga or activities with risk of falling should be avoided, reads the organization’s opinion).”

Said Dr. Raul Artal, who co-authored the report, “pregnancy should not be a state of confinement but rather an opportunity for women to continue an active lifestyle or to adopt an active lifestyle if they were not active before.”

Amber Miller
Amber Miller competing at the 2011 Chicago Marathon

Amber Miller certainly didn’t confine herself. At the age of 27, while 39 weeks pregnant, Miller ran in the 2011 Chicago Marathon. It was not publicized, but when people realized she was pregnant, she got a lot of double takes and words of encouragement, as noted in this New York Times Well blog post.

Miller finished the race three hours off her personal best, in 6 hours and 25 minutes, mixing in walking with running. But then after the marathon, she embarked on a second one. While running she experienced contractions. Eight hours after completing the marathon, she gave birth to a baby girl. Which of the two was more difficult? “I don’t feel anything from the marathon, but I do feel what you’d expect after giving birth,” she said the day after.

So for all the mothers who have toughed it out, by just having children, Happy Mother’s Day!

Paris_2024_Olympic_bid_logo.svg

It was 1921 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland to vote on the host city of the 1924 Olympiad. Delegates from Amsterdam, Holland, as well as Rome, Italy were confident with its bid to host the 1924 Olympics. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was 58 years old, and had overseen the birth and growth of the Olympic movement for over 30 years, and announced in Lausanne, he was ready to retire, and that he had a favor to ask of his fellow IOC members.

Would they be so kind as to select Paris, France, his hometown, to be the host of the 1924 Olympic Games?

The IOC members could not turn down the father of their movement, and thus Paris was selected as host of the 1924 Games, much to the chagrin of the delegates for Rome, who stormed out of the meeting. But the Dutch, who had bid for the 1912 Olympics, and ceded to Antwerp, Belgium in 1920, were also selected at this 1921 IOC meeting to host an Olympics, the next one in 1928.

Eventually, the IOC drew up a charter that states a host city must be selected 7 years in advance, probably assuming that changing economic or political conditions might result in regrets over a decision made so far in the future. Possibly they used the 1921 case as its benchmark. But nearly 100 years later, the IOC may need to look confidently into its crystal ball and decide yes, let’s select, both Paris and Los Angeles for the next two Summer Olympics.

On September 13, 2017, the IOC will meet in Lima, Peru to select the host city of the 2024 Summer Olympics among the two surviving candidates – Paris and Los Angeles. There has been speculation for months that they may also select the host city for 2028.

LA_2024_Olympic_Bid_Logo.svgBut which city should go first in 2024, and which city will take the longer-term plunge, agreeing to host 11 years later? Delegates from both bid committees are saying that they are only considering 2024. But from the IOC’s perspective, locking up two cities for the next two Olympics would be a relief as cities and nations are now commonly reluctant to bid for this biggest of big tent events.

Rich Perelman, who edits the insightful newsletter The Sports Examiner, recently posits a scenario for the upcoming selection prior to key IOC visits with the bidding committees in LA and Paris in May. Perelman believes that the IOC needs to reward Paris who has been active in hosting Olympic-spots events, and help turn the tide in Europe, which has seen major cities like Rome, Hamburg and Budapest drop bids due to weak support in their own countries.

Perelman explains that later may be better for LA. Even though Los Angeles has fantastic facilities ready to go, particularly an Olympic Village infrastructure that Paris does not currently have, the city of angels still has significant transportation infrastructure issues, among other things, that they could use the time to resolve.

So if one assumes that the members of the IOC vote to select Paris as host of the 2024 Olympics, then Perelman believes that the IOC, driven by president Thomas Bach, have to make a strong offer to Los Angeles to accept the rights to host in 2028. Such inducements would include start-up funding for four year from next year, say USD10 million a year, and perhaps early access to monies from television rights and sponsorships prior to 2022, which is when such payments would normally be made for a 2028 host city selected in 2021.

Interestingly, I have yet to see a scenario if the IOC vote to select Los Angeles as host in 2024. Would Paris agree to wait 11 years and host in 2028?

In 1921, Los Angeles also bid to host the 1924 Olympics, but failed. In 1923, the IOC met in Rome to decide on the host city of the 1932 Olympics, nine years later. The IOC selected Los Angeles. And the circumstances then may be similar to the circumstances today. The IOC had only one bid for 1932 – Los Angeles. If Paris wins the bid in September, the IOC may think they have only one bid for 2028 – Los Angeles. Will history repeat?

Posto da Torre
Posto da Torre in Brasilia, Brazil.

The Posto da Torre is a busy gas station in Brazil’s government seat of Brasilia. Before 2013, Posto da Torre (Tower Gas Station) was just one of many of gas stations in the capitol. After 2013, Posto da Torre became the symbol of corruption in Brazil.

A drug investigation by police into a money exchange shop located on the Posta da Torre property revealed that billions of dollars secretly skimmed from the accounts of Petrobras, Brazil’s state oil enterprise, as well as construction companies, were moved into the hands and accounts of Brazil’s most prominent politicians. In fact, over 100 of Brazil’s top politicians have been implicated in what is today called Operation Car Wash, known in Portuguese as Operação Lava Jato.

One of the more well-known names caught up in web of Operation Car Wash is former mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, whose name has appeared on lists of people receiving payments from construction companies, presumably related to the development projects for the 2016 Rio Olympics. According to this post from Inside the Games, Paes is alleged to have received over USD5 million from from engineering giant Odebrecht.

Paes, who ended his role as mayor at the end of 2016, has denied wrongdoing, calling allegations “absurd”.

Former Brazil President, Henrique Cardoso is also under investigation for taking bribes from Odebrecht, has spoken recently about Operation Car Wash and its significance. “Car Wash has played a very important role in Brazil because it lifted the lid, which was necessary. But that will not resolve things immediately. It is a process,” he said in this Reuters article. “How do you change a culture? With time and by setting a good example – there is no other way.”

An interesting aside: there is no car wash in Posto da Torre. As The New York Times cheekily point out, the closest this Brasilia gas stop has to a car wash is a laundromat. At any rate, it is money that gets washed, not cars. When politicians will come clean is anyone’s guess.

Paula Radcliffe's world record setting marathon time
Paula Radcliffe’s world record setting marathon time

When Bob Beamon set the world record in the long jump at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, his victory was so dominating that the record held for nearly 23 years. Perhaps as amazing, when Mike Powell finally broke Beamon’s mark, Powell’s world record has held even longer – now over 25 years.

The European Athletics Association (EAA), the governing body for athletics throughout Europe, are making recommendations to bring greater integrity to historical track and field records that could result in the erasure of Powell’s records from the books. As far as I can gather, the EAA is assuming that standards for doping tests were not robust enough in the 1990s, and thus it is possible to assume that existing records from that time are suspect.

To that end, the EAA is proposing to the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) to adopt the following standards for athletics records, according to The Sports Examiner:

  • Performances would have to be achieved at competitions on a list of approved international events where the highest standards of officiating and technical equipment can be guaranteed;
  • The athlete will have been subject to an agreed number of doping control tests in the months leading up to the performance, and
  • The doping control sample taken after the record is stored and available for retesting for 10 years.

According to The Guardian, blood and urine samples have been stored by the IAAF as early as 2005. Thus the current speculation is that any track and field record set prior to 2005 no longer demonstrate acceptable levels of integrity. Not surprisingly, holders of records set prior to 2005 are outraged.

Jonathan Edwards, who set the current world record holder in the triple jump in 1995, said “I thought my record would go some day, just not to a bunch of sports administrators. It seems incredibly wrong-headed and cowardly and I don’t think it achieves what they want it to. Instead, it casts doubts on generations of athletics performances.”

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards and his world record setting jump

Paula Radcliffe, also quoted in the Guardian article, expressed dismay at the inference her record in the women’s marathon set in 2002 is thanks to doping. “I fully understand the desire and need to restore credibility to our sport but don’t feel that this achieves that,” said Radcliffe. “It is yet one more way that clean athletes are made to suffer for the actions of cheats.”

And here’s how Radcliffe expressed herself in Twitter.

I am hurt and do feel this damages my reputation and dignity. It is a heavy-handed way to wipe out some really suspicious records in a cowardly way by simply sweeping all aside instead of having the guts to take the legal plunge and wipe any record that would be found in a court of law to have been illegally assisted. It is confusing to the public at a time when athletics is already struggling to market itself.

As quoted in The Sports Examiner, the EAA president, Svein Arne Hansen of Norway, believes that these recommendations are essential to improving the integrity of records in sport. “Performance records that show the limits of human capabilities are one of the great strengths of our sport, but they are meaningless if people don’t really believe them. What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition to a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board.”

Hansen is not alone and has an ally in the IAAF president, Sebastian Coe. “I like this because it underlines that we [the governing bodies] have put into place doping control systems and technology that are more robust and safer than 15 or even 10 years ago,” said Coe. “Of course, for this to be adopted for world records by the IAAF it needs global approval from all area associations. There will be athletes, current record holders, who will feel that the history we are recalibrating will take something away from them but I think this is a step in the right direction and if organized and structured properly we have a good chance of winning back credibility in this area.”

Coe speaks to the challenge of driving dramatic change. Will the records of Powell, Edwards and Radcliffe, among others, be wiped from the record books? Stay tuned.

Kokichi Tsuburayas suicide note
Kokichi Tsuburaya’s suicide note

My dear Father, my dear Mother: I thank you for the three-day pickled yam. It was delicious. Thank you for the dried persimmons. And the rice cakes. They were delicious, too.

My dear Brother Toshio, and my dear Sister: I thank you for the sushi. It was delicious.

My dear Brother Katsumi, and my dear Sister: The wine and apples were delicious. I thank you.

My dear Brother Iwao, and my dear Sister: I thank you. The basil-flavored rice, and the Nanban pickles were delicious.

My dear Brother Kikuzo, and my dear Sister: The grape juice and Yomeishu were delicious. I thank you. And thank you, my dear Sister, for the laundry you always did for me.

My dear Brother Kozo and my dear Sister: I thank you for the rides you gave me in your car, to and fro. The mongo-cuttlefish was delicious. I thank you.

My dear Brother Masao, and my dear sister: I am very sorry for all the worries I caused you.

Yukio-kun, Hideo-kun, Mikio-kun, Toshiko-chan, Hideko-chan, Ryosuke-kun, Takahisa-kun, Miyoko-chan, Yukie-chan, Mitsue-chan, Akira-kun, Yoshiyukikun, Keiko-chan, Koei-kun, Yu-chan, Kii-chan, Shoji-kun: May you grow up to be fine people.

My dear Father and my dear Mother, Kokichi is too tired to run anymore. I beg you to forgive me. Your hearts must never have rested worrying and caring for me.

My dear Father and Mother, Kokichi would have liked to live by your side.

These were the handwritten words of Kokichi Tsubaraya, one of two notes he left as explanation for why he took his life in his dormitory room of the Ground Self Defense Forces. Tsuburaya was a soldier, but he was also a Japanese icon, winning the bronze medal in the marathon at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. As he wrote, he was simply “too tired to run anymore”. As described in a previous post, injuries and heartbreak may have led to Tsuburaya’s demise.

Kokichi Tsuburaya surrounded by family
Kokichi Tsuburaya, center, surrounded by his family.

Suicide rates, while decreasing in recent years, thankfully, have been traditionally high in Japan compared to other countries. Perhaps there is a romanticism connected with suicide in the deep recesses of Japanese culture. So when some of Japan’s most celebrated writers, Nobel Prize winners Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata, read the suicide note of Kokichi Tsuburaya, they swooned at the simple yet striking words of the athlete. Mishima viewed Tsuburaya’s notes as “beautiful, honest and sad.” And as Makoto Ueda explained in his book, Modern Japanese Writers and the Nature of Literature, Kawabata was even jealous of the quality of Tsuburaya’s poetry.

Kawabata was deeply moved upon reading this suicide note. After citing it in its entirety, he offered to explain why: “in the simple, plain style and in the context of the emotion-ridden note, the stereotyped phase “I enjoyed” is breathing with truly pure life. It creates a rhythm pervading the entire suicide note. I tis beautiful, sincere, and sad.” Kawabata then observed that this suicide note was not inferior to similar notes written by reputable writers, despite the fact that Tsuburaya was an athlete who boasted no special talent in composition. Kawabata even felt ashamed of his own writings, he said, when he compared them with this note.

Another giant of Japanese literature, Kenzaburo Oe, was also impressed by the suicide note of Tsuburaya. At a series of talks Oe gave at the University of California, Berkeley in April 1999, he talked about how Tsuburaya’s suicide note was a wonderful cultural marker of the 1960s, a reflection of Japan in a state of transition during a period of intense social, economic and political change. Let me quote Oe at length here:

We know from this note that Kokichi Tsuburaya was from a big family. The many names he mentions probably do not evoke any particular feeling in a non- Japanese, but to a person like myself—especially to one who belongs to an older generation of Japanese—these names reveal a naming ideology of a family in which authority centers around the paternal head-of-household. This family-ism extends to the relatives. There is probably no large family in Japan today where children are named so thoroughly in line with traditional ethical sentiments. Tsuburaya’s suicide note immediately shows the changes in the “feelings” of the families of Japanese these past thirty years.

The many foods and drinks he refers to also tell of the times. Twenty years had passed since Japan’s defeat, and it was not a society of food shortages. But neither was it the age of satiation and Epicurean feasting that began ten years later. The year Tsuburaya died was the year that Nikkeiren, the Japan Federation of Employers’ Association, tried to counter the spring offensives—the annual demand by labor unions for wage hikes and improved working conditions—by arguing that the sharp increase in prawn imports was evidence of a sufficient rise in the standard of living. More consumers were eating imported frozen prawns. Business administrators keep an eye on such trends. And I think that honestly expresses the eating habits of Japanese people at this time.

Domestically, 1968 saw the rage of student rebellions, most noted among which were the struggles at Tokyo University and Nihon University. Outside of Japan, there was the May Revolution in Paris, and the invasion of Soviet troops into Prague. In retrospect, we clearly see that the world was full of premonitions of great change.

Against this backdrop, a long distance runner of the Self-Defense Forces— itself a typical phenomenon of the state of postwar Japan’s twisted polysemous society—turned his back on the currents of such a society, alone prepared to die, and wrote this suicide note. In the note, the young man refers to specific foods and drinks, he encourages his nephews and nieces to grow up to be fine people; he is overwhelmed by the thought of his parents’ loving concern for him and writes that he knows their hearts must never have rested in their worry and care for him. He apologizes to them because, having kept running even after the Olympics with the aim of shouldering national prestige, he became totally exhausted and could no longer run. He closed his note with the words: “My dear Father and Mother, Kokichi would have liked to live by your side.”

Tsuburaya was a man of his times, celebrated in 1964 for his accomplishments as an athlete. Today he is also remembered for his eloquence in representing the Every Man in Japan, a poet who is said to have captured the essence and the angst of those times.

Kokichi Tsuburaya and his bronze medal
Kokichi Tsuburaya and his bronze medal

Kokichi Tsuburaya was a national hero. He raced his heart out in front of an entire nation, which saw an exhausted Tsuburaya get out-sprinted at the  very end of a 42-kilometer marathon, and collectively groaned when their new hero dropped from silver to bronze.

But as related in this post, Tsuburaya was a man of commitment, and he promised he would work hard to ensure he was ready to compete and do better at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Not only did Tsuburaya feel that added weight to make up for the “loss” of silver, so too did his seniors at Tsuburaya’s place of employment, Japan’s Ground Self Defense Forces.

Tsuburaya did indeed train hard. And yet, somehow, he also found time for courtship. He had a met a girl named Eiko before the Tokyo Olympics, and he wanted to marry her after the Tokyo Games. His coach at the Self Defense Forces athletics school, Hiro Hatano, was supportive of the proposed marriage. Tsuburaya’s parents too approved of their son’s plans to marry Eiko.

One would assume that further approval would be unnecessary, but in 1966, coach Hatano’s boss expressed his dissatisfaction with the union. Perhaps Hatano’s boss thought that Tsuburaya needed to keep his focus 100% on his training – I’m not clear yet on the specifics. But in a country where hierarchy determines status and power, and in the context of a military culture where the norms of hierarchy are amplified even more, Hatano’s boss had the power to overrule a personal decision of someone in his organization.

Perhaps, in an exercise of power that feels cruel, Hatano’s boss brought Hatano, Eiko and Eiko’s mother together to inform them that the marriage to Tsuburaya would have to wait until after the Games in Mexico City so that Tsuburaya could focus solely on his training. Tsuburaya was not present in that meeting.

Eiko was devoted to Tsuburaya and wanted to wait until they could get married. But Eiko’s mother was no longer supportive, worried that marriage to a famous man like the marathon bronze medalist who had the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulder would only lay unknown burdens on the shoulders of the wife. Perhaps more of a concern, Eiko’s mother was not confident that a marriage to Tsuburaya was a sure thing in two years, and was worried that Eiko, at the age of 22, could lose other opportunities to marry well in that period.

Tsuburaya and Miyake celebrating
Tsuburaya (left) and gold medal weighlifter Yoshinobu Miyake (right) celebrating their Tokyo Olympic medals.

In the end, the proposed marriage of Kokichi and Eiko was broken off. Tsuburaya’s coach and manager, Hatano, was left with the unfortunate task of informing Tsuburaya. Hatano protested these decisions to his own boss to the point where he ended up being demoted and removed as Tsuburaya’s coach. Tsuburaya thus had to train on his own, likely feeling quite alone. Very quickly, injuries began to plague Tsuburaya – first the return of the intense pain of the slipped disc, and then an injury to an achilles tendon, which required surgery in 1967.

At the end of 1967, Tsuburaya returned to his hometown of Sukagawa, Fukushima for the long holiday break that bridges the old year with the new. Tsuburaya’s father was pained with news that he wasn’t sure he should share with his son. But he thought it best to tell his son before he found out on his own – that his former fiancé, Eiko, had gotten married. Kokichi replied “Oh, Eiko-san is married. That’s good for her.” The son pretended that he was OK with the news, but his father could tell that his son was shocked and saddened.

Tsuburaya returned to his Self Defense Forces base after his time with family during the New Year’s break. And on January 8th, 1968, he slit his wrist and died in his dorm room.

 

Note: Special thanks to my researcher, Shiina Ishige, for her in-depth research that contributed heavily to the writing of this post.