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First victories at Meiji Nyugyo Cup!

Kotaro Tanaka
Akira Osaka

At the London Olympics this summer, the Japanese men and women's wrestling teams displayed their full strength. Some people may have had their interest in the sport refreshed. In actual fact, the oldest wresting organization in Japan is the WASEDA University Wrestling Team, which was founded in 1931. It is a strong team leading the field of university wrestling even now, and is the subject of respect among high school students across Japan who come to brush up on their techniques by going to practice at WASEDA. Kotaro Tanaka, the captain of the team, and Akira Osaka were attracted by the atmosphere of the team, and entered WASEDA University without any hesitation.

Final of the Meiji Nyugyo Cup, Kotaro lifting up Tomotsugu Ishida, his former teammate

At the Meiji Nyugyo Cup All-Japan Wrestling Invitational in June 2012, Kotaro won the men's freestyle 66kg competition, while Akira was the winner in the men's Greco-Roman style 96kg competition, both for the first time. "In the championship, Akira won his match before me, so I was happy and encouraged, thinking, 'You did it!'' says Kotaro. Even though it is an individual competition, they share a sense of unity as a team. Akira also says, "During the competition, encouragement from friends makes me stronger." Both of them beat their rivals, which they had set as targets in the championship, giving it a special meaning. Akira defeated Takuma Arizono (ALSOK) for the first time, whom he had lost against in every match since high school. "As I considered him my rival I had a sense of accomplishment," Akira happily says. Kotaro beat Tomotsugu Ishida (Metropolitan Police Academy) who was a former ace of the Wrestling Team and graduated from WASEDA last year, again for the first time. It was an exceptional match between former teammates. "It was like learning something from a senior player. As the run of the game was against me, I think I was just lucky. When seniors fight each other, I had a complicated feeling, wondering whom I should support," says Kotaro. The presence of a rival is an imperative for getting stronger. By studying rivals, you can brush up on your skills.

The dormitory of the wrestling team in Higashifushimi has a board to record the weights of athletes each day. If you forget to enter the record for just one day, you will be penalized and made to dash up the stairs. For athletes, weight control is one of their hardships. This is often the case with weigh-ins with reduced weight before a match, but in the case of Kotaro and Akira, as they are building up their body, they must increase their weight. "Weight increase is tough. You have to eat more than you can eat." The muscular bodies of wrestling team members built up while fighting against fatigue and weight adjustments and through tough bodybuilding is the result of extraordinary efforts.

How to face wrestling differs, depending on individual players. "Every day, I feel torn between conflicting feelings," Kotaro says. "So I always concentrate on studying how to win." On the contrary, Kotaro says, laughing, "I can immediately change my attitude when training is finished. That's why I can continue this sport." However, once training starts, both of them stoically pursue strength. Kotaro says, "If you compromise even a little, you won't be able to become strong," while Akira comments, "I always feel tense, as I think training and actual matches are the same." Out of their fixated need not to regret anything in a game, they force themselves to be in the situation in which they never compromise. At the Prime Minister Cup All Japan University Wrestling Championships held between November 9 and 11, Kotaro became the champion in the 66kg competition, while Akira was ranked third in the 96kg competition. What these physically and mentally tough guys target next is the Emperor's Cup All Japan Wrestling Championship Tournament in December. To be able to represent Japan in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, each and every match will be more important than the previous one.

After training, Akira (right) and Kotaro (left)

Final of the Meiji Nyugyo Cup, Akira pinning down Takuma Arizono, his rival

With teammates of the Wrestling Club, Kotaro is on the extreme right of the second row


Kotaro Tanaka (right)

Born in Kyoto Prefecture. Graduated from Kyoto Prefectural Kyotoyawata High School. 4th Year, School of Social Sciences. He started wrestling in kindergarten as one of his lessons and distinguished himself. He was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 All-Japan Student Wrestling Championship. He loves sleeping and often goes fast asleep on the floor (according to Akira who shares the same room in the dormitory). Recently he is interested in bed clothing.

Akira Osaka (left)

Born in Akita Prefecture. Graduated from Akita Commercial High School. 3rd Year, School of Sport Sciences. He played judo in junior high, but was scouted in high school and started wrestling. He is the champion of the 2012 All-Japan Student Championship (for two consecutive years). As he is from an area of snow, he is interested in winter sports.