The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Sports



The Dignity of Yokozuna and the Baseball Charter
-The Importance of both Academics and Athletics-

Takayasu Okushima
Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University

There is a difference between sumo and student baseball-the former is professional and the latter amateur. It would be safe to say, then, that these sports are completely different. One might also say that they are essentially incomparable, but what about the dignity of both sports?

As it happens, I serve as both a member of the governing council of the Japan Sumo Association and as the chairman of the Japan High School Baseball Federation-a rare case, undoubtedly, but true nonetheless. As a result, whether I like it or not, I'm in a position where I have to think about the scandals of both organizations. As is well known, however, I have no experience in either sport. Although I competed in mura-sumo (exhibition sumo during village festivals) in a village of Shikoku several times during my elementary school days and also enjoyed playing sandlot baseball, that's a far cry from what I would call experience. Therefore, I enjoy watching sumo and baseball just as an amateur or as a fan.

I cannot stand by, however, as a disinterested observer of the scandals of both organizations. On the contrary, as a member and as the chairman, I'm in a position where I must assume responsibility and consider these issues carefully. So, what are my thoughts on these issues? I'd like to reflect on some of them here. Needless to say, the Grand Sumo Tournament can be regarded as a part of the unique culture of Japan, and the High School Baseball Tournament held at Koshien Stadium in spring and summer is not only a Japanese seasonal tradition but also a national event that could be regarded as Japanese culture itself, judging from the scale and national concern. I would go so far as to say that this problem cannot be considered without viewing culture from this perspective.

First, let's consider sumo. There is no need to dwell on the fact that sumo developed historically as a Shinto ritual. Sumo is most certainly also a kind of sport, and as such it has developed rapidly in recent years. But it seems that there are very few if any people who do not support the standpoint of the Japan Sumo Association, which regards sumo as a Shinto ritual. This is why dignity is required of yokozuna-who must embody the soul of sumo. The significance of the Asashoryu incident was not that it was simply a violent incident, but rather that it called the dignity of yokozuna into question.

Of course, the cursory explanation of sumo above is insufficient-it would ordinarily be necessary to demonstrate why sumo is regarded as a Shinto ritual. There are numerous reference documents on this point, however, and I will need to leave it at that for this article.

Regarding the scandals of high school baseball, on the other hand-although general student baseball would ordinarily be discussed here-due to space limitations and a dearth of reference documents, I'd like to focus on high school baseball and why the Japan High School Baseball Federation is stricter about scandals than their counterparts in other high school sports (those belonging to the All Japan High School Athletic Federation.) Of course, the Japan High School Baseball Federation does not consider its handling of high school baseball to be strict, but rather they regard their treatment as the normal and proper way. It is well known that the Baseball Charter considers baseball to be "part of education," and from this perspective, it is natural to demand reasonable discipline, given that the aim of education is the cultivation of character.

As a lead in to thinking about this issue, let's consider the following two examples: the first involves the qualifications for student participation in athletic competition in the U.S. There is no room to go into detail in this article, but in order to deal with issues in football-an extremely popular sport in the US-the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) was established, and the criteria dividing student sports and professional ones were defined as education and academic ability. This means that academic ability is a prerequisite to be a student, and students who do not have the academic ability corresponding to their school year or who show no promise of graduating are not qualified to compete on behalf of the school. In other words, those on baseball scholarships with unconditional promotion and graduation (from an amateur viewpoint) or with absolute patronage (from a professional viewpoint) are not qualified to compete on behalf of the school.

The second example involves student sports in South Korea. In South Korea, an athletic scholarship system (a sports scholarship system) was established in order to boost national prestige in 1972. As a result, out of about 2,200 high schools in South Korea, only 53 currently have baseball clubs. Fewer than 100 high schools even have soccer clubs-the most popular sport. According to Korean newspapers, high school students participating in sports are not actually required to attend their classes-their college admissions are determined solely based on their athletic performance, and they do not attend their classes at all. National baseball tournaments are held 10 times a year, but there are fewer than 1,000 spectators at the championship game. Even if we regard this system as acceptable for those who are fortunate enough to turn professional, many of those who cannot turn professional do not even have the academic ability of an elementary school student. Because it is nearly impossible for them to find jobs, this situation has come to be regarded as a contemporary social issue.

If such an athletic scholarship system (a system that allows for students who do not attend their classes and cannot earn grades appropriate to their school year) were implemented in Japan, the so-called bukatsu-i.e., club or intramural sports-would be nearly devastated. Even if such devastation were not imminent, doesn't admitting squarely that: students need not study so long as we cultivate strong players, fly in the face of how schools should be? Even leaving aside the example of public schools in England which value both academics as well as sports in cultivating elites, don't the sensible school sports programs in the US clearly indicate the direction that we should follow? It is clear that the Japan High School Baseball Federation, at least, is headed in that direction.

Takayasu Okushima, Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University


Professor Okushima was born in Ehime-ken in 1939. He graduated from the School of Law I, at Waseda University and subsequently withdrew after completing the full-term of the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Law at Waseda University. Professor Okushima holds a Doctor of Juridical Science from Waseda University and served as Dean of Academic Affairs, Waseda University; Director of the Waseda University Library; Dean of the School of Law, Waseda University; and as the 14th president of Waseda University from 1994 to 2002. Professor Okushima currently serves in positions including Executive Advisor for Academic Affairs, Waseda University; and chairman of the Japan High School Baseball Federation.

Professor Okushima received the Academic Palms (educational performance award) conferred by France in 2002.

Primary fields of research: Corporate governance, theoretical corporate structure, legislative history of French corporations.

Recent works: The Realization of Waseda as a Purposeful University, (Waseda University Press, 2004); Judicial Precedent Lecture on Corporate Law (coeditor), (Yuyusha, 2007); Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility (editor), (Kinzai Institute for Financial Affairs, Inc., 2007); The Time of Corporate Law, (Waseda University Press, 2010).