Japan Wrestling

Veteran Japanese Wrestling Writer Eyes Covering 2nd Tokyo Olympics, 56 Years Later

By Ikuo Higuchi

(The following is an abridged version of a story that recently appeared on the Japan Wrestling Federation website. Translation for UWW by Ken Marantz.)

Getting to cover more than one Olympics during a career can be considered an honor, but is not necessarily such a rarity for the world's top sports journalists. But to report on two Olympics held in the same city---and more than a half-century apart---that puts a writer into a class all their own.

Veteran Japanese wrestling writer Masayuki Miyazawa could pull off this astounding feat when the 2020 Tokyo Olympics open less than a year from now.

In the decades since covering the first Tokyo Olympics in 1964 for the Nikkan Sports daily, Miyazawa established himself as a leading fixture on the wrestling scene in Japan, not only as a peerless reporter, but as a magazine editor, Japan federation official, impromptu coach, and maverick of sorts.

"I don't want to go watch, I want to be on the scene reporting," says Miyazawa, who has long retired from Nikkan Sports and, his health willing, wants to be involved in some writing capacity at Tokyo 2020, when he will be 90.

Miyazawa still holds a position as an advisor in the Japan Wrestling Federation, but never forgets his roots. Although he has a seat on the dais reserved for federation officials at the All-Japan Championships, he always heads for the press section to sit among his "peers." "I'm a journalist for life," he says.

Miyazawa was not aware of the possibility of doing the Tokyo double and earning a place in journalistic history until a fellow press member mentioned to him, "You can get into the Guinness Book." That sparked Miyazawa's interest, the same inquisitiveness that led him to some of Japan sports' biggest scoops.

Miyazawa is praised for his long years of contribution to wrestling by JWF President Tomiaki Fukuda at an event heralding the first Olympic gold medal won by a wrestler (Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu) from Takushoku University, Miyazawa's alma mater, in 2012. (photo by Ikuo Higuchi)

It was during his days at Nikkan Sports that Miyazawa broke the story of the retirement of one of sumo wrestling's legendary champions, yokozuna Wakanohana I (the wrestler's wife phoned him to tell him). And at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, Miyazawa made use of the Indonesian he had studied at Takushoku University to land an exclusive interview with President Sukarno, who was engulfed in a political crisis at the time.

Miyazawa serves as a referee, one of his many functions, at the GANEFO (Games of the New Emerging Forces) held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1963. He was also a judge in judo, a coach in both sports, and a journalist covering the event. (photo courtesy of Masayuki Miyazawa). 

While he has mostly left his mark in wrestling, he covered many sports in his career, including judo, gymnastics, karate, modern pentathlon and the Paralympics. His prolific writing could fill volumes.

Finding the missing medalist
Miyazawa's greatest achievement was when he tracked down a Japanese Olympic medalist who had disappeared without a trace. It was Miyazawa who not only found Katsutoshi Naito alive and well in Brazil, but made it his life work to recount an amazing tale that very few Japanese even knew about.

The history of Japanese wrestling can pretty much trace its roots back to Naito, a judo competitor who took the rare and bold step in the 1920s of venturing overseas, in his case to enroll at Penn State University, currently a U.S. collegiate powerhouse. He joined the wrestling team and, in the days before the establishment of the NCAA, won the Eastern Intercollegiate title in 1924.

At that time, there was strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, and Japan was not exempt. Against that background, Naito kept a low profile but still managed to find success. A Japanese politician, hoping to improve relations between the two countries, arranged for Naito to compete at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Katsutoshi Naito, left, a star wrestler at Penn State who won Japan's first ever Olympics medal in wrestling, a bronze at the 1924 Paris Games. (JWF archives)

Naito followed up on his success at Penn State by winning the bronze medal in the freestyle 61kg class. It was Japan's first-ever medal in wrestling and only the third overall, following a pair of silvers won in tennis at the 1920 Antwerp Games.

Naito returned to Japan after the Olympics and tried to introduce wrestling into the country, but it could not compete with the home-grown sport of judo. Naito, who studied horticulture at Penn State, then left for Brazil, where a large Japanese immigrant population had developed. In addition to starting a horticulture business, Naito introduced judo to his new hosts.

It would not be until 1932 that the Japan Wrestling Federation was established. By then, Naito was all but forgotten, and no one associated with the sport knew his whereabouts.

That was the situation until Miyazawa decided it was time to find this "legendary hero." Driven by the spirit of a wrestling journalist, Miyazawa plunged wholeheartedly into finding this ancestor of Japanese wrestling. His efforts paid off and, through an exchange of letters, he confirmed that Naito was living in Brazil. Miyazawa then played an influential role in getting Naito and his wife to attend wrestling matches at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when the two met for the first time.

How proud Naito must have felt to see how wrestling had planted such firm roots in Japan, and how far it had come---enough to win a startling five gold medals.

Later, to properly chronicle Naito's tale, Miyazawa started his journalistic endeavors in earnest, and the story was first published in a leading Japanese magazine in October 1987. "I went to Brazil three times, and Penn State three times," he recalls. At Penn State, he was hosted by Hachiro Oishi, a long-time coach of the Nittany Lions.

In 1985, Miyazawa accompanied Tomiaki Fukuda, the current JWF president, and Kazuko Oshima, Japan's first female wrestler, to report on Oshima appearing in the first-ever international women's tournament in Clermond-Ferrand, France. Miyazawa stayed behind after the other two returned to Japan to visit sites of the 1924 Paris Olympics and get a sense of the path taken by Naito. Looking back, the 89-year-old Miyazawa recently revealed how well-versed he became in Naito's life, as he can still recall from memory, "July 14, that was the day that Naito won his bronze medal."

Miyazawa, center, poses in Brazil in February 1990 with Katsuhiro Naito, left, the oldest son of Katsutoshi Naito, and Tatsuo Oishi, older brother of former Penn State coach Hachiro Oishi and who was living in Sao Paulo. On the wall is the diploma Katsutoshi Naito received for winning the bronze medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics. (photo courtesy of Masayuki Miyazawa)

For the sake of posterity
Over a nearly quarter-century span, from after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to March 1990, Miyazawa served as editor of a monthly magazine published by the Japan federation, originally called Japan Amateur Wrestling, then later renamed Monthly Wrestling and now Olympic Wrestling. At that time, wrestling was a completely amateur sport relying on government funding, and money was in short supply. As such, it was an unpaid position for Miyazawa, and one he carried out in his spare time away from his fulltime job.

One JWF president used to plead with the press for coverage, even if it was negative news. But in reality, most members of the federation regarded media relations as frivolous. "Expending energy on public relations doesn't result in any gold medals," was a common refrain.

"I don't recall ever getting compensation for writing, editing, transportation or any other expenses," says Miyazawa, who also somehow found time to serve for a decade as manager of the wrestling team at his alma mater Takushoku University, after it had fallen to the third division of the regional league. In 2012, Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (freestyle 66kg) became the first-ever Takushoku wrestler to win an Olympic gold.

In the early days of the magazine, there was no fax machine or email, and Miyazawa had to meet the printer at Shinjuku train station in Tokyo to hand over the texts. They would meet again to get him a copy of the galley proof, then yet again so he could convey corrections. All of this in the precious time between newspaper assignments. The fact that results of tournaments often were published three or four months later hardly detracts from his impressive dedication.

Why did he do it? For Miyazawa, it was about fulfilling the journalist's mission of preserving an accurate history for future generations, in a sport he loved.

One day, a federation official said to Miyazawa, "If someone wants to look up results, they can just come to the federation office. Shouldn't you include more stories?" But Miyazawa was having none of that. For him, it was more important to have a depository for results to be left for posterity. He had his supporters, including one high-ranking official who noted that it would be easy for people living in Tokyo to visit the office, but all but impossible for many others. "Many people have an interest in seeing the results," the official said. "For the wrestlers, to see their name in print, even if it’s only on one line, would serve as motivation."

Others would later praise Miyazawa's efforts, saying the details and results included in the magazine were invaluable in determining qualifications for awards or putting together histories.

Miyazawa also revolutionized how wrestling terms were used in Japan. Back then, "period" was referred to as "round", and instead of the weight class in kilograms, terms like "flyweight" were used. It is suspected that the use of such boxing terms had been decided by journalists covering contact sports. Miyazawa became determined to unify Japan with the rest of the world after attending an international tournament. "When I mentioned the 'flyweight class,' a European wrestler had no idea what I was talking about," he recalls.

As wrestling in Japan was imported from the United States, Miyazawa wondered if it also used the boxing terms. But asking former Kokushikan University coach and longtime JWF website contributor William May, who wrestled collegiately in Minnesota, the American said had never heard of such a thing. Without consulting anyone, Miyazawa immediately started using "period" and "xx kg" in the magazine, and nobody complained.

Miyazawa, left, poses with Japan's first female wrestler Kazuko Oshima, 3rd from right, and others following an exhibition match for women held in conjunction with the Super Champions Cup in Tokyo in 1985. (photo courtesy of Masayuki Miyazawa)​

Still in the running
While Miyazawa hopes to attend the Tokyo Olympics in some writing capacity, he has also applied to be a runner in the nationwide torch relay. If he is selected, he knows that his unique link to both Tokyo Games will lead to him being the subject of interviews, instead of the other way around.

Of more serious concern, though, is his current health. In the fall of last year, he had gallstone surgery, at which time he was found to have prostate cancer. As the cancer was not malignant, the doctor said that hormone injections could guarantee another of five to 10 years of life. As that would take him through the Tokyo Olympics, Miyazawa agreed to the treatment.

Recently, Miyazawa's condition has stabilized. In the olden days, the lifestyle of a reporter could be considered anything but healthy. Irregular working hours and late nights were the norm, as well as drinking until morning with colleagues. Smoking while typing out a story on deadline was a common site. While Miyazawa himself was not a smoker, his work left him with little time to exercise and he rarely thought about his diet.

At 62, five years after he had reached retirement age and was working for Nikkan Sports on a contract basis, he paid his own way to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was there that, seeing a photo of himself, he was shocked at how plump he had become. Thinking the problem might be more internal than a matter of diet, he underwent a physical exam upon returning to Japan, and was diagnosed with diabetes.

The doctor immediately recommended that Miyazawa see a specialist. Fortunately, his condition was not life-threatening, nor was he at a stage where amputation of a limb would be necessary. With medicine, a change to a healthy diet and the start of an exercise regimen, his condition vastly improved. Every day before going to work, he would go through a workout of walking in a pool. He managed to drop from 74kg to his current weight of 57kg, about the same as during his days as a wrestler at Takushoku.

Prior to his surgery last year, Miyazawa participated in an event hosted by the Daiichi Seimei Life Insurance women's athletics team, in which he ran two laps on a 400-meter track. He finished well behind the others. But as each leg of the Olympic torch relay will be 200 meters, it has given him confidence of being able to successfully complete the task.

One other obstacle could be getting credentials. When he covered the 1964 Olympics, criteria for getting a pass was very loose and he was very free to report on what he wanted. Nowadays with the IOC handling the process, it has become much more select.

Recently, an acquaintance took Miyazawa's quest a step further. "After covering the Tokyo Olympics for a second time, how about the [2024] Paris Olympics, which will mark 100 years after Naito won his bronze medal?"

"When the prostate cancer was discovered [last year], I was told the hormone treatment would give me another five or 10 years," Miyazawa replied. "I'd like to be around for that."

Japan Wrestling

Safety, Small Numbers Mark Start of Japan's National Team Camps Amid Pandemic

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO―It was hardly a typical start to a Japan national team training camp. For one thing, there were only eight wrestlers. 

But these are not typical times. In the midst of a global pandemic, the fact that Japan was finally able to return to the mat for the first time in 3 1/2 months was a major step forward as the host nation begins long-term preparation for the Tokyo Olympics postponed to the summer of 2021.

Yukako and Risako KAWAI use hand sanitizer upon entering the wrestling room at the National Training Center in Tokyo. (photo by Sachiko Hotaka/JWF)

"I'm really happy to see the national team members again after so long," said Yukako KAWAI, one of four Olympic team members participating in the women's camp that started July 2. "Up to now we had camps about once a month and while we are not back to usual, I'm happy that we can wrestle here again."

Adhering to voluminous and painstakingly prepared guidelines set down by the Japan federation's sports science committee, the training camps at the National Training Center in Tokyo will follow strict protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has dealt such a heavy blow to world sports.

Aside from the usual directives for wearing masks, washing hands and using disinfectants, the guidelines also call for the number of people in the wrestling room at one time to be limited. This is being achieved by having separate camps for the three styles with a minimum of overlap, and mainly inviting only those who have clinched Olympic spots or will be involved in the qualifiers. 

"Each of the training camps―for women, Greco and freestyle―are not aimed at raising the level," national technical development director Shigeki NISHIGUCHI said. "These camps are specifically aimed at the Tokyo Olympics. So we limited the number, particularly for July. Depending on the circumstances, we hope to be able to increase the numbers in August and September. But the main point is not bringing in the coronavirus."

The wrestlers have kept a detailed record since June 16 of their daily body temperature, general health and any outside contact that they have had. Each took an antibody test prior to the camp and, aside from a quick run to the convenience store, are prohibited in principle from leaving the NTC.

The women are the first up. Their camp will run through July 8, followed by Greco-Roman (July 6-11) and freestyle (July 23-28). All three will then have one camp each in August and September, again almost all separately. 

Yui SUSAKI goes for a leg during a takedown drill. (photo by Sachiko Hotaka/JWF)

Making their way into the six-mat wrestling room at the NTC on Thursday were four of the five Olympic women's team members―reigning Olympic champions Risako KAWAI (57kg) and Sara DOSHO (68kg) along with Kawai's younger sister Yukako (62kg) and Hiroe MINAGAWA (76kg)―as well as two-time former world champion Yui SUSAKI (50kg), who will aim to grab an Olympic ticket at the Asian qualifier scheduled for March next year. Three others were in attendance.

Missing from the Olympic quintet was world silver medalist Mayu MUKAIDA (53kg), who had recently graduated from powerhouse Shigakkan University. She has joined the high-tech engineering firm JTEKT as a sponsored athlete and had commitments to the company. 

Outside of coaches, staff and federation officials, the only people allowed in the wrestling room were staff from the Japan federation website and a UWW correspondent. The Japanese media was able to observe practice through an online stream, and had a "press conference" with each wrestler after the session. 

Every person entering the room had to disinfect their hands and have their temperature taken. The wrestlers also disinfected the bottom of their wrestling shoes. Everyone but the wrestlers during practice, even the coaches, wore masks at all times. 

At this stage, the federation's policy is basically to start slow and build up to the Olympics, doing what it can to prevent injuries. As such, the practice session contained no live wrestling at all. The first hour was dedicated to stretching and building up the core muscles, followed by drills such as high single-leg takedowns and gut wrenches. The mood was light but focused on the task at hand.

 "There is still one year and one month until the Olympics, so what we want to do is build a solid base and avoid injury," Nishiguchi said. "We're starting from the basics. The wrestlers might feel that it wasn't enough. But there is no reason to rush things."

Sara DOSHO works on a core-strengthening exercise. (photo by Sachiko Hotaka/JWF)

The Walking Wounded
While avoiding injury is a priority, ironically three of the Olympic wrestlers are currently nursing a variety of physical ailments. In fact, Minagawa used the layoff to have knee surgery, while Dosho, who says she has recovered fully from the shoulder surgery she had in early 2019, continues to rehab a bum knee of her own. Risako Kawai sprained her back recently.

"It's been a chronic condition for about a year," said Minagawa, the 2019 world silver medalist, said of her right knee, which had meniscus removed. "It was particularly bad in March. With the Olympics [originally] in August, there was no way I could have surgery. I thought I would go on just kind of ignoring it, then the postponement was decided."

Nishiguchi pointed out that for some like Minagawa, there is a silver lining to the postponement of the Olympics due to the pandemic, as it gives them a year to recover from injuries. 

During the peak time of the pandemic in Japan, the government declared a state of emergency that lasted from early April to early May. That, however, did not give the government the power to enforce the closing of businesses or the use of masks and social distancing. Instead, it empowered the governors of the nation's prefectures to request such measures be implemented voluntarily, and the public largely went along with the "self-restraint." 

Like the others, Minagawa was limited at this time to working out at home and going for runs. No wrestling rooms or gyms were open.

"During the time of self-restraint, I had to stay at home and mentally it left me down," she said. "Recently, the state of emergency was lifted, so I was able to go outside more and the national camp could be held, which helped from a mental point of view. I'm more apt to be looking ahead positively."

Dosho said she still feels some pain in her knee, although a thick supporter helps alleviate the discomfort. Having missed out on a medal at the World Championships, she remains determined to make amends by repeating at Olympic champion.

"My objective of winning a gold medal hasn't varied at all," she said. "I think I'll be fine if I stay patient and go slowly in practice."

Risako KAWAI lifts her partner's leg during a takedown drill. (photo by Sachiko Hotaka/JWF)

Now She's Cooking
For Risako Kawai, who won her fourth world title last September in Nur-Sultan, staying home gave her a chance to learn some lessons of the real world outside of sports―such as how to cook.

"From high school, I had always had my meals in the dorm, and even after I graduated from college, I still was able to eat there," Kawai said. "But during the period of self-restraint, we weren't allowed in or out of the dorm. It was the first time I had to prepare my own meals for such a long span, even at my age."

Saying she also gave Pilates a shot for the first time, Kawai found recipes online. 

"I had never prepared fried foods, but I was able to give it a shot," she said. "More than coming up with a specialty, I tried different things."

Younger sister Yukako, like Risako a product of Shigakkan, also missed the somewhat pampered life of college. "I really gained an appreciation for the house mother who fixed our meals," she said. 

Shigakkan had recently reopened its facilities, so the Kawais were able to actually get onto the mat prior to the national camp, although again without live wrestling. 

"Naturally my strength has dropped compared to usual times," Risako said. "But I don't feel like there's any change in my feel for wrestling."

As for getting back on the mat, she added, "It's the first time in a while for the coaches to watch me and to work with a partner. It's a fresh feeling." 

She said she is about 80 percent recovered from her back sprain and is taking care not to have a relapse. During the drills portion of the first workout, she did not do the ground wrestling.

Yukako KAWAI takes down her practice partner. (photo by Sachiko Hotaka/JWF)

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Among the main non-wrestling topics of conversation at the camp was the new look of Yukako Kawai, who surprised many people by having her long hair cut to a short bob.

"It's the first time since junior high school that I have it this length," she said. "It's a new me."

Kawai said she had her locks lopped off just before the start of the self-restraint period in March, before the hair salons would be shut down. 

"I've always wanted to have it cut, but I didn't have the courage," she said, adding she finally gained the necessary resolve after an incident in New Delhi in February. "At the Asian Championships, I had my hair pulled. That's when I decided I'm going to go through with it. 

"At the time, the Olympics had not yet been postponed. I thought it would be a bold move to get me in the spirit in the lead-up to the Olympics."

The shorter tresses are not the only new aspect of Kawai's life. Like Mukaida, she graduated from Shigakkan, and joined a corporation with a deal that allows her to remain fully dedicated to wrestling. She joins Risako as an employee of Japan Beverage, which was also the company of now-retired multitime world champion and Olympic medalist Kyoko HAMAGUCHI. 

"Up to now, I was on the wrestling team as part of being a student," Kawai said. "Now wrestling is my job. It's my job to produce results and repay the company. I feel more responsibility than before. I have to be more discerning about my performance.  I'm thankful that they will provide the same wrestling environment that I have had before, and I want to do well and make the company happy."

While the world wrestling schedule remains in limbo, Kawai said she is not concerned at this point that there is no specific tournament for which she is preparing at the national camp. 

"I haven't really thought about that," she said. "I set an objective each day in practice and I think how I can achieve that objective. More than a tournament, I'm working to overcome any issues I have."