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Culture, No.2  Aug. 1, 2010


The Japan-China Friendship Jūdō Hall in Nanjing, constructed with financial assistance from Japan, opened on March 1, 2010. Funding for the project was provided through the Grant Assistance for Cultural Grassroots Projects program administered by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The jūdō hall in Nanjing is the second such facility in China; the first was built in Qingdao in 2007. Having been involved in the project from the very beginning, I went there for the opening ceremony and coached some students from local sports schools at the grand opening. Japanese media people were out in full force that day, and I told an interviewer that I considered Nanjing, a place with terribly painful associations for Japanese people too, to be, for that very reason, the most suitable site for a jūdō hall.

A jūdō hall celebrating friendship between Japan and China has been built in Nanjing–that Nanjing. Nothing could be more gratifying than for Japanese people to realize what this means and see Nanjing as it really is. That is how I truly felt about it.

The next day, however, I was dismayed when I saw the newspapers. Without exception, every newspaper I read described Nanjing as a hotbed of anti-Japanese sentiment. Frankly, they made it sound as if I deserved to be congratulated for going to a place like that and doing what I did. I appreciated the compliment, but it was not true.

Nanjing casts a shadow over us in many ways, in light of the atrocities carried out there by the Japanese Imperial Army. Most Japanese people probably take it for granted that anti-Japanese feelings are more intense in Nanjing than anywhere else in China. I can assure you, however, that Nanjing is not in any way an “anti-Japanese” city. I had hoped that the completion of the jūdō hall would provide an opportunity for the media to correct this misunderstanding, but I was completely deluded.

My only reason for helping to build jūdō halls in China and get more people there interested in jūdō is a desire to help people in China know and understand Japan better. For a true friendship to develop, each side has to know the other very well. In this article, I would like to try once again to eliminate the misconceptions about and the bias against Nanjing.

Please Help Men’s Jūdō

First, let us review some of the background details, starting with the notion of building a jūdō hall in China using aid from Japan. That effort dates back to something that took place in a meeting hall in Shanghai where the International Jūdō Federation Congress convened and conducted seminars in June 2004. Song Zhaonian, who was the vice-president of the Chinese Jūdō Association, came up to me and said, “Yamashita-san, the Beijing Olympic Games are four years from now. I’m not worried about our women’s team, but I’m losing sleep worrying about our men’s team. Please help us.” As he spoke, he clasped my hand in both of his. It was true that there was little chance of China winning any medals in men’s jūdō.

To be honest, I was at a loss. Up to that point I had never been particularly interested in jūdō in China, and it had never occurred to me that someone might actually ask for my help. I saw how serious he was about it, though, so I felt as if I had to pitch in and lend a hand.

Later on I saw Okuda Hiroshi, the chairman of Toyota Motor at the time, whom I met with from time to time because we were writing a book together. When I spoke to him about my intention to help out in China, he thought it was a great idea and readily agreed to help. With funding from not only Toyota but Nippon Steel and All Nippon Airways–Mr. Okuda asked the latter two for assistance with the project–we began supporting China’s men’s jūdō program, with an eye toward the Beijing Olympics.

About six months later I received a completely unexpected proposal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They said our effort to help prepare the Chinese men’s jūdō program for the Beijing Olympics was wonderful, but how about supporting jūdō in China from a longer-term perspective? At the time, in 2005, a wave of anti-Japanese demonstrations was sweeping all across China. I got the impression that the ministry was willing to try almost anything to help improve the deteriorating relations between Japan and China.

Naturally, I agreed. Working together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, groups including the nonprofit organization Solidarity of International Jūdō Education, which I founded and which is devoted to promoting jūdō overseas, investigated the prospects for pursuing this proposal. Ultimately that took the form of the Japan-China Friendship Jūdō Hall in Qingdao, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In November 2006 I went to Qingdao for discussions with local officials. I will never forget what I was told at that time by a Chinese jūdōka. At the start of the twentieth century, China, which had been defeated in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, was sending its young people overseas in an effort to rebuild the country, and many of them came to Japan as foreign students. Kōbun Gakuin, a vocational school specifically created for the purpose of admitting and educating students from China, was established by none other than Kanō Jigorō, the founder of jūdō. Over the course of 13 years, some 7,000 foreign students came under Kanō’s supervision, including Lu Xun and Yang Changji, the father-in-law of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong, on whom Yang Changji had a lasting influence, later wrote of his admiration for Kanō Jigorō and the spirit of Japanese jūdō.

It was the first time I had ever heard this, I am embarrassed to say. I was utterly amazed and deeply impressed to learn that the spirit of jūdō had been transmitted to China by the founder himself. At the same time, the fact that there were people in China who told this story with such enthusiasm convinced me that what we were doing was right.

At the time I heard this anecdote in Qingdao, I had already received the request to carry out a similar project in Nanjing. Looking back on it now, I realize that I responded very coldly. “When the jūdō hall in Qingdao is finished and we can see whether it really does contribute to friendship between Japan and China,” I said, “that’s when we can start talking about where to build the second one.” I was trying to avoid making a commitment. The maximum amount for a Grassroots Projects program grant is ¥10 million. Some may say that is a lot of money and others may say it is not much, but either way it comes from the taxes paid by Japanese citizens; it should not be that easy to finish using one grant and then just go back and get another. Jūdō halls might spring up all over China, or the whole idea might just fade away. I truly felt that it all depended on whether the hall in Qingdao succeeded or failed.

Ultimately, I think the people of Qingdao realized this and took it to heart. A large photograph of Kanō Jigorō was put up in the hall, along with posters explaining who Kanō was and what jūdō is. For me the building itself embodied the spirit of jūdō and symbolized friendship between Japan and China. Our nonprofit organization subsequently invited youngsters from Qingdao to come to Japan to train with Japanese contemporaries, and exchanges of this sort began in earnest.

Given the success of the project in Qingdao, I felt it was reasonable to start thinking about Nanjing. On August 15, 2008, the anniversary of the end of World War II, as the initial preparations for the Nanjing project were getting underway, a certain newspaper carried a scoop: “Japan-China Jūdō Hall to Be Built in Nanjing, Yamashita on Board.” To some extent I was pleased, but on the inside I felt I was in a bind. I had not even discussed the project with the Foreign Ministry yet. Fearfully I phoned the ministry, but my contact there was delighted with the news and said we should get right to work.

Applause for Nanjing

I have mentioned my dissatisfaction with the media, but of course at first I knew very little about Nanjing. My first visit there was in November 2008, and I began the trip feeling extremely intimidated by my surroundings. When I spoke with Matsumae Tatsurō, the president of Tōkai University and a man known for his international outlook, he cautioned me to be careful in Nanjing because it was a “very difficult place.” Then, before I went to Nanjing I stopped in Hong Kong, where I attended a party hosted by a highly respected senior colleague who had been working to help popularize jūdō there for more than 50 years. At the party he gave a speech in which he mentioned that I was going to Nanjing the next day–and then prayed for my safe return. This, from someone who had lived in China for over half a century! Ignorant as I was, I felt all the more tense as I departed for the city in question.

And then I actually saw Nanjing with my own two eyes and encountered a world completely different from the one people had been warning me about. The people there welcomed us warmly and spoke of their high hopes for the Friendship Jūdō Hall. Before visiting the proposed site of the hall, I gave a lecture at Nanjing University; the topic was “The Spirit of Jūdō and the Spirit of Japan.” Of the nearly 300 people in attendance, about half were either jūdō officials in Nanjing or Japanese exchange students studying at Nanjing University, and the rest were all Chinese people, primarily Nanjing University students who were studying Japanese language or culture.

During the question-and-answer session following the lecture, someone out in the lecture hall asked, “Why did you want to build a jūdō hall in Nanjing?” I was glad the question came up. I said, “When we thought about using jūdō as a means of creating more interaction between Japan and China, and now that we’re building a jūdō hall, we couldn’t possibly find any place more suitable than here in Nanjing.” Needless to say, I was referring to the city’s unfortunate history. When I finished speaking, the audience–Chinese and Japanese alike–burst into applause.

On the final day of my stay we held a dinner to which only Japanese residents of Nanjing were invited. The reason for this was that I wanted to hear, from those who knew, what the community of Nanjing and ordinary people there were really all about. What I heard were comments–many comments–such as these: “Not once, in all the years I’ve lived here, has anyone ever taken out their anger on me because I’m Japanese.” “It’s completely different from what they said back in Japan.” The highlight was a comment by a former teacher who had come to Nanjing to study Chinese. “They’re very fine people,” she said, looking perfectly serious. “If I get married, I’d like it to be with someone from Nanjing.”

We visited the Nanjing Massacre memorial hall, which is said to be the foremost anti-Japanese memorial hall in China. The reason the hall was built is stated in an inscription found at the entrance, which cautions against allowing the mistakes of the past to be repeated. Inside, atrocities committed by the Japanese military are on display everywhere. As we neared the exit, however, I was astonished to find that the final exhibit was devoted to the history of friendship between Japan and China. Everything was very different when you saw it with your own eyes rather than just hearing about it.

Nanjing Focusing on the Future, Japan Fixated on the Past

A year and a half after my initial visit, the jūdō hall in Nanjing had been completed without incident and was about to open. Let me return to the subject of the opening ceremony last March, which I mentioned at the beginning of this article.

At the opening ceremony I learned something I had not known before. Japan had donated $96,403 (roughly ¥8.9 million) for the construction of the hall, but Nanjing’s municipal government had spent approximately the same amount–over 480,000 yuan. I was sitting with an official from the Japanese consulate, and I asked him if it was common in cases when official development assistance was provided to a foreign country for the locality to contribute funding for the same project. Unable to conceal his surprise, he said he had never heard of such a thing. It could be said that this “incident” was a symbolic demonstration of Nanjing’s high hopes for the jūdō hall and the community’s desire for greater interaction with Japan.

Following the end of the children’s first practice session, I attended a press conference with Japanese media people, most of whom were reporters dispatched from the Shanghai branches of their respective organizations. The press conference began with a rather unexpected question: “Yamashita-san, the national flags of Japan and China are displayed side by side at this jūdō hall. How do you feel about that?”

I found out later that those reporters had never seen the Japanese and Chinese flags flying companionably alongside one another in Nanjing before. Maybe this reporter could not comprehend what he was seeing with his own eyes and just came out with the first question that occurred to him. I had a simple answer. “That’s only natural, since this place was built to promote friendship between Japan and China,” I said. According to one of my traveling companions, when the reporters heard this the doubtful looks on their faces were replaced with expressions of approval. When I read the articles they wrote, I thought they understood how we felt; all the more reason to hope they would take it one step farther and present an accurate depiction of the people of Nanjing. Most regrettably, they did not do so.

There may be people who think I reject the idea of Nanjing as anti-Japanese only because I am connected to the place due to my “special position.” It is not surprising that some people doubt that I could know the real Nanjing after being involved with the city for “only” a year and a half. In 2005, however, when anti-Japanese protests were spreading throughout China, Nanjing was the only major city where no such demonstrations took place. I doubt many people in Japan are aware of that fact.

In my opinion, it is not only because of their kindness and broad-mindedness that people in Nanjing are far less tainted by anti-Japanese sentiment than they are assumed to be in Japan. As I traveled to Nanjing and worked with and talked to many people there, what I encountered was a passionate desire for greater interaction with Japan. And while people are certainly interested in jūdō as well as Japanese arts and culture, they seem to have a particularly strong desire for economic interaction.

I get the sense that Japanese businesses have put off moving into Nanjing because of the misunderstanding that I described above. The people there say that, like it or not, they cannot help but be painfully aware of the gap separating their city from other cities in China that are steadily achieving economic progress. I think they are sincere in wishing that Japanese companies would overcome their reluctance and come to Nanjing. Nanjing focuses on the future while Japan remains fixated on the past; Nanjing, in particular, is the place to which this formulation applies.

From China to Russia

As I noted above, what motivated me to try to expand jūdō’s popularity in the world and establish a nonprofit organization for that purpose was a desire to spread the jūdō spirit and an appreciation of the value of harmony–the very things that caused Mao Zedong to be fascinated with Kanō Jigorō. In doing so, my only objective was to encourage people to become more interested in Japan and to understand this country better.

My involvement with China came about through sheer happenstance. The establishment of jūdō halls dedicated to friendship there is attracting unexpected attention and yielding solid results in terms of increased interaction.

Prior to my first visit to Nanjing in 2008, I was interviewed on China’s state-run television network at the Qingdao jūdō hall, one year after it opened. The interviewer was Cui Yongyuan, a popular TV personality in China. For some reason they had deployed no fewer than seven television cameras. We sat facing each other, both wearing jūdōgi, and talked for 45 minutes. I was very impressed at the way Cui Yongyuan, who had no jūdō experience, had prepared for the interview by doing detailed research on Kanō Jigorō and me.

Through our nonprofit organization, jūdō coaches were dispatched, Chinese coaches were trained, and exchanges were arranged between Chinese kids who were just starting out in jūdō and kids in Japan. As a result of many such efforts, all based at the jūdō hall in Qingdao, jūdō spread and even became incorporated into physical education classes at schools. The lessons learned and accumulated in Qingdao can also be applied in Nanjing. Naturally, we are going to work hard to expand our efforts to promote interaction through jūdō beyond China as well.

Lately we are focusing on our neighbor Russia. There we have an unparalleled supporter in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, someone who really understands jūdō. In fact, I went to Russia this past March after visiting Nanjing. My main reason for going was to give a lecture at Saint Petersburg State University, but two days before I left for Russia I was asked if I could arrive there a day ahead of schedule, because the prime minister wanted to see me. This was an invitation from Prime Minister Putin, but it was impossible to comply. I politely declined, but I was asked again, and it was eventually decided that we would meet in Moscow after I presented my lecture.

The appointment was set for nine o’clock in the evening. My lecture had been scheduled to end at five, but I cut it short by thirty minutes. After arriving at the airport in Moscow I got the VIP treatment, traveling in a speeding motorcade led by a police car to the Russian White House (headquarters of the government of the Russian Federation). We arrived there at ten minutes to nine. This time, however, I was the one who was kept waiting, because the prime minister was still working; I did not actually see him until ten to twelve.

We had met before and had both gone to great lengths in order to meet again. Word of our meeting quickly spread throughout the country–as an advertising ploy, it was tremendously effective.

In July of this year I am planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories together with my former pupil Inoue Kōsei. We’re going to teach coaches and athletes there about the value of harmony and try to bring together kids from both sides and have them practice together. The very basis of the jūdō spirit is respect for one’s opponent. What we’re hoping to do is try to kindle that flame in young minds through jūdō.

Translated from “Nankin wa kanarazushimo han-Nichi de wa nakatta” Chūō Kōron, August 2010, pp. 188-93. (Courtesy of Chūō Kōron Shinsha)