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HOME  > Past issues  > 2017 March 29 - April 4  > Women’s struggles change sports history
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2017 March 29 - April 4 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

Women’s struggles change sports history

March 30, 2017
Akahata ‘current’ column

The National Invitational High School Baseball Tournament is a special spring sporting event in Japan. In this year’s tournament, a small change took place. Its host organization for the first time allowed a female student to take to the baseball field of the Koshien Stadium to assist her school team during practice.

In last summer’s National High School Baseball Championship held at the same stadium, a girl student of Oita High School, who was assisting with fielding practice on the grounds, was suddenly ordered by the event organizer to get off the field.

This incident provoked strong public criticism. The tournament sponsor, the Japan High School Baseball Federation (JHSBF), explained that it was a measure for “risk prevention”. Today, however, it is not unusual for high school girls to help baseball teams practice on school grounds. After heated discussions, the JHSBF decided to permit female students to go on the Koshien field during the practices just before this spring tournament.

In March, a gender-based discriminatory custom in the judo world was abandoned as well. The All Japan Judo Federation (AJJF) stopped requiring female athletes to wear a white-on-black belt during matches, permitting them to wear a black belt as male athletes do.

Judo founder Kano Jigoro taught women some judo techniques but did not allow them to fight in matches, claiming that the most important thing for women is to cultivate their minds. An Olympic judo medalist, Mizoguchi Noriko, points out in her writing that a white-on-black belt was adopted in order to distinguish girls from boys as they were banned from practicing together. It was not until 1978 that a women’s national judo championship was held.

At the general meeting of the International Judo Federation (IJF) in 1999, the Japanese custom which obliges female athletes to wear a white-on-black belt was criticized as a blatant example of sexism. After that meeting, the AJJF allowed women athletes to put on a black belt, but only when they enter international competitions.

Four years ago, female members of Japan’s Olympic judo delegation accused national team coaches of acts of violence, which became a serious social issue. The recent abandonment of the discriminatory belt custom is a part of the reform efforts the AJJF has made since then. These changes show that women’s struggles and public opinion are forcing an advance in Japan’s sports world slowly but steadily.
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