Media Mix, Jan. 20, 2013

Masami Kuwata

Masami Kuwata

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the taibatsu (corporal punishment) controversy surrounding the suicide of a high school basketball player in Osaka. So far the main witness to come out against taibatsu in the major media has been former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Masami Kuwata, who recalls having been beaten on an almost daily basis when he was in elementary school and says that taibatsu does not make young athletes stronger. It’s a fairly straightforward appraisal of the matter and one that carries weight since Kuwata made his name as a high school athlete. In fact, he is arguably more famous as a high school pitcher than he is as a professional. Nevertheless, Kuwata has always rubbed the established sports press the wrong way, mainly because of his attitude, which many veteran sports journalists find high-minded. He has always been seen as an elitist, with his vocal anti-smoking stance and graduate degree in sports psychology from Waseda University. At least one weekly magazine reported that there was a backlash against Kuwata’s anti-taibatsu media campaign, though usually a weekly that reports such a reaction is itself part of the backlash. Does that also mean the media as a whole thinks taibatsu is a good thing? It’s difficult to say. My impression is that the way the details have been presented indicate that most reporters believe the coach, who remains nameless, went overboard in his mission to produce a winning team, but that taibatsu is not as evil as people like Kuwata say it is. In the weeks since the suicide, the story has become more complicated, with reports of an off-campus apartment where players could stay when they practiced too late. Apparently, some of the players who used this apartment, which the school itself didn’t know about initially, misbehaved and the beating the dead student received was administered, at least in part, as punishment for the misdemeanor, since he was the captain and thus responsible for his teammates. Given the code surrounding sports clubs and the attendant use of taibatsu, the beating is pretty much in line with what students who join such a club can expect. Even some parents have, anonymously, told reporters that they assume taibatsu would be part of their children’s athletic development. The fact that the captain was driven beyond that point and committed suicide implies that the coach went too far, and it’s easy to assume that the coach was the type of man who couldn’t control his temper. (Reportedly, he is remorseful, but it seems to be remorse over his failure to assess the situation properly) According to the code, he was free to beat his charges for whatever reason he thought appropriate, and he just got carried away. This is the subtextual narrative I inferred from what I read and heard, and it may be stretching the point, but the gist is that had the coach been more moderate in his use of corporal punishment, the boy wouldn’t have killed himself. This is a correlative to the opinion of Hiroshi Totsuka, whom I cited in the column. Totsuka thinks the problem is kids today: they aren’t properly conditioned to understand that taibatsu is good for them. The media’s opinion seems to be that the coach didn’t acknowledge that there are limits to taibatsu, but that doesn’t mean the media thinks taibatsu itself is a bad thing. Several media described the coach as a “god” in the realm of amateur sports, an image that is all the more mysterious and powerful because of his anonymity. Of course, his career would be over if his name were revealed, and the media’s restraint seems to say: Why waste such an effective educator because of one miscalculation?

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