This observation comes via Yohann over at Dosukoi.Fr. Please click through to read the full article over there (french). Kotoshogiku was interviewed about his recent victory and why it had taken so long for a Japanese wrestler to win a yusho.
Personally, I think this is an issue for Japanese sports and its athletes as a whole. In the US and Europe, sports science and sports medicine are entrenched. Beyond using data to increase effectiveness the use of sports psychologists has been a regular practice at the professional and Olympic level for decades.
However, there are many cases of Japanese athletes under-performing expectations and blame (anecdotal, at least) is placed on the media for the pressure they put on the athletes and their expectations. From figure skating, like Mao-chan, to golf, baseball, and sumo, many Japanese I’ve spoken with believe the media are relentless.
It’s hard for me to square that with what I see in the US. Athletes and all sorts of public figures are put under intense scrutiny – Japanese media can’t be worse. Before winning the Superbowl, Peyton Manning was having the worst season of his career. People thought he was washed up when he was benched, mid-season. Afterward, people mocked the way he shamelessly plugged his sponsors in his post-game interview. Now, mere weeks after the win, come allegations of sexual harassment – an allegation that dates back to his college days. His sterling career looks to be tarnished by impropriety like so many before him…Joe Namath (link to on-air, cringeworthy sexual harassment of Suzie Kolber), any Dallas Cowboy, and Brett “1990s golden boy” Favre. So many of our athletes have humiliating run-ins with the law, or TMZ, but are still able to perform. Athletes in Japan, even foreigners like Ichinojo, seem to crumble under the intense pressure of the spotlight.
All of this leaves me with a big question: What is the state of sports psychology in Japan? This may not be an indicator of anything but the field does not even appear to be in the Japanese Wikipedia (link to English page – note the Korean page…but no Japanese).
I’ve spoken with Yohann about this before. He noted that it’s easier to become a rikishi for native Japanese while standards are much higher for foreigners hoping to make it. Thus, it could be a case of selection bias. We see foreigners being successful because only the successful foreigners even get into a stable in the first place. There’s definitely something to that. But I also think there’s a need for more intense use of sports’ psychology. Maybe if someone out there agrees, you can create the Japanese wikipedia page?