a different kind of education in Japan
- Subject: a different kind of education in Japan
- From: Susan Ohanian <SOhan70241@AOL.COM>
- Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2002 06:55:41 EST
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
Beatings Among Young Baseball Players
Reveal a Japan Riven by Old Militarism
By PETER LANDERS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 10, 2002
FUKUOKA, Japan -- On a hot night in July 1997, 16 upperclassmen summoned
Yuichiro Inoue and five other freshmen on the PL Academy baseball team to a
windowless laundry room in their dormitory. A single light bulb shone on the
In what had become a familiar ritual, the upperclassmen ordered the boys to
lie on the floor, with their legs extended in the air and their hands clasped
behind their heads.
As he lay there, Yuichiro, a promising pitcher for Japan's most famous
high-school ball team, moved his arms for a moment. An upperclassman
responded with a powerful kick. A "snap" sound rang out, and the freshman
felt a sharp pain in his left elbow -- his pitching arm.
He didn't know it then, but his baseball career was over at the age of 16.
At the PL Academy -- the initials stand for "Perfect Liberty" -- winning is a
tradition. The PL baseball team has repeatedly won the widely watched
national high-school tournament at Koshien Stadium near Osaka. More than 20
PL graduates play in Japan's major leagues.
Another school tradition, say former players, is violence and forced
subservience. One freshman, Yuta Morino, kept notes that reveal a highly
regimented life. To go to the bathroom, he wrote, freshmen had to ask
permission from an upperclassman. Initiates served meals, cleaned the older
boys' rooms, did their laundry and were subjected to their sometimes harsh
discipline. "Third-year students are emperors," a passage reads. "The coaches
The school says its coaches discourage fighting and bullying. But graduates
say upperclassmen routinely beat freshman, often to the point of serious
Until last year, no one at PL Academy dared go public with the stories of
brutality. High-school baseball is a virtual religion for millions of
Japanese. On the first day of the Koshien tournament, boys from 49 teams
march onto the diamond in buzz cuts and crisp white uniforms to the sound of
martial music. One boy shouts out a solemn oath, reminiscent of the vows
soldiers once swore to the emperor.
The warrior symbolism is no accident. After World War II, Japan foreswore
militarism, but embraced it in other forms. Companies and the government
organized themselves in rigid hierarchies. Today, the militaristic ethos is
starting to ebb, both in the office and on the ball fields. After a decade of
every-man-for-himself behavior in a grim economy, seniority and loyalty count
for less. Japanese baseball players such as Seattle Mariners star Ichiro
Suzuki are increasingly ignoring the pleas of their elders and heading across
the Pacific for fame and riches.
And lawsuits are surging, belying the traditional claim that harmonious
group-oriented Japanese had little need for the court system. To meet the
demand, the government plans to triple the number of new lawyers licensed
each year by 2010. "Japanese are increasingly insisting on their rights,"
says Katsushige Koga, a lawyer in the western city of Fukuoka.
Mr. Koga is the man to whom Yuichiro's mother turned when PL Academy refused
to pay compensation for her son's injury. Last month, the school settled a
lawsuit filed last year by the Inoues, as well as a separate suit filed by
Yuta Morino, the former PL player in Osaka who became the victim of violent
hazing. The school acknowledged it was responsible for failing to prevent
Yuichiro's injury, apologized to him and paid him 9.3 million yen ($70,000).
Yuichiro's story shows how Japan's old values are changing -- and how the law
is stepping in to fill a breach. It starts one cold day a decade ago.
Yuichiro, then 10, was playing outfield on a local boys' league team in
Fukuoka when his squad ran short of pitchers. He stepped onto the mound and
threw a shutout. After that, he was a pitcher. He says he practiced every day
until it got so dark he couldn't see the ball.
An unofficial scout for PL Academy, Kazuaki Hasegawa, began attending
Yuichiro's games. "He kept calling many times," recalls Yuichiro's mother,
Yoshiko Inoue. Mr. Hasegawa urged Yuichiro to apply to PL, and invoked
"Koshien" -- the stadium where Yuichiro could expect to pitch on national
television. Yuichiro needed no further prodding. It could happen to me, he
The 15-year-old arrived at the academy in April 1997. The school, located on
a hillside in suburban Osaka, stands next to the headquarters of Perfect
Liberty, a nondenominational religious group that runs the academy. A
180-meter-high "Peace Tower" dominates the Perfect Liberty buildings, its
shape reminiscent of the sets of 1960s science-fiction films.
Mr. Hasegawa, the unofficial PL scout, is the chief minister of the Fukuoka
branch of the religion. Perfect Liberty, which claims a million members, is
one of Japan's many "new religions," which are often a hazy mix of Buddhism,
Christianity and other teachings. The group lies on the fringe of Japanese
society, but it has earned a measure of respect through its famous
high-school ball team.
Servants to Upperclassmen
Stuffed into a dormitory, 10 or more to a room, Yuichiro and the other
players attended class by day and practiced baseball into the evening. After
practice, the freshmen acted as servants to the upperclassmen. The boys were
barred from using the phone and could communicate with their parents only by
letter, Yuichiro says.
Every week or two, as Yuichiro remembers it, the upperclassmen would call in
the freshmen for what was called a "sermon." The younger boys knew that was a
signal for the beatings to begin. They were summoned in three groups of about
six boys each, then ordered into contorted positions on the the ground.
No one complained to the coaches for fear of retaliation, he says. Despite
repeated inquiries, PL Academy and its lawyer refuse to comment on Yuichiro's
allegations, or to make available the papers the school filed in response to
his suit in Fukuoka District Court. (Those papers are sealed now that a
settlement has been reached.)
Frightened, Yuichiro wrote a letter to his mother describing the hazing. He
said he wanted to come home, but didn't want to let down his old coach.
Yuichiro's father called Mr. Hasegawa, the minister-scout, and expressed
concern about the bullying, Mr. Hasegawa recalls.
"It's common for sports teams to have strict hierarchies," Mr. Hasegawa
remembers assuring the father. "I hope he'll hang tough a little more."
Soon after, on July 3, 1997, Yuichiro suffered the kick to his left elbow,
his worst beating yet, he says in a written statement to the court. He says
the upperclassmen that night were keyed up, shouting criticism at the
freshmen such as "You don't have the spirit!" He wanted to run out of the
steaming hot laundry room, he says, but the older boys kept beating him,
stepping on his chest and then pulling him up and punching him.
The next morning, he couldn't lift his arm. The team's administrative
director took him back home to Fukuoka, and urged his mother to have Yuichiro
get surgery to repair a torn ligament at a hospital near the school,
according to Mrs. Inoue and the court statement. Yuichiro's family doctor
recommended a well-known hospital in Hiroshima, but his mother took the
director's advice, thinking it would be easier for her son to rehabilitate
while attending school.
"I thought it would heal right away," Yuichiro says. But in late 1998, the
pain returned. He visited the Hiroshima hospital and was told he needed a new
operation because doctors at the first hospital had botched the surgery,
according to his written statement. A spokesman for the first hospital
declines to comment, citing patient confidentiality.
Yuichiro says he stayed at PL Academy because he thought it would be shameful
to go home to Fukuoka in failure. At PL he continued to participate in
practices. He even managed to pitch in a tournament before the injury flared
In March 2000, Yuichiro graduated from the Academy, and it appeared that his
disappointment would end in private. There was just one detail to be worked
out. When Yuichiro had first been hurt, the administrative director had
promised Yuichiro's mother that the school would handle his medical expenses,
she says. Shortly before graduation, his father, a construction engineer,
asked the school for reimbursement for expenses that weren't covered by the
The school demurred, Mrs. Inoue says. Officials visited the Inoues in Fukuoka
and offered a token payment amounting to a few thousand dollars, she says.
She was furious. "There was no sense of an apology at all," she says. "It
would have been different if they said, 'He did a good job making it all the
way' " through graduation.
Mrs. Inoue called Mr. Koga, the lawyer. He advised her to raise her demand,
and soon Mr. Koga and PL Academy began negotiations. According to the lawsuit
later filed by Yuichiro, the school offered to pay 9.3 million yen; the
Inoues said yes, provided the school apologize.
PL refused but upped the ante to 10 million yen in place of an apology, and
the two sides were ready to close the deal this June, the suit says. PL
Academy's lawyer confirms that settlement talks were under way but declines
to give details.
Then the deal suddenly derailed when a lawsuit in Osaka emerged. Second
baseman Yuta Morino entered PL Academy in April 2000. He was soon assigned as
a servant to a second-year boy. A lawsuit by Yuta and his parents alleges
that Yuta was beaten two or three times a week by his "master." He was often
slapped in the face, punched in the chest and kicked in the thighs over
matters such as serving dinner late to the older boy, the suit says.
The older boy's lawyer, in a written statement filed in Osaka District Court,
acknowledges that his client hit Yuta but denies that the beatings were
unjustified. The statement says that Yuta was giving the older boy poor
service by frequently failing to ask him what time he wanted his dinner
As a result of Yuta's "cutting corners," the statement says, "the defendant
... had no choice but to beat him with his bare hand or fist five or six
On the night of March 5 last year, Yuta sneaked out of the dorm after a
beating and returned home. His mother, shocked by his account, found a lawyer
in Osaka, Yuki Matoba, who says he initially doubted the case was winnable.
"PL Academy is a strong organization. It takes courage to fight someone like
that," he says. But this June, Yuta filed suit against PL Academy, and Mr.
Matoba urged the national high-school baseball federation to punish the
In a rebuke, the federation barred the school from the summer Koshien
tournament and this year's spring invitational national tournament, also held
at Koshien. The federation accused the school of ignoring "repeated violence."
At first, PL Academy vigorously denied responsibility. It filed papers with
the Osaka District Court, arguing that it didn't know anything about the sort
of master-servant relationship Yuta described and wasn't aware of any
beatings until he ran away from school. The school had to acknowledge another
bloody beating, on Jan. 22, 2001, when an upperclassman beat another younger
player with a baseball bat and sent him to the hospital for stitches to
repair bleeding in the head. Even in that case, PL Academy insisted that the
injury wasn't serious.
The school's lawyer, Kenji Yamamoto, held a press conference in July to
assert that while boys are liable to get into a tussle now and then, the
school "on each occasion [the school] responded and gave proper instruction."
PL Academy suspended the club's manager and administrative director for a
When the Osaka scandal hit the headlines in June, the Academy retracted its
settlement offer to Yuichiro Inoue in Fukuoka, says his lawyer, Mr. Koga. The
family decided to sue for 14.7 million yen (about $110,000) in damages.
As last year came to a close, the judges in both cases strongly advised the
school to settle the cases and hinted that they would rule in favor of the
plaintiffs if it didn't. The school apologized to both Yuichiro and Yuta,
accepting responsibility for the boys' injuries and paying damages in each
case. Yuta received a combined one million yen from the school, its coaches
and the boy who bullied him; Yuichiro will receive 9.3 million yen. "The
defendants ... apologize from the bottom of their hearts and will work to
prevent this sort of violent incident from occurring again in the future,"
reads the settlement agreement.
Yuichiro, who just turned 20, is now back home. He dropped out of college, he
says, after giving up his last hope of a baseball career and works nights at
a pub. His left arm still hurts when he tries to pick up heavy objects. His
only contact with baseball is an occasional trip to a batting cage.
Still, like tens of millions of Japanese, he tuned in last summer when the
baseball tournament was on television. "I was watching Koshien," he said
afterward, "and sure enough, I wished I could be there."
Write to Peter Landers at email@example.com
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