The Crying Japanese Athletes

Yamanaka Shinsuke stepped up to defend his WBC bantamweight championship title for the 13th time earlier today. The man, dubbed 神の左, literally translated as “God’s Left,” was famous for his left straight punch, which took out 11 of his last 12 defending match opponents.

Just a few hours ago, Yamanaka faced Luis Nery, a young Mexican boxer who has not lost a single game of his last 23 matches and is now ranked No. 1 in WBC. Yamanaka was also making his attempt to equal the long-time Japan record of 13 consecutive championship match wins held by Gushiken Yoko, and the news has been making a big deal out of it.

It is a big deal, but to place such pressure on the athlete, it makes me wonder if the media wish more for his victory or more for their viewership ratings.

While Yamanaka placed clean hits on his younger opponent in the second round with his famous left punch, he was in trouble halfway into round 4 when Nery caught him a few times. As Yamanaka desperately go for a hug to get a break-off, Nery kept turning away from the hugging attempt to land more punches on the champion, eventually leading to the end of Yamanaka’s winning streak by TKO (technical knockout).

It was a great fight and my heart was applauding Yamanaka’s brave fight against the young challenger… until he started crying.

It seems that this is something very Japanese. When high-schoolers lose their football or baseball games, many of them would start wailing. When they lose a judo match, they bawl over it. When Yoshida Saori failed to win her 4th consecutive Olympic gold medal in wrestling, she cried as she was awarded her silver medal.

I’m not sure if that is a representation of how much effort one has put into training. After all, I’ve never been particularly outstanding at any sport, even though I can do most sports acceptably well. But you don’t see that kind of crying by athletes of other nations. Yes, sometimes you see them cry, but the Japanese people cry very badly.

Which is why, when I recently saw students of Akita’s Meioh High School lose their game 2-14 with pride and smiles after their match against Tokyo’s Nishogakusha High School, I was very touched and felt proud of those students. Despite the huge loss, they lost their game with grace. They showed us, you don’t have to cry to move people.

But such a culture of crying will probably carry on for a long long time, as long as the Japanese media keep making and showing people cry because “it’s better TV.”

Nevertheless, Yamanaka was the boxer who got me interested in the game of boxing because he somehow manages to make it an exciting game to watch. I respect him for what he’s achieved and despite not equaling Gushiken’s record, Yamanaka will come down in history as the boxer with the second most consecutive championship wins and this record is expected to stay around for a long time.

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