SAN JOSE, Calif. — A second-generation Japanese American man who coaches judo in California is hoping to return to Japan for his second Tokyo Olympics in 2020 when he will be 100 years old.
Yoshihiro Uchida, who took part in the 1964 Games in Tokyo as coach of the U.S. judo team, still trains judoka at collegiate powerhouse San Jose State University, but he plans to visit the Japanese capital in three years’ time as a spectator.
Judo was added to the Olympics for the first time in 1964, and the United States won one bronze medal.
But what impressed Uchida even more than the competition were the shinkansen bullet trains and underground shopping arcades.
“Various national teams were all talking about how wonderful Japan is,” the 97-year-old Nisei recalled in a recent interview.
Uchida was born in California, and his family soon moved to Kumamoto Prefecture in southwestern Japan where his parents are from.
But they returned to the United States when he was 3, and he took up judo, which was popular in the Japanese American community.
He was studying biology at San Jose State when war broke out between Japan and the United States in 1941 and his family was placed in a Japanese American concentration camp.
“At that time, Japanese could not by law marry white people or buy land. We were excluded and could not even go to a hospital for whites,” he said.
To show that Japanese Americans are also good citizens, he volunteered for the U.S. Army. Just before he was about to be sent to World War II’s European front, Germany surrendered.
As Uchida strongly felt through his own experience as a Nisei that racial discrimination comes from lack of education, he became a judo coach at his alma mater after the war.
“Mutual enhancement deepens understanding and respect for one another and builds friendships regardless of nationality,” he said. “Judo builds character.”
Uchida has trained more than 200 students to attain a black belt over his coaching career spanning more than 70 years and also teaches the martial art to children.
One of his disciples is Marti Malloy, who won a bronze medal in the women’s 57-kilogram category at the 2012 London Olympics.
“Without him, I could not have won the Olympic medal,” the 31-year-old said of her master who has taught her that judo is “not only sport” and whose philosophy stays with her “on a day of rain or shine — always, always, everyday.”
Uchida was initially planning to visit Tokyo in 2020 along with a handful of former judoka who competed at the 1964 Olympics.
But hearing his plan, many of his friends and students have said they also want to accompany him.
“At the rate we’re going, we might have a group of several hundred people,” he said.