Star First-Year Quits Toyo University Alleging Violence by Teammates; Teammates Allege He Had a Bad Attitude
Ryu Hashimoto, at left in headband, at January's Okumusashi Ekiden.
Allegations have surfaced that members of the Toyo University ekiden team, who are targeting their first Hakone Ekiden title in five years this season, committed assault against a first-year student who had just joined the team at the start of the school year in April. The alleged victim, Student X, 18, made the allegations in an interview with gossip tabloid rag Weekly Bunshun.
In junior high school Student X had the fastest JHS 3000 m time in the country. In high school he was ranked near the top nationally, helping lead Saitama prefecture to victory at the National Men's Ekiden in January alongside half marathon national record holder and Toyo alumnus Yuta Shitara. In April he entered Toyo University on an athletic scholarship.
According to Student X, he began receiving "guidance" in the team dormitory and at training camps as soon as he joined the team. "Every night the first-years have to do work like cleaning the team dorm rooms, but I kept getting warned that I'd have to clean the toilets and bathrooms," he said. "In April one of the third-years who had run the Hakone Ekiden got angry at me and kicked me in the leg. I didn't really know the team rules so maybe I'm partly to blame, but there was no reason to get violent with me."
During summer training in July the older teammates' "guidance" escalated. After a second-year "corrected" him during a training camp in Yamakoshi, Niigata, Student X's patience hit its limit. "He blamed me for forgetting some of the team's equipment for practice, grabbed me by the throat and said, 'You're gonna die,'" said Student X. "I thought, 'This totally sucks,' and texted my mom 'I quit.'"
On Sept. 20 a meeting was held in the Toyo team dormitory conference room between Student X, his mother, head coach Toshiyuki Sakai, the team manager, and the senior students who had been involved in the "guidance." The teammates admitted insulting and getting physical with Student X and apologized. But in an Oct. 8 interview with Weekly Bunshun head coach Sakai denied that assault had occurred. "It is a fact that physical contact occurred," he said. Gesturing to show contact on the upper chest with both hands, he said, "This sort of thing. But there was no punching or beating."
Was there violence within the team? In questioning on Sept. 20 Weekly Bunshun obtained an admission from a source within the university that assault had occurred. On Oct. 11 the tabloid published Student X's allegations against the prestigious team using his real name, Ryu Hashimoto, as well as its interview with coach Sakai. The same day it released audio recordings related to the claims online.
A day earlier on Oct. 10, Toyo University released a statement titled, "Our Point of View Regarding a Weekly Gossip Magazine's Article on Our Long Distance Running Team." As outlined in the statement, school authorities questioned all 57 members of the men's long distance teams regarding the allegations. His former teammates stated that right from the time Hashimoto entered Toyo he "broke the team lifestyle rules, was negligent in his obligations as a team member, had a disruptive attitude during classes, and was dishonest."
Teammates said that even though senior team members repeatedly tried to tell him how to fit in as part of the team there was no improvement in Hashimoto's attitude or behavior, and when confronted he would react by clicking his tongue against his teeth disapprovingly, laughing mockingly through his nose, or sighing loudly. Angered by his behavior, the older teammates involved in the allegations said they felt pushed to their limits.
As a consequence, four separate physical acts against Hashimoto by older members of the team were documented. In April there was one incident of a teammate grabbing his shirt by the chest. Also in April, a teammate kicked him in the buttocks. In June he was again grabbed by the shirtfront, and in September he was shoved in the upper chest while being insulted. On Sept. 8 he quit the team. When he did not return to the team dormitory that night the possibility that he had been subject to violent acts emerged, leading to the school's questioning of all 57 team members.
At the Sept. 20 meeting both Hashimoto and the four older students involved in the incidents apologized to each other and mutually acknowledged the points where they were in the wrong and where the other side was not to blame. The four team members who had behaved inappropriately were given official warnings.
On Sept. 19 and 26 Toyo University reported to the Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto on the situation and its background, the results of the interviews with all team members, and the status of its discussion with the students involved. It said that the team's coaching leadership and staff would take the incident as a lesson and work together to prevent a recurrence. The statement ended by apologizing for any concerns that may have been caused by the gossip magazine's article.
photo © 2018 Takaba, all rights reserved
translated and edited by Brett Larner