WSJ「PL Gakuen article」
Harsh Rites: Baseball, BeatingsAnd Scandal -- Japan In Fractious Times ---
A School's Pitcher, Hazed
Out of a Career, Sues;
The `Emperors' Summon --- `You Don't Have the Spirit!' ----
By Peter Landers
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal via Dow Jones
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 concrete walls.
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 when he was just 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 are gods."
The school says its coaches discourage fighting and bullying. But graduates say upperclassmen routinely beat freshman, often to the point of serious injury.
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 thought.
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.
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 up again.
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 father's insurance.
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 served.
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 times."
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 school.
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 responded and gave proper instruction." PL Academy suspended the club's manager and administrative director for a year.
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."