HARARE — At dusk one recent day in the Zimbabwean capital, high school students clad in judo garb were busy engaging in pushups and other exercises on tatami.
When Hosui Sasaki entered the dojo, the atmosphere quickly grew tense. The students shouted “sensei” (teacher) in unison as they approached Sasaki and bowed their heads deeply.
A tall student bowed his head while making eye contact with Sasaki. “Don’t look at another person’s eyes and bow to the other by looking down,” Sasaki advised. “A bow is very important.”
The 64-year-old has lived in Harare for more than 30 years, teaching judo to high school students and adults twice a week. He always tells his students: “Never put up a fight in other places. Fight on the tatami mats.”
“When the sensei came here three years ago for the first time, I was surprised by his toughness, but later I knew why. Unless you are tough on yourself, you cannot become strong,” said Clinton, one of Sasaki’s 16-year-old disciples.
Born in Kumamoto Prefecture, Sasaki took up judo in junior high, where half the students in his school were in the judo club. After graduating from a university in Kyoto, he joined the Kyoto Prefectural Police and frequently spent his time practicing the sport.
This was in the 1960s when the student movement was at its height. Sasaki was often mobilized as a riot police officer for demonstrations and was nearly hit by a firebomb more than once.
A turning point in his life came in 1972 when he had a chance to teach judo to police officers in Zambia as a Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteer. The three years he spent in the country changed his life, he said.
Sasaki returned to the Kyoto force but was no longer comfortable being a police officer.
He quit in 1976 and moved to what was then Rhodesia to teach judo. The country was ruled by a white-minority government but was about to gain independence from Britain.
Sasaki chose the country because he wanted to see an African nation gain independence. He also hoped judo would become popular once the country achieved independence, and that there would be more judo competitions involving other countries.
The judo master has enjoyed his life in the mild climate, but life in Harare is getting harder day by day.
The first 10 years after the 1980 independence, the country’s economy was healthy. But it has deteriorated, especially since 2000. Agriculture has collapsed with the government’s forcible expropriations of white-owned farms, and people have to cope with hyperinflation and chronic shortages of goods.
Partly due to European and U.S. sanctions imposed in response to the expropriations and other measures, the country’s foreign currency reserves dwindled as agricultural production nosedived. The annualized inflation rate last July stood at 231 million percent. The shelves in supermarkets in Harare are almost empty. Salt, oil and other daily necessities are only available on the black market.
For Sasaki, who remembers postwar austerity in Japan, his judo students in Zimbabwe remind him of his childhood.
“I want the high school students to aspire to improve themselves through judo,” he said.