Opinion JapaneseEnglish

“Think and Act Independently” Motto Develops String of National-Level Athletes Tokai’s basketball club blossoms into college sports powerhouse

October 1 , 2019

With the national team qualifying for the World Cup, Japan’s basketball scene is undergoing a boom not seen in some time. A major presence in Japanese basketball world is Tokai University’s Seagulls, a team that has dominated the college basketball league and sent more than 40 players to Japan’s professional B-League. We talk to Professor Akira Rikukawa, who built the Seagulls into a five-time national college champion, about his coaching methods and philosophy.

Interviewer: Masayoshi Nakane


Inspired by US Coach During Study Abroad

Question: You spent a stint in the US studying coaching. Recent years have seen a rejection of “fighting spirit” -based coaching styles that formerly dominated Japanese sport, and society now takes an extremely dim view of corporal punishment.

Answer: I never was a fan of coaching styles that emphasized irrational seniority-based relationships or tried to push players with a “fighting spirit” mentality. When I was working I had the opportunity to learn from Dave Yanai, who was the first Japanese-American to coach a men’s team in the NCAA. The training programs were meticulously planned, and it was a completely different environment from that I’d experienced before. I’ll never forget Dave’s words when I went to study coaching at CSULA: “athletes are not machines—they’re human.” Those words really shaped my philosophy as a coach.

I believe that the most important thing is to develop players who can think and act independently and can motivate themselves. While they’re athletes, I also want them to grow as people.


Q: Ex-Tokai players have gone on to star at the higher level. You’ve developed a number of renowned players, including several on the Japanese national team such as Joji Takeuchi, Daiki Tanaka, and Leo Vendrame.

A: My mentor Dave Yanai always said that we should teach the important things in life through basketball, including mindset and attitude. I constantly tell my players and staff “you are the only person who can find your desired road in life, so it’s important to keep improving yourself and to think and act independently.” This is not limited to the basketball club. I also stress this philosophy in my classes. I truly want my students to use the four years of college not only for basketball, but as a foundation for the rest of their lives.


Emphasis on fair play and sportsmanship

Coaches also need to continue learning

Q: Tokai’s School of Physical Education places an emphasis on fair play and sportsmanship. This is one of your defining characteristics and part of the University’s appeal.

A: Yasuhiro Yamashita, the University’s Vice Chancellor (currently President of the Japanese Olympic Committee), believes that sportsmanship and fair play should be at the foundation of everything we do, and it is no exaggeration to say that he is a living embodiment of every aspect of sports at Tokai University. Our campus has a view of Mt. Fuji and nearby mountain ranges, while being located close to the ocean. This rich natural environment is the perfect place for our students to absorb themselves in both sports and study—this is one of the University’s big advantages. There is a great atmosphere between our faculty members, and each week we hold a cross-event collaborative strategy project, in which coaches from an array of sports gather together to present the latest strategies at the global level in their sport, and discuss and learn from one another.

The School of Physical Education does not simply focus on sports themselves, but also on how sports can contribute to society. The School has departments to match the interest of prospective students - whether it is playing, watching, or supporting sports. I encourage anyone who is interested in sports to consider entering Tokai University.

Professor, Department of Competitive Sports, Tokai University School of Physical Education

Akira Rikukawa

Born March 11, 1962, Rikukawa first took up basketball in high school. After graduating from Nippon Sport Science University, he joined NKK, playing in Japan’s corporate basketball league and winning the league title and MVP award among his career achievements. A member of the Japanese national team for 11 years, he also served as captain. As coach of the Tokai University Seagulls, he led the team to five national college championships. He concurrently serves as technical director for the Japanese under-22 side and the All Japan University Basketball Federation. He also coached the Japanese men’s basketball team at the World University Games.

■Main academic societies: Japan Society of Physical Education, Health and Sport Sciences, The Japan Society of Coaching Studies, The Japan Society for Basketball Studies