World of judo takes body blow with planned magazine closure

Even a record nine gold medals bagged by the national judo team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was not enough to reverse the fortunes of one of only two monthly magazines that specialize in the sport and put it on the path toward profitability.

So Tokyo-based Baseball Magazine Sha Co. has decided to cease publication of Kindai Judo this summer, according to sources.

The decision, which will have a far-reaching impact in keeping the profile of the sport alive, follows a deep slump in the publishing industry and is part of a business reconstruction plan by the company.

Company representatives visited the All Japan Judo Federation to notify officials that no other course was available, sources said.

Kindai (modern) Judo was first published in November 1979.

The monthly magazine features reports of judo matches, commentaries on “waza,” interviews with judoka, and records of judo tournaments held nationwide.

It is the only magazine specializing in judo, except Judo, a monthly journal published by the prestigious Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo.

In recent years, however, the circulation figure of Kindai Judo has dipped below 10,000, sources said.

The remarkable accomplishment by the national team at the summer Olympics, held a year late in 2021 due to the pandemic, was not the panacea for a rise in sales.

The decision to close will be widely felt.

For starters, the publisher has co-hosted a national junior high school judo tournament each March with the All Japan Judo Federation.

It is one of the big three judo events for junior high children. But it now remains unclear if the annual tournament will continue, sources said.

The number of judo enthusiasts has fallen sharply in recent years, from around 200,000 in 2004 to 120,000 or so in 2021.

That raised alarm bells, and the federation in September 2021 set up a special committee to pursue a branding strategy to improve the image of the sport. The body is headed by Kosei Inoue, who was head coach of the men’s national team at the Tokyo Olympics.

Jun Konno, a former Asian champion who serves in a senior role with the federation, said the magazine has a special place in his heart.

“When I was a high school student, my name was featured in Kindai Judo for the first time,” Konno said. “I was so happy and bought two copies of the issue.”

The fact that a magazine devoted to judo exists “makes children who practice judo feel encouraged,” he said. “It will be a sad day if the magazine stops publication.”

Another official of the federation took the news on the chin, but was clearly downcast.

“Ending publication of the magazine is a major event that will have a decisive influence on the number of people who practice judo,” the official said. “It is all the more shocking because I heard the magazine had managed to stay out of the red.”

The magazine,s sales base got a substantial boost in the 1990s when judo clubs at multiple universities began subscribing to Kindai Judo, purchasing several dozen issues each month.

“It is time for the judo world as an organization to do something to ensure the magazine survives,” said a federation official. “If it becomes difficult to survive, then we will have to find a different publisher to pick up the ball and continue to issue the magazine.”

Baseball Magazine Sha publishes a number of magazines that specialize in baseball and track and field athletics, among other sports.

But it is not only judo that is losing readers.

The publisher also decided to end publication of Boxing Magazine and Softball Magazine.

The national softball team won a gold medal at the Tokyo Games. In boxing, Sena Irie made history by becoming the first Japanese woman to win a gold medal in the sport at the Summer Games.

But just as in the case of judo, that was not enough to lure new readers, given that much of the information covered by the magazines is now freely available online.

Boxing Magazine, first published in 1956, is the oldest magazine specializing in the sport in Japan.

It covered both professional and amateur boxing.

“It is very sad to learn that the magazine is closing down,” said Makoto Maeda, one of its former chief editors.

Maeda is now involved in publishing another boxing-specialized magazine.

“Not many people box, so it is not easy to find advertisements to run in the magazine,” Maeda said. “The news hits a little too close to home.”

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