The first thing that catches attention is his elegance. He is tall and thin. It can be seen that the guy is fit. His movements are coordinated. His gestures convey serenity. Talking with him is like having tea in an exclusive English club. He never raises his voice, listen carefully and meditate on his answers. His name is Akinori Hongo.
"Call me Aki," he says. Organizing an international event is something very serious. It is a complicated process that requires tons of work and, in this case, a lot of diplomacy. The World Judo Championships are the result of close cooperation between the International Federation and the Japanese.
Judo legend Yasuhiro Yamashita is president of the Japanese Federation and the National Olympic Committee. He is, together with Marius Vizer, the host of the event. And Aki is his right hand.
“It has been four years of work, since we announced our candidacy for the 2019 world championships,” explains Aki. The event is special because, beyond putting world titles into play, it is co-organized by the Japanese and international federation. And, who says joint organization, says different visions.
“Japan has developed its own way of doing things. And we have specialized, we are very good at what we do”. This is not arrogance, it is the truth, and Japan's reputation goes beyond its borders.
“The delicate thing was to combine different visions and philosophies. The International Federation has its own way and we have ours. I do not say that one is better than another, they just differ”. Aki's task is to achieve a symbiosis between both parties.
"I think we got it. The competition is being a success”. Aki works 17 hours per day. His days are endless meetings to anticipate the pitfalls and solve the problems that arise. These are the facts. However, what is really interesting is diving in Aki's personality.
Aki is a judoka and was runner-up of Japan. His education is the true reflection of the Japanese tradition. His character is forged in the values that judo has exported to the world. That is why he is a calm man who does not express his emotions. But the Japanese, especially those who practice judo, are aware of the universal nature of the sport they invented and, to understand the way of thinking, feeling and acting of the rest of the world, they have opened the doors of their world and have traveled all over the planet in search of understanding of the unknown.
Thus, Aki traveled to Canada to get to know a new culture, a different language, soak up new knowledge and, in short, make the transition between the Japanese culture with which he feels identified, and the western world.
The result is an absolute understanding of the Western idiosyncrasy placed at the service of Japanese philosophy. At the world championships the alliance in both ways lead to a great tournament.
“It is a great satisfaction in every way. First, the influx of public is being massive, and we are attending a great tournament. But what I like most is that foreigners who have moved to Tokyo have immediately understood the importance of organizing such an event here at the Budokan.”
The Nippon Budokan is an octagonal enclosure specially built on the occasion of the first appearance of judo as an Olympic discipline in 1964. “We built it for judo and, every year, we celebrated the All Japan judo Championship. It is an iconic building that illustrates Japanese sensibility. For us it is sacred, and we have verified that for foreigners too.”
It goes without saying that, with so many meetings and so much daily management, Aki does not have time to enjoy all the fighting. “I have seen some. I am happy because the judo practiced is first level, especially the semifinal between Maruyama and Abe”.
Aki doesn't say it, but he's in a hurry. It is time to ask for an anecdote. “I'm going to tell you the story of the flags. In the Budokan there is a huge Japanese flag that weighs more than two hundred kilos. It is hoisted all year long. And it is the only one that presides over the site. The International Federation wanted theirs, it's normal. In the end we had to make a similar one. It is the perfect and harmonious image of fruitful cooperation between both parties”.
Aki says goodbye with a handshake and a bright smile. He carries an immense responsibility on his solid shoulders with a stunning naturalness. Soon he will enjoy a well-deserved rest with the satisfaction of having fulfilled his mission, transmit to the world the values of the Japanese tradition with softness and tact.