Main content

Daimatsu 'The Demon' Hirobumi

The brutal coach who achieved a gold medal for Japan's women volleyball team in the 1964 Olympics

The brutal coach who achieved a gold medal for Japan's women's volleyball team in the 1964 Olympics. Christopher Harding portrays the lives of five colourful characters from Japan's history to answer the question, "Who are the Japanese"? Beginning in the 20th century, he works backwards through time to reveal different dimensions of Japanese identity, encompassing sport, art, culture, politics, warfare and religion. In his first essay, Dr Harding recalls the first time Tokyo was due to host the Olympic Games in 1940. War intervened, the Games were cancelled and the young Daimatsu "The Demon" Hirobumi found himself in the army, learning tough lessons in survival. Post war he forged a career as the fearsome coach of the women's national volleyball team, pushing them to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. "As the scale of destruction visited upon Asia and the Pacific by Japan became clear in the years after war's end, national self-questioning had turned into a painful business - a matter not so much of 'Who are we' as 'Is this who we are?' The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, in October 1964, was a precious opportunity for the Japanese to offer the world - and themselves - a more hopeful account."

Dr Christopher Harding is Senior Lecturer in Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His books include, "The Japanese: A History in Twenty Lives" and "A History of Modern Japan: In Search of a Nation, 1850 – the Present".

Producer: Sheila Cook
Editor: Hugh Levinson

Available now

14 minutes


  • Mon 26 Jul 2021 22:45

Featured in...

Watch: My Deaf World

Watch: My Deaf World

Five compelling experiences of what it is like to be deaf in 21st-century Britain.

The Book that Changed Me

The Book that Changed Me

Five figures from the arts and science introduce books that changed their lives and work.

Download The Essay

Download The Essay

Download all the episodes from the series and listen at your leisure.