Koji Kanemura, left, and Yuri Hosokawa are the newest students from Waseda University in Japan to enroll at the University of Arkansas.
Japanese Students Excel in Athletic Training Program
Waseda University in Tokyo says on its website that one aim of the institution is to promote the internationalization of education and research. University of Arkansas students Yuri Hosokawa and Koji Kanemura personify that goal, and they also represent a bond between Fayetteville and Tokyo that continues to strengthen.
"I was really interested in studying athletic training in the states because this is where it all started," Hosokawa said. "Studying athletic training at an SEC school – I thought that was very cool. Out of all the athletes, you want to see the best."
Jeff Bonacci directs the graduate athletic training education program in the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. He met Chiaki Nakamura at a National Athletic Trainers' Association meeting soon after the master's level program was established at Arkansas in 2002.
"He was one of the first certified athletic trainers to become a college professor in Japan," Bonacci said of Nakamura, who is an associate professor of athletic training at Waseda's undergraduate School of Sport Sciences. Nakamura earned a master's degree in exercise physiology in Japan and then studied athletic training at Arizona State University.
"We were introduced and he started telling me about his students," Bonacci said. "We have developed trust in each other over the years, and we cultivated the relationship. We continue to see each other at national conventions every year."
Nakamura offered a bit of history about athletic training in Japan.
"Before 1990, only traditional medicine professionals (acupuncture, acupressure, Judo chiropractic) were working in Japanese athletic training," he explained. "They supported mainly professional baseball players and other semiprofessional athletes. After 1990, Japanese who studied athletic training in the United States started to come back to Japan and to work for the professional and semiprofessional sports and also to teach athletic training systematically in some vocational schools. After 2000, universities started to open the athletic training programs and to employ certified athletic trainers."
He advises his students who come to Arkansas to study not only athletic training, but also American culture itself.
"I say to my students to study American culture from which athletic training was born," Nakamura said. "That is the true value of your study of athletic training in the United States and Arkansas.
Reiko Takahashi was the first student from Waseda to enter the Arkansas athletic training program.
"I picked her up from the airport," Bonacci recalled. "She knew very little English then, and we had a translator in class for her. We provide one-on-one nurturing for these students who have come so far to study here. With Reiko, I helped her buy a car."
Takahashi now works as an athletic trainer for the U.S. tennis team at the U.S. Olympic training center in San Diego, one of many success stories the Arkansas programs boasts of both its international and domestic students.
Hosokawa had lived in California as a middle-schooler so she is fluent in English. She started the program last summer and is on schedule to graduate a year from now. She's thinking she may then work on a doctorate in biomechanics or kinesiology.
"I have been fortunate to work on research here (with the program's Sport Biomechanics Group), and I am presenting in San Francisco at the American College of Sports Medicine," she said.
Kanemura practiced the traditional Japanese martial art of kendo growing up and knew what it felt like to be injured while playing a sport.
"I appreciated sports health professionals who supported me at the time, and I got interested in their jobs," he said.
During his undergraduate days at Waseda, Kanemura studied at Portland State University in Oregon for three weeks in 2007 and was impressed by the American sports culture, huge facilities and devoted fans. He visited Japanese athletic trainers working in Arizona in 2009 and in Hawaii in 2010. All of these experiences convinced him he wanted to study athletic training in the United States, and Nakamura, his mentor, recommended the University of Arkansas.
Kanemura spent time studying English at Spring International Language Center at the university before enrolling in the graduate athletic training education program this year. After he finishes, he would like to work his way up to being an athletic trainer with a professional sports team.
"We feel it is important to recruit internationally," Bonacci said. "It's a way to build our reputation internationally. Chiaki Nakamura sends his absolute best students to us."
The program also has had a couple of Japanese students who attended universities other than Waseda.
One of the Waseda students who earned a Master of Athletic Training degree is now a doctoral candidate in kinesiology at Michigan State University. Yusuke Nakayma chose Arkansas partly because of his love for basketball.
"Arkansas has a great basketball program," he said. "I thought it would be the best place to study."
During his time in Fayetteville, Nakayama had the opportunity to work with Dave England, head athletic trainer for the Razorback basketball and baseball teams.
"He took me to the SEC tournament and to the NCAA tournament," Nakayama recalled, "and he gave me some responsibilities. I helped athletes with pre-practice preparation. I did treatments. He said he usually didn't let student-trainers tape athletes, but I asked him to test me. After that, he let me tape freshmen and sophomores; he started trusting me."
After he was chosen for an internship with the New York Knicks during the 2008-2009 season, Nakayama learned that England had recommended him highly for the position.
"What I learned from Dave England was not only techniques and knowledge, but about professionalism," Nakayama recalled. "I learned it by staying by his side and observing him. For example, keeping the environment safe is one of the athletic trainer's responsibilities. During the daily practice, he always walks around the gym to make sure there is nothing that could potentially hurt the athlete. It may sound like a very simple thing, but many athletic trainers do not do this. He hardly sits down. I saw his professionalism as an athletic trainer from these behaviors. When I work with athletes, I hardly sit down."
Nakayama recently took his comprehensive exams and is starting work on his dissertation, which will examine the relationship between nutrition and recovery from head injuries. He would like to work for 10 to 15 years in the United States before returning to Japan to establish an athletic training education program.
"I want to educate people, too," he said. "I really appreciate what Dr. Bonacci did for me. He got me enrolled and was very supportive. When I came to Arkansas, my English was terrible. He was very patient and listened to me. He invited me to Christmas dinner with his family."
Hosokawa also would like to return to Japan eventually to share what she's learning here about athletic training.
"The medical, school, administrative and insurance aspects, the traditions, the culture and the regulations are different there," Hosokawa said. "But why we do the job is the same, to help athletes."
Koji Kanemura begins the graduate athletic training program
in May; Yuri Hosokawa is halfway through the two-year program.