SI Vault
John Underwood
November 03, 1980
The teams—Notre Dame and Miami—were imported and the fans were wet and bewildered, but if past form holds, they'll soon be chanting "We're No. 1"
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November 03, 1980

Land Of The Rising Pigskin

The teams—Notre Dame and Miami—were imported and the fans were wet and bewildered, but if past form holds, they'll soon be chanting "We're No. 1"

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White and Highmark speak of Bulldozer Fujita in the awed terms one might apply to a Mike Todd or a P.T. Barnum. They tell of his uncanny organizational ability, his sharp eye for detail. To put this particular act together, they say, he first sent a six-man delegation to Miami just to watch the football team practice. A television crew filmed "A Day in the Life of Pat Walker," the star Miami receiver. Simultaneously, Fujita arranged for a Japanese television star, Sayuri Takashima, to do a five-part mini-series on football fundamentals. She did it at Notre Dame, with herself in the lead roles as, progressively, a kicker, a split end, a running back and a quarterback. In the last reel Miss Takashima was seen on Japanese screens scoring "the winning touchdown." It was considered a tour de force.

Fujita himself had twice gone to Miami, setting up headquarters at a Holiday Inn near the campus and directing his forces from there. "They followed him around like little ducks," says White. They made calls at 10 p.m., requesting meetings. The requests sounded suspiciously like demands. " 'Mr. Fujita would like to speak to Mr. Dan McNamara of the Orange Bowl. Arrange, please.' 'Mr. Fujita will have dinner tomorrow with [university] President [Henry King] Stanford. Arrange, please.' One day we had to arrange to stop practice so Mr. Fujita could pose for a picture in the middle of the team, 'informally' grouped."

If they said no to a request, says Highmark, Fujita ignored it. He told White and Highmark they must "exert more effort" to help in the promotion of the game, getting more Miami people to fly the special charters to Japan to help defray Tele Planning's burgeoning expenses. He told them they were "not working hard enough."

"He is an honorable man, I think, but crafty," says Highmark. "And very persistent." When Fujita went back to Tokyo after the last visit, he kept the pressure on by sending two or three telegrams a day, "each one marked urgent." White says he would have been offended by this if they hadn't come to respect Fujita's motives. "Of course," he says, "Mr. Fujita's motives have nothing to do with a love for football."

When Fujita's entourage returned to the States to cover golf's U.S. Open at Toledo, Fujita summoned the band directors and business managers from the two schools for a meeting. "First," says High-mark, "he handed out gifts—portable tape decks. Very nice. Once that was out of the way, he got to the point. He told us exactly the kind of music he expected the bands to play. In detail. Then he said he was taking us to dinner at a fancy Japanese steak house in Toledo.

"When we got there, the restaurant was closed. Mr. Fujita huddled with his aides. He got the number off the door and called the owner, speaking to him in Japanese. He told the owner he wanted him to come right down and open up, just for his dinner party. Naturally, the owner did exactly that."

"Naturally," we say.

We are given our time with Fujita. As fathers of extraordinary events go, he isn't an especially imposing figure. He tells us he is only 160 centimeters tall (about 5'2") and 60 kilos large (132 pounds). But at 47 he has a strong, handsome face with somewhat ominous eyes and a prominent jaw he apparently has never been afraid to stick out.

A onetime amateur boxer who never lost a fight ("I learned only to go forward, never backward"), Fujita, in less than five years, has made Tele Planning an international sports force to be reckoned with. He retraces for us this remarkable climb, Michi interpreting: as a "brat" growing up by the Inland Sea, the ninth child of a Niihama sake brewer, he learned hard "philosophical" truths. At six he was sent alone into the mountains to spend the night, "for the spirit, for the mind." He says there are virtues to be found in such an experience, a "cooperation between the mind and the body."

Because the U.S. military allowed no martial arts after World War II, and because he was too small for basketball, baseball or soccer, Fujita turned to boxing, in which he could compete with boys his own size. His father built a gym behind the family liquor store and Fujita used kendo gloves (little more than padded golf gloves) while practicing the manly art. "From boxing," he says, "I learned two things: one, you must often do without help. Two, sooner or later in life everyone gets hit." At Waseda University, competing as a junior flyweight, he won "more than 20" fights, but gave it up after that because "it is low-class entertainment—and there is not enough money."

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