Heita Okabe

A black and white photograph of Stagg and Okabe. They are both standing, and Stagg is holding a bicycle.
Alonzo Stagg and Heita Okabe
Photo courtesy of Ko Tankaka

Heita Okabe 岡部平太 (1891–1966) had a long career as an athletic coach and sports-event director, and is best known for introducing American football to Japan. After working for several years as a physical education teacher at Tokyo Higher Normal School (a university equivalent), Okabe came to the University of Chicago in 1917 to study sports management under Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862–1965). He stayed in the United States for two years, learning various sports including boxing, wrestling, and swimming, and visiting other universities in the Midwest and on the East Coast to learn different management styles.

Stagg and Okabe stayed in touch after his return to Japan. In 1921 Okabe took a position as a physical education manager for the South Manchuria Railway Company. He continued to write to Stagg, for instance, to report on the results of the Far Eastern Championship Games.

After World War II, back in Japan, Okabe worked toward establishing Japan’s position in international sports competitions. With Shisō Kanaguri 金栗四三 (1891–1983), Okabe founded a team to train strong marathon runners in Japan, which efforts reached fruition when the first Japanese—Shigeki Tanaka 田中茂樹(b. 1931)—won the Boston Marathon in 1951. Okabe visited Stagg in California on his way back to Japan from Boston.

In his later years Okabe worked as a coach for various institutions, while publishing on coaching and sports management. A bust of Okabe is displayed on the grounds of the Heiwadai (Peace Hill) Athletics Stadium in Fukuoka—the field that he helped to get constructed in 1948 for the third National Sports Festival, after successfully convincing GHQ to return the site to the city of Fukuoka.

A scan of a newspaper article with a large image of Okabe in a boxing pose.
Jap Students Learn to Box: University of Chicago Man Prepares to Teach SelfDefense in Land of Mikado

Chicago Daily Tribune; Mar 3, 1918

A scan of an open book written in Japanese. There is a photo of Stagg teaching a student a football technique.
Supōtsu angya

Tōkyō: Nihon Hyōronsha, 1931