Yojiro Uetake was born in Oura, Gunma Prefecture on January 12, 1943. Uetake played tennis in middle school but his true passion was for the martial arts. In the fall of his third year at middle school, Uetake left early to attend Gunma Prefectural Tatebayashi High School, a school he had hoped would accept him, and participated in the school’s judo club for several months. However, Uetake felt limited by his light-weight body type in the then weight classless world of judo and began developing an interest for the neighboring wrestling club.
Uetake proved himself soon after entering the wrestling club and during his second and third year at Tatebayashi High School placed first at the national athletic meet inter high school competition.
Uetake entered Waseda University’s school of commerce in April 1962 and in the same year placed third in the freestyle bantamweight wrestling competition at the Japan National Championship. In September 1963, Uetake studied abroad at Oklahoma State University. Being one of the most foremost states for wrestling, Uetake devoted himself to wrestling and in the next year received an opportunity of a lifetime. Uetake returned to Japan during summer break, placed first at the Japan National Championship, and was selected to compete in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he placed first in the freestyle bantamweight wrestling competition. This victory less than six years after starting wrestling in high school was a remarkable accomplishment. Japan won a total of five gold medals across the freestyle and greco-roman style wrestling competitions, making wrestling a highlight sport for Japan.
After returning to America, Uetake competed in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Wrestling Division from 1964-1966 and was undefeated in three college seasons. In 1966 he acted as the assistant coach for the American national team in the Wrestling World Championship and has been praised for his leadership qualities.
Two years later in June 1968, Uetake graduated from Oklahoma State University.
Uetake returned to Japan and in October 1968 competed in the Mexico Olympics where he once again placed first in freestyle bantam-weight wrestling. It is unlikely another Japanese wrestler will surpass Uetake’s record of two Olympic gold medals. Scenes of the heroic Uetake being presented with the gold medal after dislocating his shoulder during the finals and fighting his opponent until the very end despite turning pale due to exhaustion are still talked about to this day. In the fall of 1969, Uetake changed his family name to Obata and began working for the Miyako hotel chain located in his home town of Gunma Prefecture. In 1985 the hotel changed its name to New Miyako Hotel where Obata was appointed as Chief Director. In 1989 he became CEO and has served as Chairman since 2009.
Obata continues to devote himself to Japanese wrestling. He served as coach for the Japanese wrestling team in the 1972 Munich Olympics and as director in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Praised by colleagues and athletes, Obata was inducted into the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1980 and the International Hall of Fame (FILA) in 2005.
Obata’s status as a top world-class athlete is unquestionable and his legacy has left a large impression on Waseda University.
From 1998-2001, Obata served as school board president at Tatebayashi City in Tochigi Prefecture and as a mentor for Tatebayashi High School’s wrestling club. Since 2014 and after turning 71 years old, Obata has served as an external coach for the High School’s wrestling club, sweating alongside students and devoting himself to the development of student athletes. As a student at Oklahoma State University, Obata worked agriculture jobs during the off season where he would build his physique and use timber trees to practice tackling techniques. Obata’s legacy as a wrestler and his unshakable devotion to excel and gain experience no matter his location remains a topic of discussion today. These qualities characterize the spirit of Waseda.
In honor of his athletic accomplishments, devotion to Japanese wrestling, and commitment to sports education around the world, Waseda University proudly presents Yojiro Obata with the Award for Distinguished Service to Sports.
April 1, 2015