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Rotterdam Poster

6th International Science of Judo Symposium, Rotterdam


Callan, M. & Spenn, A. (2009) A Fashionable Judo Girl, Sarah W B Mayer (ne. Tapping) (1896 – 1957). International Association of Judo Researchers Symposium. Rotterdam

Sarah Winifred Benedict Mayer has been reported (Svinth 2001,) as the first Western woman to be awarded her 1st dan in Japan. She trained in Kobe, Kyoto and Tokyo in 1934 and 1935, and was offered the grade by the Kyoto Butokukai. Her exploits are narrated in letters to Gunji Koizumi, President of the Budokwai.

Little was previously known of Mayer’s life apart from those letters, and this paper outlines additional biographical details. The paper draws on genealogical techniques, with primary and secondary research to place Mayer’s trip to Japan in a sociological and cultural context.

She is from a successful theatrical family. Her first marriage was to the grandson of the Lord Mayor of London, her second marriage was into an extremely wealthy family of diamond merchants. This supports the proposition of the influence of social class on the globalization of judo pre WW2, building on the earlier work; “The Internationalization of Judo and the Attention for Etiquette - Focusing on the UK.” (Callan, 2008).

Mrs Mayer was a blonde actress, playwright and journalist, she attended the Kings’ garden party. She was briefly Secretary of the Ladies Section of the Budokwai. She had met Kano and Mifune, and was close friends with Ichiro Hatta. This research provides an insight into the western view of judo and Japan during the 1930s. A period which included the Great Depression, the assassination of Tsuyoshi Inukai, the abdication of Edward VIII, the death of Kano, the Berlin Olympic Games, the rise of Hitler, the departure of Japan from the league of nations, and the descent into World War.

This analysis of the Mayer letters, in the context of contemporary events, and her personal story, reveals cross-cultural insights. This paper provides an addition to the literature on the early development of women’s judo.

Sarah Mayer

Annals of the 6th International Science of Judo Symposium

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