Competitive Nature the Impetus for a Life of Archery
- Mr. Muto, what kind of child were you before you started archery in junior high school?
I suppose I was just an energetic kid who liked to play outside. I took soccer lessons in kindergarten and first grade and always loved baseball. When I was a little kid, I always wanted to join a baseball team but resisted the urge because I had to study for my junior high school entrance exams.
- If I understand correctly, you were introduced to archery at Tokai Junior High School.
That's right. One of my first good friends at junior high mentioned how cool the archery club looked and that we should go check it out. When we went to watch them practice, I saw how completely absorbed they were in their training, the tension palpable with every movement. I decided that I had to join and try it for myself. Despite progressing quickly, I was never really serious about competing, so I would even skip practice sometimes. But then I lost against a classmate in my first competitive match. I got really upset because I had been so confident I could win. That's when I got serious. I just hate to lose.
- The following year, in your second year of junior high, you competed at nationals.
Japan doesn't have a large population of competitive archers, so compared to other major sports, it isn't as difficult to compete at the national level. And in that match, I got crushed.
- We've heard that you spent an incredible amount of time practicing during your six years at junior high and high school. You even hold the record of 721 arrows shot in one day.
I was so determined not to lose to anyone that I practiced until I was confident I had overcome each of my weaknesses. At the time, I must have practiced for about six or seven hours a day, from morning to night. As a result, I ended up shooting more than twice as many arrows as my peers on average. In fact, I still practice a lot, often shooting 1,000 arrows or more a day. In retrospect, junior and senior high school afforded me time to devote myself to what I love, which helped me lay the foundation for my athletic career. I have nothing but gratitude for all of my teachers and friends at the club.
Years of friendly competition on the Keio Archery Team
- You competed at the World Youth Championships in your first year of high school, which was your first experience on the international stage. You then went on to rank in the top eight at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing during your second year, and your team won bronze at the World Youth Championships in your third. Did you become conscious of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Games around then?
Not at all! [laughs] Actually, I had been planning on quitting archery after graduating from the club in my last year of high school when I was selected for the national team. But I wasn't satisfied with my results at the Youth Olympic Games, so I changed my mind and decided to aim for the next competitive opportunity at university.
- What made you choose to apply to SFC?
First and foremost, I wanted to use my athletic experience to study sports psychology. Another area of interest for me was South Korea, which is an archery powerhouse. I wanted to explain why Korea is such a strong presence from the perspective of its national culture. I chose SFC as somewhere I could link these two themes in my research. As an athlete, I joined the Archery Team at the Keio University Athletic Association and spent my days training at Hiyoshi Campus. But competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics didn't seem like a reality in my first or second year. I only started thinking seriously about the Olympics after being selected as a starting member for the national team in my third year at Keio. I experienced firsthand both the burdens and joys of competing at the highest levels when facing some of the world's best archers at the Asian Games. It made me realize that this was the level that I wanted to compete at. And perhaps that realization was my first step toward competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
Bronze Medal More About Hitting the Target Than Not Missing the Middle
- The Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being held without spectators. As an athlete, it must have been tough to stay motivated.
Yes, it was. With the postponement of the final selection for the national team, I spent the year under a lot of pressure. The practice range was closed, so I had no choice but to set up a makeshift 3-meter miniature shooting range at home to practice. Gradually, I started to wonder if there was any point in practicing. I had this sinking feeling that nothing was ever going to happen. Eventually, I made myself snap out of it. I changed my mindset entirely, focusing solely on what I could do right then and there.
- You were part of the Tokyo 2020 team that won Japan's first medal in men's archery. In fact, you were the one who fired the final arrow that delivered Japan the bronze.
It was my first time at the Olympics. That final bull's eye meant everything; it was the difference between heaven and hell to me. Of course, there was tons of pressure, but once I entered the shooting range, I was resolved to do what had to be done. That was why I had practiced so much, after all: to be prepared for any situation. My training up until then culminated in that moment. I knew that if I tried to play it safe and merely not miss, I would make a mistake. So, instead, I adopted an aggressive stance. I was determined to hit the target right down the middle. As soon as the arrow left my bow, I knew it was a bull's eye.
I was immediately filled with joy. I knew we'd won the medal. But to tell the truth, just one week later, I was disappointed with myself for coming in third place. I also felt frustrated by my poor individual results. Perhaps it is the nature of athletes to always aim higher, but I already have my sights set on the Paris Olympics and then the Los Angeles Olympics after that. My first Olympic experience helped me develop the composure required as an elite athlete. Until now, I've always thought about transforming anxiety and nerves into confidence through copious amounts of practice, but as a human being, it is impossible to eliminate these emotions entirely. Instead, you can interpret them as signs that you are "ready for battle," so to speak. I would like to harness my anxiety better before the next Olympics in Paris.
Spreading the Allure of Archery Through Studies at SFC
- Did the fact that Toyota Motor Corporation was located in your hometown in Aichi Prefecture affect your decision to work there?
Of course, that's one big reason. My interest in cars was another reason, but I also love Aichi Prefecture, where I was born and raised. After living in Tokyo for university, I knew I wanted to go back home to Aichi. Toyota is the pride of my hometown and still the company of my dreams. The support I received from the company allowed me to work hard to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics as a representative of Japan's archery team. I am truly grateful to the company. Currently, I am a member of the Lexus Brand Management Division, where I work on conveying the allure of Toyota's luxury car brand to a wide range of customers. Recently the younger generation has been losing interest in cars, so it's my job to better communicate Toyota's corporate slogan "FUN TO DRIVE." Put simply, I'd like to share the joy of driving with them. Similarly, as an athlete, I'd like to share the allure of archery with many people, especially since there are relatively few archers in Japan. I suppose communication might be an important keyword for my career.
- Do you mean that you will try to pass on your passion for archery after you retire from the sport?
Absolutely. After I retire, I would like to be involved in both increasing the number of archery fans and training other athletes. Unlike baseball and soccer teams, or sports clubs where children can learn swimming and gymnastics, Japan still has no nationwide network for promoting archery among children. Archery requires you to look inward, which is something that I want children to experience for themselves. The sport allows you to discover a whole new side of yourself. If we can provide opportunities for children to experience archery as an extracurricular activity, I believe the number of archers in Japan will inevitably increase, which will, in turn, expand the pool of competitive athletes. Social interest in the sport would also increase, which would generate a virtuous cycle that will improve the competitive climate. I'm eager to work on initiatives promoting archery in Japan, where the number of people competing remains relatively low.
At the Shanghai 2019 Hyundai Archery World Cup
- Your research in Prof. Takeya Takagi's seminar at SFC focused on South Korea, a world leader in archery, which may be helpful in your work to promote archery.
Yes, of course. At the Tokyo Olympics, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan took the gold, silver, and bronze, in that order. But even the Taiwanese team had a Korean coach. Of course, there are other archery powerhouses in Europe and North America, but analyzing the strength of Korea may offer insights into how to make the Japanese team stronger. At SFC, I was also involved in research on sports popularization. The title of my graduation thesis was "Measures to Increase the Popularity of Archery in Japan: A Comparison of Japan and South Korea." Finding ways to promote archery in Japan has been a major theme of mine since I was a student.
- How was your time as a student at SFC?
Generally speaking, everyone was excited to be there. There were so many multitalented people, and they all had this twinkle in their eye whenever they were doing what they loved. For example, I wasn't very good at C programming, but I had a friend who understood it well, and it was only with his help that I managed to pass the class. It was inspiring to spend four years on a campus with such a unique group of people.
- Could you say a few final words to current students?
I think the real beauty of Keio University is its people. At SFC, I had a friend who could always find the best in people. Everyone who met him would become a better, more attractive person. I always had a feeling that Keio University was full of good people like him. Some new students who have enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic may be finding it challenging to meet new people and expand their social circle. But there will soon be opportunities to meet people face-to-face again. So make sure you get to know as many awesome people as possible, whether they are your peers—older or younger—or teachers. These encounters will open up new worlds for you. I also hope that many more students will try watching archery and pick up a bow for themselves to learn about the allure and complexity of this fascinating sport.
- Thank you for your time.
Hiroki Muto Tokyo 2020 Olympic Archery Bronze Medalist
Hiroki Muto graduated from the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies in 2020 and joined Toyota Motor Corporation in April of the same year. He started archery during his first year of junior high school, going on to compete at the international level in high school, where he was selected for the Japanese national team. As a member of the Keio University Athletic Association Archery Team, he performed well at both the World Cup and Asian Games. In 2021, Muto was selected to represent Japan at the Olympic Games and compete at Tokyo 2020, where he and his team won bronze in men's team archery, Japan's first medal in the event at the Olympics. He is currently preparing for the 2024 Paris Olympics while working in brand management for Lexus at Toyota Motor Corporation.
*This article originally appeared in the 2022 Winter edition (No. 313) of Juku.