Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida

by | Jun 28, 2024 | Athletics, Campus Life, Top

Editor’s note: The following message was sent to the SJSU campus community on Friday, June 28.

Dear Spartan Community, 

Today we mourn the loss of Yoshihiro “Yosh” Uchida, a beloved Spartan who passed away on Thursday at the age of 104. 

Yosh, as many affectionately called him, earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences in 1947 and an honorary doctorate in 2004 from SJSU, and is one of the most renowned and accomplished Spartans in the history of the university. 

Born on April 1, 1920, in Calexico, Calif., Yosh was named San José State’s first judo coach in 1940, when he enrolled as a student, and again in 1946 after he returned from four years in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1964, he coached the U.S. judo team at the Tokyo Olympics, the first time judo appeared in an Olympics.  

He remained the coach of SJSU’s judo program for the rest of his life and in 2023 was honored for 75 years of service to the university. Overall, Yosh coached the Spartans to more than 40 collegiate titles and trained nearly two dozen Olympians, including four medalists. His judo prestige extended beyond San José State — Yosh served as president of U.S. Judo, the United States Judo Federation, and National Collegiate Judo Association. 

His incredible impact extended outside of judo. Yosh owned medical testing laboratories in the San Jose area, and became a driving force in investing more than $80 million into housing and commercial businesses to revitalize San Jose’s Japantown. He also founded the Japanese American Chamber of Silicon Valley in 1996.

In a 2010 interview with the Pacific Citizen, Yosh said, “We are on this earth for a short period of time and we want to leave a better world for future generations.”

Among the many other distinctions and awards Yosh received throughout his life, a few of the most notable are:

  • The Order of the Sacred Treasure of Golden Rays by Emperor Hirohito of Japan
  • The building on campus now known as Uchida Hall, which houses the training facility for the SJSU judo team, was dedicated to Yosh in 1997
  • San José State University Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, and “legend” status in the Hall of Fame in 2012
  • San José State University Tower Award, the university’s highest award, in 1992
  • Appointed to the U.S. President’s Council on Physical Fitness in 1970

We are incredibly proud and thankful for the impact Yosh not only made on our university, but our nation and the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Uchida family and the many friends, athletes and Spartans who knew Yosh. 


Dr. Cynthia Teniente-Matson

Several Spartans shared their thoughts on Yosh’s passing with us: 

– Two-time Olympian and 1984 Olympic silver medalist Bobby Berland, ’84 Marketing:

“He was my coach at San José State and he helped shape me as an athlete, as a student and as a person. I learned so many important life lessons from him during a very impressionable time in my life. Those lessons continue to serve me well to this day. 

“He has been a continuing source of inspiration not just to me but for so many others. His impact is deep and broad and his legacy will continue to inspire others for years to come. 

“I will forever be grateful for having had the privilege to call Yosh Uchida my coach, my mentor, my friend and my Family. 

“Coach may you rest in peace, after 104 years you’ve earned it!”

– Two-time Olympian Colton Brown, ’15 Business Administration:

Mr. Uchida was an incredible man. I’ve never met anyone that positively impacted as many lives as him in a lifetime. When I first came to SJSU, Mr. Uchida told me that he didn’t care how good I was at judo. That came as a surprise to me, because every other coach that recruited me only cared about how good I was at judo. Mr. Uchida told me that getting a good education and learning how to communicate with people was far more important than anything I could ever achieve on the judo mat. Although I listened and followed his advice, I didn’t realize how important those words were until my judo career was over. I was able to use the education I got at SJSU as well as the lessons Mr. Uchida taught me on the mats to now positively impact more lives through judo than I ever thought was possible. I am so happy that I could not only call Mr. Uchida a coach, but also a great mentor, and a friend. Congratulations on all you’ve accomplished in this life. RIP

– Member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Judo Team Paul Maruyama, ’66 Business:

Yosh led a spectacularly long, substantive and inspirational life.  His love for, and impact on, his family, we individual athletes whom he coached, his beloved SJSU, United States Judo, the Japanese American community and our nation are without parallel.  Yosh, along with my Father, is one of my two personal heroes.

Saddened as I am by his passing, I can only rely for comfort on a quote from the American Cemetery in Normandy, “Think Not Only Upon Their Passing; Remember the Glory of Their Spirit.”

-Qualifier for 1980 Olympics and four-time national collegiate judo champion Keith Nakasone, ’79 Business Administration and Management

The passing of Coach Uchida is a tremendous loss to the SJSU Judo program, the University and to the Japanese American community.
His accomplishments and contributions to the sport of Judo and to his many students is comparable to that of the great basketball coach, John Wooden.
Quote from John Wooden – “A good coach can change a game.  A great coach can change a life.”  Coach Uchida has made a positive impact on all the students who have stepped on the judo mat at SJSU.  I am fortunate to be one of those students who benefited from his mentorship.  Coming to SJSU was one the best decisions that I have made in my life.
Coach Uchida’s vision for the judo team was based on education first and judo second.  Most importantly, Coach wanted and expected his students to become key contributors in society.  He had great pride in the success of his student athletes.
Judo was a major part of his life and we are grateful not only to him but also for the support his family provided through all the years.

We will all miss him very much and we will ensure that his legacy will continue.

– Four-time Olympian and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Mike Swain, ’85 Business Marketing:

Coach Uchida was a great teacher of life. He inspired so many SJSU students through his championship judo program to not only graduate but give back and contribute to society, he was one of a kind and impossible to replace, but we will do our best to keep the judo program at SJSU fighting on with his indomitable judo spirit.

My sincere condolences go out to the Uchida family in this great loss.

-2014 Junior National Championships gold medalist Sophia Swain, ’16 Linguistics, ’16 Spanish:

While many American families share a common sport like football or baseball, my family sport is judo and it’s largely due to Mr. Uchida. He coached my father and myself in the same building on campus, and guided many generations of judoka into success, both in the dojo and in life.

As a child, I remember watching the team at San José State where Mr. Uchida would pace along the side of the mat in his suits and button downed shirts. I remember he looked much more serious to me on the mat, in contrast to the smiley and sweet old grandfather-figure from several thanksgiving dinners and team barbecues. His house in the hills felt magical and I have fond memories of splashing in the pool with the “big kids,” running up and down the stairs to see if food was ready, and even sneaking away to look at the glass cases with accolades and such in the quieter rooms of the house.

The summer of fifth grade was the first time I went to Mr. Uchida’s house and didn’t play in the pool. As a child of the Japanese-American community in San José, I attended Suzume no gakko, a Japanese cultural and language summer camp held every year. We were assigned a project: interview your grandparents about their experience in the internment camps. Unlike all my classmates, my Japanese grandparents were not American and so the Uchida’s graciously agreed to step in as pseudo-grandparents. I interviewed Mrs. Uchida and heard stories for the first time about their lives that made my history lessons feel rather dry and light.

Through Mrs. Uchida’s stories, I grew more curious. Over the following years as I matured, I had more patience to sit next to Mr. Uchida at barbecues and listen to his stories with more intent. When the moment came to apply to colleges, I sent out only a few applications with the main one being San José State. I followed my fathers footsteps and finally became one of the team that I had looked up to for years, and Mr. Uchida became “Coach” to me. He still paced the side of the mat, albeit a little more slowly. He would pause practice and lecture us on newaza and ashiwaza, sometimes for what felt like eternities. But he was always sharp and always greeted me with a smile and a hug.

At some point, I started to visit him at his office downtown in between classes. I believe it started with bringing balloons to celebrate our birthdays (his April 1 and mine April 2), but then it evolved into weekly lunches around downtown San José and close to campus. I had read the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” and in my head I imagined my own version called “Thursdays with Coach.” It was in these lunches that I listened to him talk for hours on end about his life, from being a child surrounded by California orchards, to his time in the service while his wife and family were interned, to his business ventures in the Bay Area and travels to Japan and other parts of the globe.

We didn’t necessarily discuss judo that much. The judo that we discussed was more philosophical and tied to the “gentle way” and the push and pull of life itself as opposed to the sport. It was in these moments I learned how the teachings of judo permeated his life and how I could carry that legacy in in my own way. I eventually left San Jose. While I miss my home, I know it’s mostly nostalgia for the community that Coach basically founded. I can’t help but think my whole life trajectory was shaped by the work of this man decades before I was even born.

And the beauty of this is that my story is only one of many. Coach taught our community how judo was more than the four corners of the mat. He always preached “studies first” and would even brutally read grades aloud at the end of each semester to the team. He was a tough tough man but could also light up a conversation with his laugh. He was intense and demanded the best of people, but also supported his athletes and their families in times of need. I see those values passed down to my dad’s generation, then the next generation that babysat me, and finally to my generation. It’s something I’m immensely proud of grateful for. The San José community and the US judo community were able to take root and grow due in large part to the strength and kindness of Coach and the whole Uchida family.

As he now rests peacefully, I take comfort knowing that this community will continue to honor his legacy by passing on his teachings of judo and life, both on and off the mat.