Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ping-Pong and Kendo

Watching Japanese coverage of the Athens Olympics has been interesting. I've had to watch sports I would never have watched in America, as the Japanese coverage focuses almost exclusively on sports where Japan has players in contention. So I've seen some swimming and beach volleyball and soccer, but I've also seen plenty of judo, field hockey and table tennis.

There is a 15-year-old Japanese girl named Ai Fukuhara who is a big celebrity here in Japan. She's been competing at ping-pong for years now and she's a regular on the Japanese chat shows. It doesn't hurt that she's cute as a button and a fierce competitor as well. She has a good chance at a medal, but her toughest match so far will be played tonight against the 6th ranked player in the world from South Korea. Ai-chan, as she is affectionately called here, has beaten both Australian and American opponents so far. Curiously, both of the women from Australia and the U.S. were of Chinese descent. I watched her match with rapt attention last night as I ate my rice and beef, not understanding a word of the commentary, but transfixed none-the-less. The great thing about watching it on the Japanese channels is that they sponsor contests for kids to write in to their favorite athletes and send words of encouragement. Many of the kids draw pictures of their favorite swimmer, gymnast, baseball player etc. So you get these amazing pictures of Ai-chan, ranging from simplistic stick figures, to Anime-influenced drawings to realistic charcoal renderings of her in action - all accompanied by kanji expressions of support. So cool.
I mentioned that I enjoy Table Tennis to one of my coworkers and he invited me to join there ping-pong club in the rec hall across the street where they play at lunch and after work. I might just go and let them humble me, as I haven't played in years.

One sport not featured in the Olympics is the Japanese sword-fighting sport called Kendo. My town hosted a big high-school Kendo tournament last week, and today I got to hang out at my Jr. High and watch the Jr. High kids on the Taisha Kendo team practice. Basically, two opponents face off against each other in 5 minute matches, trying to strike their opponent in specific spots with their sword to gain points. But the judging is very subjective, and I haven't quite figured it all out yet. The coach of the Jr High team, who also happens to be an English teacher as well, is eager for me to give Kendo a try. But he informed me today that they'll have to send out to Matsue, a town about 45 minutes away, to find gear big enough for me and my belly. :)
You have to wear head-to-toe gear, including a helmet, body armor, gloves and a kendo "robe" that was drenched in sweat on most of the Jr High combatants.
At the end of the practice I was invited to participate in the closing meditation, which required me to squat down and sit with my legs tucked back under me. Just doing this proved difficult and straining - I'm too big and have been sitting "lotus"-style for too long to try and change now. But I managed the best I could and bowed when appropriate and the other Kendo coach, in full dress, came over and chatted with me thru the English teacher and showed me how to hold the sword (which is made of bamboo) and asked me if I'd like to try Kendo sometime. I nodded and said I would, but shouldn't I train in the basics before getting suited up? He laughed and said they'd go easy on me, even though I must weigh treble of any of them.
My Obi-Wan Kenobi fantasies might just come true as I learn to wield the Japanese kendo sword. Stay Tuned! :)

And GO Ai-chan!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The force is strong with this one."
"Dude, don't encourage him."
-Hollywood J