Yueyi Zhou: Kyoto University Tennis Circle

In comparing the tennis practices from my high school team to the ones in Japan, I honestly didn’t notice much difference in the tennis itself. Every practice started out the same way, with the relaxed long-range rallies sans the jogging around the courts (supposedly because the courts in Japan are shared with about 5 other groups at any given point). When all the important sempai had finally assembled, we would gather in a circle and wish each other well, then splitting off into two groups: one to return the practice shots, and another to catch the balls and return them to the baskets, where the “instructor” sempai would grab them and shoot off practice shots to the other side. Interestingly enough, Mika, our “guardian sempai” who looked over us from the first day, would always direct us as to which group to join. After a few practices, I started realizing that our group never had the opportunity to practice smashes, volleys, or line drives – that is to say, Mika had purposefully funneled us into the “lower level” group. A month or so in, she stopped directing us, a psychological graduation from our initiation into soft tennis. Practice would ensue, with the two groups switching off, culminating in 3-point sets played across two courts. “Don’t mind!”, “Nice Shot!”, and “LAAAST!” (to signify the last few shots before a switch off) resounded around the courts. Finally, two “representatives” would start sweeping the sand evenly back across the courts while the rest of the team congregated around the benches for some idle post-practice chatter. At the very end, another group circle-up and “Otsukaresamadesita!” concluded the events of the night.

With just these actions, there were a few key differences that I immediately picked up on between Japanese and American tennis practices. They were both highly ritualized – the American one was mostly a physical ritual, beginning with a jog, then a mini rally by the net, moving gradually further back to coincide with the long-range rallies beginning the Japanese practice. Japanese ritualization, however, was more of the language and social hierarchy that was implemented, such as “Yoroshikuonegaishimasu!” at the beginning of practice and per switch-off, having assigned “court sweepers”, and subordination to (through fetching balls for) the sempai who were conducting the drills. Distinguishing between the upper and underclassmen was made incredibly easy due to the standardized greetings afforded to upperclassmen compared to the casual waves to incoming underclassmen.

Another point of interest was the use of English phrases (as exampled above) throughout practice. At first, I had to really strain my ear to figure out what was being said, but once figured out the phrases became second nature. As these phrases are actually more ingrained into Japanese culture, it’s totally understandable that the group would use these set phrases, but I’m still curious to see if other sports / CIP groups tend to use English exclamations.

All in all, soft tennis will definitely mark my experience in Kyoto – the foray into Saiin, the sand in my socks, soft tennis balls hurtling at me at breakneck speed. But most of all, I’ll remember the members of Kyoto University’s Soft Tennis Circle, for all their their kindness and the wonderful memories they’ve left with me.

2 thoughts on “Yueyi Zhou: Kyoto University Tennis Circle

  1. Wow this sounds a lot more intense then what I would expect from soft tennis. Or maybe it is just because of the Japanese tendency towards structure and social hierarchy, I dunno. But it definitely sounds like you had fun! Did you feel like you belonged in the “lower group” and after you “graduated” were you able to choose what group to join?

    • You’re definitely right about the social hierarchy, everyone’s very friendly but the senpai definitely stand out in the amount of freedom they have and the respect they receive. I think your characterization of the “lower group” is very accurate as well – after I “graduated,” I actually ended up continuing with the lower level group out of habit, and out of a wariness of being a “jama” to the rest of the group. There were few days that I hung out with the higher level group as well, and it was great to feel accepted by both groups!