Sarah Rontal: Kyoto Univ. Ultimate Frisbee

Playing with the Kyoto University Frisbee team (Breeze) has been quite the experience, and it’s definitely taught me about the seriousness with which students in Japan take their circles. (If this isn’t enough proof, my host brother also sacrifices a lot of his life to his kendo club).

On a cold, rainy day when my host mother thought there wouldn’t be practice everyone was there, wearing their normal gear, no raincoats at all.  On Saturdays, when there are no classes and no homework, practices can go for 4, even 5 hours (though I’ve only stayed 4 hours once). When a member of the women’s team couldn’t make it to a practice, she had to apologize and explain profusely why she couldn’t be there. They take the team very seriously.

But – it pays off. The men’s team is pretty high up in national rankings and I believe the women’s team is in the top 10 of the region. I haven’t been able to go to any tournaments because I’m not officially a member, but I’ve heard of their amazing feats and seen (and been overshadowed by) their skills.

I think I made the mistake of having very high expectations going into the club, which led to some frustration that actually, looking back, was unjustly felt. I expected the team to let me become a member – I didn’t even realize being a non-member was a possibility – and I expected them to talk to me, or at least ask me what my intentions were in showing up every week.

In the end, I realized that as the foreigner sitting in on a Japanese students’ frisbee practice, it is my duty to be interested, social, and the most ganbatte-iru person there. I also failed to consider, for the first few weeks, that this team is very competitive and only accepts as members those who can pour their free time and social life into the team. Unfortunately, by missing one practice a week for class and missing a few others for travel, I was already not member-material.

From my current perspective, I’m very grateful that the team has been so inclusive of me – letting me join entire practices, giving me slowed-down explanations of the drills we were running, occasionally asking me questions about Japan or the U.S., and most-impressively taking very good care of me when I sprained my ankle (two teammates piggy-backed me to a water spout and their trainer came to wrap it up!). The team has warmed up to me more and more and I’m really glad they’ve put up with my not-so-competitive Frisbee skills.

I have to admit that my role on the team is still somewhat imbalanced by my comparatively low frisbee and Japanese skills, so it can be kind of stressful and at times I feel like I’m a liability. Perhaps the most prominent thing that I have and they don’t – knowledge of English and America – will shine through at some point, and I’m dearly hoping for that day. Until then, I’ll keep trying my best – gaining skill, proving I know some Japanese, and making some friends! By the beginning of next semester, if I do really feel like a liability on the field, I think I’ll try to find a less-competitive team or even a different kind of CIP. Before I make any big decisions, though, I’m up for giving this CIP a few more shots at success.

Regardless of how things end up, I’m glad I spent this semester practicing with Breeze. It gave me a good time and a much-needed culture shock.

4 thoughts on “Sarah Rontal: Kyoto Univ. Ultimate Frisbee

  1. I can’t believe there’s such a huge difference between the “casual”ness of our CIPs! Obviously, your team not only participates in tournaments but has performed fantastically, unlike my soft tennis circle, which doesn’t technically train towards any goal. In such an intense team, I feel that it’s only natural that you wouldn’t be allowed to join in on competitions in the beginning. Given such, I think you’ve done a really great job fitting in with the rest of the team and had a really special chance to get involved in Japanese college life! Kudos :)!

    • Thanks for the comment! I’m jealous of your team’s casualness! If only I had admitted/noticed that the team was beyond my league a little earlier :P. It’s good to know that relaxed groups exist, though, and I’m going to have fun seeking them out next semester!

  2. Sarah, I can see how the competitiveness of your CIP group made it difficult to feel included. It’s hard when you feel pressure because of both language skills in addition to frisbee. I also had to deal with the issue of being the one in groups that needs to actively engage the other members in conversation. I never realized how easily one could go through an entire semester with a group without learning the names of other members if no effort is given to talk with them. I guess overall this became an even more important lesson in someways because of the shortcomings, but it’s admirable that you’ve persevered through the semester with this group.

    • Oh yes, learning from shortcomings, the best way to learn :). It’s nice to hear that you’ve learned similar things as me, and in a similar fashion. It also seems like you’ve had success, though, and that gives me hope. Language is such a huge part of being social… so I’ve learned how much I really need to figure in my language skill when I’m making decisions and judgments. I guess you can live in Japan, right on the surface of it all… though nobody would like that and they’d fly away home to America :P.