While last semester I was involved with Kyoto University’s Science Communication Group as a second community involvement project, I was notified that the group’s activities would be discontinued the coming spring. For this reason, I decided to look for another CIP, ultimately settling to join the Doshisha Figure Skating club. Practices ran once a week from 6:30-8:30 in the mornings at Kyoto Aquarena and there would be occasional competitions in the Kansai region that the exceptionally skilled members in the club could partake in. Skill levels ranged from beginners to quite advanced skaters who even competed at last year’s national championships.
To be honest, I initially wanted to join the club because I’m a rather avid spectator of the sport, and I also knew that figure skating spectator-ship in Japan was huge compared to in America. Given the small size of Japan and the prevalence of elite skaters in the Kansai region, it wasn’t uncommon for some members to be one or two degrees of connection away from the best of the best skaters in Japan (I even got meet one such skater who happened to be practicing at Aquarena one day, and another one at a skate shop). For that reason, I felt that attending ice sports events in Japan was much more exciting than in America, simply because the community felt more tight knit.
This being my only experience of school sports in Japan, I didn’t know what to expect going in, especially regarding how seniority was structured in a sport as technically demanding as figure skating. It really didn’t seem as if people paid any mind to school year or age within the group, and we referred to each other pretty casually. Still, from the first day, it seemed that there was a small divide from the advanced skaters and the intermediate/beginner skaters, and it was admittedly hard to approach the stronger skaters because it seemed they were seriously practicing advanced programs and to disturb them would be rude. This impression was turned on its head when those same skaters would mess around off-ice and became perfectly nice and approachable, which was a pleasant surprise. What also surprised me was how much dedication some club members put toward the sport. Some would work part time in Kyoto Aquarena, either as teachers or ice resurfacers, and thus got to spend a lot of time in the ice rink.