For my CIP I attended FREE basketball club in Kyoto. The group was a mix of Kyoto, Tokyo, and Doshisha students, and girls and guys (though they didn’t mix sexes during scrimmaging), so I was able to meet various people from the area (or distant area since some live further away like Osaka). We meet at one court and alternated who scrimmaged, while the other team sat out. At my home institution I play varsity level basketball, so I wanted to stay in shape and continue practicing even though I was aboard. Unfortunately they didn’t meet as regularly as I’d like, generally two practices a week, but I recognize that it is a club and not a University team; still if you’re looking for something more rigorous, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
I was definitely nervous for my first practice. I was almost lost until I saw a girl with basketball gear on, and was to follow her to the gym (I was too nervous to ask for directions; my level of Japanese was that low). The basketball representative I got in contact with introduced to me the girls team, and I did a brief introduction, but they didn’t seem very interested in me at the time, which is understandable because I’m a foreigner and because I’m not very good at Japanese. The actual activity of basketball was fine. I was bigger and stronger than all of them, but they were quick and hustled the entire time. I definitely had to be less physical though and had to tone down my excitement. It’s hard to explain but the girls weren’t as “in it” as the guys were. The guys gave more high-fives, claps on the back or shoulder, hardier exclamations of joy, and generally more aggressive. The girls didn’t have that same energy. I had to adjust, especially when it came to bullet passes. The girls also didn’t have the same fundamentals and basketball IQ I’m used to seeing from girls our age. They didn’t quite understand spacing, when to screen, how to play help defense, how to rotate defense, etc. And most of these girls played in high school too. Having been here a while, I recognize that basketball isn’t as big in their culture as it is in the US, so the talent and interest is also different. But like I said, they had great speed, stamina, and hustle, which is just as important.
It honestly took almost two months for the girls to be more comfortable with my presence. The guys from the get go were cool with me, just because of my skill, but I wasn’t able to interact with them because of the alternating scrimmage system. We still don’t talk much off the court, my interests just didn’t align with most of these girls’ interests, but we communicated a lot more on the court. There were more “good jobs,” “nice pass,” “good shot,” “gomen,” “screen,” “good game,” being said, and that was an important step in my mind. While I don’t think I would have been best friends with any of these girls, I think my level of Japanese did hinder my experience, so study because it will save you a bunch of hardships (and watch Slam Dunk or Kuroko no Basket)!
At the end of the day I can’t judge an entire population based on my interaction/experience with this basketball club, but I still think I learned a lot about Japanese people and culture. There was some bad and there was some good from this experience, so overall I’m glad I did it.
Circle (Sports), KCJS 29 (Fall 2017), Sewanee: The University of the South