Thousands of Miles from Home


On Any Given Sunday

I’ve had a rather impressive week, meaning there’s plenty to blog, but I’d like to take some time and focus on a subject that does not receive the coverage or respect that it both commands and deserves. I am speaking, of course, of the fast paced, adrenaline driven, time-honored tradition of Japanese Elementary School Girl’s Volleyball.

I had the good fortune to experience one of these events “from the inside,” as it were, when my host mother coached the Hachihama Sho Gakko Volleyball Team at a qualification tournament this weekend at the Tamano Recreation Center. I entered the large complex to be immediately overrun by 4-foot tall girls in pigtails and knee pads, which I can equate only to crash-landing on Planet Cupcake in the Candyland Galaxy. I took my seat in the Hachihama section and let my vision blur as I absorbed the craziness of the scene.

Almost completely opposite from the sport of football, where standing next to players in 15-pounds of pads, helmets, and general body armor sends a shiver of fear down the spine, the volleyball girls exude an almost Rainbow Bright level of cuteness and appeal off the court. Yet when games are in session, the cute and cuddly disposition is all but disregarded as the girls become bloodthirsty bump, set, and spiking machines. Naturally, the nets are lowered and the volleyballs are more pint-size, but any of these girls could have taken my ass to the cleaners in a one-on-one game.

The only aspect scarier than the volleyball players on the court weren’t even participants themselves. They are the “Volleyball Moms,” cheering their offspring from a safe distance in the bleachers. You can be sure and spot these moms by their choice of waistline accessory, the fanny pack (something I thought went out of style with the Ring Pop and the Tamagotchi). Fanny packs are amazingly popular in Japan, especially among the “sporty” type, and come in many varieties (you’ll have to take my word for this, as I get enough stares already without photographing random women wearing fanny-packs from behind). Complete with entire sets of cheers, claps, and encouragement material to bark, bellow, and squawk at their children, the Volleyball Moms ensure no dull moment is to be had during the course of the game.

Despite the voracity of these moms they’re remarkably kind generous, often sitting beside or among moms from other teams (something I never found to be the case among American Soccer Moms, who always seem about an inch away from having their way with the opposing side using a broken beer bottle and a minivan). I found a seat behind the cheering moms, and waited for the first match to begin.

The girls spilled onto the court, practicing some warm-ups. I spotted my host mother giving slight direction, but for the most part the practice seemed autonomous. The girls eventually formed a line at the side of the court, bowed and shook hands with the opposing team, bowed to the referee, and donned their “Let’s Get It On” faces. Before the first serve, as well as every serve to come, the captain would shout something in a high pitched voice that the others on the team would then repeat. As the game progressed, and the girls fired shot after shot over the net (followed often by a bump, a set, and a spike), I started to notice a certain robot-like nature to the proceedings, much like Van Buren’s “Political Machine” of 1821. Imaginative and able to adapt, but in the end always keeping to the basics.

The Hachihama team did a good job of staying in the game, and as the score remained tied at 22, then 23, then 24 I regretted not taking a bathroom break before the action began. It was a true nail-biter, but a well-placed spike, slipping past Hachihama’s defenses, sealed the deal for the opposing team. It was a tough loss, but these Hachihama girls are from the streets, and the school of hard knocks, so it’ll take more than one loss to break their morale.

After the game I interviewed some of the players about their thoughts of volleyball, but their Pretty Princess responses of “fun” and “exciting” kept me from pressing the subject. I didn’t dare turn my back, though, lest a well placed spike make this 31st Annual Tamano Elementary School Volleyball Tournament my last.


  • That was adorable Benjamin.

    By mom, at 7:59 AM  

  • i'm going to have to start censoring your comments, but thanks for the encouragement, mom

    By Benjamin, at 10:02 AM  

  • censoring for sweetness or for sex, drugs and rocknroll???????

    By mom, at 3:04 PM  

  • You make me laugh, Ben. And you don't want to censor your mom's comments: she's pulling in the mom demographic of your readership.

    By Donna, at 9:59 PM  

  • Yes, Ben
    Without your mother's hand in informing the world about this blog, you'd only be getting 3000 hits a day!

    Love your blog. A well-written, thoughtful, adorably dissected view on life in Japan.
    Keep up the good work!

    By B., at 6:57 AM  

  • Oops, I posted as Francesco.

    By FishOnly, at 7:01 AM  

  • The Robioror is badass and so is Volleyball

    By Bernard, at 12:56 PM  

  • since when are ring pops out?

    By Kostya the Bear, at 12:48 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home