Club Table Tennis in Japan

I recently played table tennis for six hours and never lost a match! I also never won a match. In fact, nobody ever played any matches, at least not singles. Learning to fit in at the two clubs I played at in Narashino, Japan means doing things the way they do them. Both clubs had a very similar routine. Before anyone played, introductions were made and there was a lot of bowing. Some of this was probably on my account, since I don’t think they get a lot of visitors and they all clearly knew each other very well.

Once we were ready to go, everyone moved to their designated tables and began to hit forehands. A timer was set for six minutes and when it went off, everyone smiled, bowed, and moved over one space and began hitting forehands with another partner. This went on for about an hour, although some of us switched to backhands after about forty-five minutes. There was a little practicing of serves and serve returns, again switching partners every six minutes.

At this point, I thought some matches would start and I could proudly represent the USA in this small corner of the table tennis world. It was not meant to be. At one club, everyone stopped and had a small lunch. The other club called for a rest time for everyone to have some water and sit down for a few minutes. I was starting to learn a little about the Japanese way.

I have been asked how good the players were that I met. They were mostly senior players and they could sure hit forehands. My guess, though, is that if they had a U.S. rating, most would be between 1400 and 1800. One 70-year-old player had a 2300-level serve and may have been a professional at some point.

Ratings, however, seemed to be the furthest thing from these players’ minds. They almost all had good fundamental strokes, but not much match experience. The last hour of each session did allow for some doubles play, and most players stopped training to watch the one or two doubles matches. I did get in on the doubles play and had a great time, generally getting a new partner for each match.

One very noticeable difference compared to playing in the U.S. was that everyone went home happy. There were no devastating losses and everyone got what they came for: exercise, friendship, and fine tuning their skills. I am not sure this system would work as well anywhere but Japan. There are so many great benefits to table tennis and competing is just one of them. For once, it was really nice to be somewhere where competition was not the most important concern.

10 Replies to “Club Table Tennis in Japan”

  1. Are you sure this was not more of a senior citizen routine then it was a Japan routine? The Japanese are very competitive, and I’m sure there has to be clubs over there that play matches, but maybe not at the all female senior league. Regardless, playing any sort of ping pong in Japan must be awesome!

    1. I am sure this is not the norm for all Japanese clubs. There are clubs in the high schools that are probably very different and the big clubs are probably too. There does seem to be more emphasis on practicing than playing. The second club I went to was split about 50/50 between men and women. I am sure the Japanese are quite competitive but the local clubs I went to did have a lot of seniors and never seemed to play singles.

    1. I had visited Tokyo about 12 years ago and visited a very large club in that was on something like the fifth floor of a fairly large building. I definitely remember playing some matches there. The clubs that I visited recently were small community clubs with a lot of older players. Definitely a different experience than I had at the bigger club.

    2. Hey Fagui,

      I plan on going to Japan over this upcoming summer and was wondering whether you knew anything about any high-level matches, or clubs that I could go to in Japan!

  2. I grew up in Japan and played regularly at several community centers and at school. This article mirrors my experience. Lots and lots of practice with almost no games. Interestingly, I went to a Japanese club in Brazil last year and played for three hours . . . but there were no games at all!

  3. There are two main reasons contribute to the attraction of this club to senior women players.I guess first, harmonization and friendship is more import than competition among senior Japanese women. Second, players get more exercise time while just doing fixed pattern drills, that’s how they improve their FH.D and BH.D fundamentals. plus short breaks for social. In short, you ended in a wrong club looking for competition, the popular America culture. Here, we play way too many matches and do too little basic drills.

    If you look for competition on your next trip to Asia, I suggest you visit clubs in China and expect furious competition. Chinese players are more like us.

  4. I’ve played in Japan a couple times and my experience is similar. Generally, they don’t play matches, but if you land in one of the more international Japanese clubs, they may. I played at Minato Sports Centre in Tokyo. I think the culture is why they are light years ahead of the US and most other countries, to be honest. In their clubs, improving your skill takes priority over false pride from beating your neighbor.

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