Introducing the University of Tokyo's elite sports clubs and outstanding athletes
There are many students at the University of Tokyo who epitomize the image of a "lean Socrates," excelling in both their studies and sporting activities. Although it may not be widely known, the University boasts strong teams that are capable of aiming to be the best in Japan, current students who participate in world championships representing their country, and alumni who have gone on to global greatness as professional athletes...
In this section we introduce the clubs, current students and alumni of the University of Tokyo that deserve greater attention and their time in the spotlight beyond the walls of the University.
Current students with exciting potential
Kohei Tominaga, Fourth year, Faculty of Economics
A breast stroke swimmer who pulls out all the stops in competition
Kohei Tominaga has an enviable physique, developed entirely through swimming, and it was in the Japanese national championships that he got to show off that body and his swimming prowess by coming in the top five in the 100m breaststroke. It must have come as something of a surprise to see Tominaga lined up against some of the well-known swimming figures in Japan, including Kosuke Kitajima and Ryo Tateishi. Even Tominaga himself says, "At that time I renewed my best time in every race, in the qualifiers, the semi-final and the final. Each time I swam I produced my best-ever time. I have been told that I perform well in a championship environment, and I felt that myself on that day. Although my body may look the same on the outside as the other swimmers, I think that inside it is different to the top swimmers."
Tominaga took part in national championships while at high school, but his performance was only ever "average." He proved himself as a swimmer after entering university. Since entering the University of Tokyo he has continued to implement a dual training program, at the University swimming club and also at the swimming school to which he is affiliated.
"At the swimming school I listen to my coach's advice and reflect what he says objectively in my swimming style. I get the feeling though that it is in the University practice pool, in the basement of the Second Refectory, where my spirits rise."
It is perhaps thanks to constant daily training that incorporates both the objective technical side and the subjective emotional side of swimming that Tominaga has grown to be so strong in a competitive environment.
"However, this year I haven't been able to produce very good results, even losing to those in the years below me. I am currently in the process of examining why this is the case. I think it is perhaps due to the fact that when I attempt to take a large stroke and swim with all my might the instant I extend my body it sinks into the water."
Tominaga's final major contest as a student will be the Japanese national student championships in September. It would be a fitting platform for him to demonstrate his strength in big events, calmly showing off his skill and ensuring his strong desire to "stand out" is fulfilled.
Takahiro Suzuki, Third year, Faculty of Engineering
A goalie who employs beautiful form-a club tradition-to intimidate the opposition
Men's lacrosse is said to be the fastest ground-based competitive ball game. Takahiro Suzuki plays the position of goalie and his job is to ensure that the hard rubber six cm diameter ball that is hurled from a long-handled stick with a net on the end at speeds in excess of 150 km/h does not enter his goal net, which measures 180 by 180 cm.
Says Suzuki, "Initially I wanted to be one of the players who goes on the attack, but our coach told that I was the goalie. It appears that he chose me because my body was particularly responsive to the ball movements. At first I was disappointed to be placed in goal, but the coach told that if there is someone good in goal, this helps to make the team stronger."
Suzuki has developed his game to the extent that he now plays for the Japan national team. It would seem that his coach's instinct was the right one. The University of Tokyo team has a good track record in producing excellent goalies and in 2005 the lacrosse team was runner up in the national championships. One of the reasons behind this history of success is the traditional adherence to aesthetics.
Says Suzuki, "What I have always been told is to block the shoots on the goal in a beautiful and fluid form. The aim is not merely to stop the ball, but to stop it beautifully. I repeatedly practiced this technique, so much so that I almost gave up."
There is a solid strategy behind such practice. The aim is to shock the opposing team with the beauty of form with which the ball is stopped and increase psychological pressure on opponents, making them think that if they don't shoot better, the ball won't find the back of the goal. This year Suzuki is playing goalie for both the Japan national team and also the Under-22 Japan national team. His "beautiful saves" will surely intimidate opponents.
"Although I am confident in my ability to stop balls, my passing to create an attack on opponents still needs work. There are a number of people in the lacrosse team who are adept at passing and I will follow their lead and try to improve my play further."
Next year the four-yearly Lacrosse World Cup is set to be held in Denver, USA. The goalie with the beautiful form standing in front of the goal will naturally be Suzuki.
Sumire Kitano, Third year, Faculty of Agriculture
A world championship taido athlete who senses the breathing of her friends
"Taido is a martial art that was created from the Genseiryu style of karate. In response to an opponent's attack, you must turn, pivot and drop your body in various movements and use the changes in your body moves to create your own attack thrust. It is an acrobatic and flamboyant martial art that requires the use of your entire body."
Sumire Kitano is a taido athlete from the University of Tokyo taido club, who has won five consecutive titles in the national student championships. She is someone with real talent for her chosen sport and in August represented Japan in the 6th World Taido Championship. However, prior to university, Kitano says that she had no experience of sports clubs of any kind, choosing not to join any clubs in junior high school and taking part in the wind band at high school.
"During freshman week it was purely by chance that I entered a tent where a video of taido was being shown, and I joined the club then and there. There are three types of competing in taido: hokei (form), where beauty of form is uppermost, jissen (fighting), where strength comes to the fore, and tenkai (development), which concentrates on the ability to put together moves in a creative manner. The most characteristic type is tenkai. In this type of play one athlete uses all his or her skill to fight and overcome five opponents. Watching tenkai is truly like watching a theatrical combat scene in a warrior movie."
Watching Kitano practice, it is easy to understand what she means about tenkai. However, the voices raised during the course of practice cry out words like "Meditate!" and "Resolve your position!" that would never be heard in a warrior movie and demonstrate the courtesy that it unique to martial arts. It is also apparently of importance to be able to feel the breathing of other club members as they stand on the tatami matting, filled with dignity and energy.
"As I am unable to implement a full back somersault, my strength lies in being able to perform each and every movement carefully and with grace. I believe that my skill is being able to feel the breathing of other club members and coordinate my movements in time with that breathing."
At the world championship Kitano joined her team mates in a group hokei performance titled "Henin." The six-person team, which demonstrated such perfect harmony of movement, were surely also in harmony when they cried for joy at the feel of the silver medals hanging round their necks.