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.
Sports clubs to watch
American Football Club
"Warriors" on the field, facing opponents with a powerful game strategy
The overriding image of American football is one of large, muscled men clashing on the field. However, according to team captain Masataka Sato, there is more to the sport than power and dynamism alone. According to Sato, "There are various positions on the field, making American football a sport for all types, be they big or small, broad or slender. It is also a sport that requires players to use their heads more than you would think. Although the players' physical capacity is undoubtedly important, it is fair to say that strategy is the biggest factor when it comes to winning or losing.
Hearing this it is easy to suspect that as the University of Tokyo students are intelligent they would be adept at thinking about strategy, or that they would be good at weighing up options on the field of play. Captain Sato shakes his head upon hearing this, however.
"Our strength lies in our capacity to carry through a strategy once we have decided on it. Even with weight training, once we have decided on our course, we follow through on it in a single-minded way that surprises even players from other universities. All players were originally tall and lanky so unless we train with determination we couldn't hope to achieve the results we are aiming for."
Another of the team's strengths is the 30-strong student staff who provide support. Whether it is the manager who runs the club, the trainer who supports the players' physical development, or the analyzing staff who monitor progress, all of these people play an important role making them the "12th person on the team." Says analyzing staff member Tomoko Wata, "There are times when the results of analysis and what the players actual feel themselves about their performance are different and times when they match. I continue to believe that the future success of the team hinges on analysis."
The team remains strong and in the first league, and it is entirely reasonable to expect that their overall power and skill will enable them to become number one in Japan. The team is known as the "Warriors" and they continue to fight their battles on the field with determination and vigor.
Fourth year, Faculty of Letters
Condensing 128 years of history into a single stroke - the squad pinning their hopes on a moment of ecstasy
The Rowing Club has a venerable tradition dating back 128 years, and the boathouse is situated on the eastern end of the Toda rowing course, which was once used as an Olympic venue. The boats all have richly evocative names, given to them over the years by the masters of the boathouse: Shinonome, Saiun, Ajisai, Kikuka, Sanshiro, Kokoro. The club has a total of approximately 60 members, who come to stay at the boathouse for training sessions.
Says manager Shoichi Kaneko, "All club members spend most of their time here. Training begins at five in the morning, meaning that it would be impossible to catch even the first train of the day, so club members sleep over."
Train times are not the only concern. In rowing it is important that the breathing of all rowers in the boat is coordinated, meaning that it is essential for them to eat and sleep together to fully understand their fellow team mates. Living in such close proximity means that the team members get to know each other so well that even in the communal bath they can tell who someone is by just a glance at the shape of their back. The question that arises is whether the rowing club members, living modern lives in modern times, actually mind living together in shared rooms in bunk beds?
Club captain Tetsu Sekiya says, "I don't feel there is any inconvenience in living together in the rowing club accommodation. Rather than bothering about living arrangements, in the instant when you win a race, nothing else matters. At that moment there is a vivid sense of ecstasy in the boat that is stronger than any other pleasure." Rowing is also appealing because even beginners can overcome seasoned rowers with sufficient practice. However, it is not all about winning. As Sekiya adds, "The most important thing is whether we gain in strength through training. If we do win a race it stands as proof that we have been able to withstand the rigors of training."
In the lobby area of the boathouse there is a note written by a former club member from 50 years ago. "When the going gets tough, remember that you share the agony with eight others and always strive to train harder and endure more pain than other people." The 128 years of rowing tradition emanate through the blades of each oar and in each and every stroke.
Fourth year, Faculty of Engineering
Rubber-ball Baseball Team
The student-run "secret weapon" team, fighting at the national level
There are three baseball clubs at the University of Tokyo, and recently the club with the most outstanding results has been the rubber-ball baseball team. In spring of both 2012 and 2013 the club won the Tokyo Six Universities League and advanced to the national finals, making them one of the University of Tokyo's "secret weapons."
Says coach Hideki Takei, "The particular characteristic of rubber-ball baseball is that the ball doesn't fly so well, making it harder to score runs. There are very few home runs and one of the most critical concerns is to ensure you don't give runs away to the other side. You could say that each run in rubber-ball baseball has a greater weight than one in hardball or semi-hardball baseball." So why is the University of Tokyo rubber-ball baseball team so strong in this game?
Says Takei, "Although our hitting power may not be that strong, we are particularly good in other areas of the game, paying attention to the bunt, stealing base and end runs. For example, in a situation where we have one out with a runner on third base, our golden rule of thumb for success is to hit the ball hard on the ground so that it bounds back up, giving the runner on third base time to run home."
Another characteristic of the club that the coach points out is that traditionally it has been run by students alone. Naturally Coach Takei, who organizes the other 42 club members, is himself a student. Listening to the lively interactions that take place during training, it is easy to see that the student-only environment makes it easy for everyone to say what they think.
The goal of the club is to win the national tournament. They have advanced to the nationals on four occasions in the past, only to be eliminated in their first game on each occasion. In 2012 the team was leading by one run at the bottom of the ninth, only to crumble in the face of some wild pitches that resulted in the batters walking. This year too, their dreams were dashed. The team is focusing single-mindedly on doing everything to take the number one spot in the national championships next year.
Fourth year, Faculty of Engineering
Cheerleaders of the Supporters' Club
"Dancing athletes" whose hearts leap at every hit
In the stands of Jingu Stadium there is a group of students who are always smiling, even when the team is losing, and who are constantly cheering on their team and encouraging the spectators to do the same. These students are the women of KRANZ. The name, which literally means a garland of flowers, is that given to the University of Tokyo cheerleaders, all of whom are University of Tokyo students and are all filled with a passionate spirit to do their very best to support their team.
Says head of the cheerleaders, Mari Nakajima, "Rather than trying to get the players to hear our voices, our aim is to encourage the other spectators to raise their voices in unison and shout their support, making numerous single voices one big voice. We spend the entire match facing the spectator stands and from time to time we get hit by a foul ball." Nakajima can still clearly remember the immense upwelling of emotion from the crowd when the University of Tokyo beat Waseda three years ago, and she calmly weighs up the strengths of the KRANZ cheerleaders.
"If there are not many occasions when our team wins, we focus on being happy about every single hit and strike. Where we never lose is in our ability to support each and every aspect of play."
What underpins the pride they feel in their cheerleading is their daily practice in the gym, which is a sweaty place in stark contrast to the glamor of an actual game. The beads of sweat that trickle down team members' arms that are shaking with the effort of muscle training, and the thud as one of the team is thrown up into the air, just short of the gym ceiling before being caught with a thud by her teammates underscore the fact that the cheerleaders themselves are members of a sports club. What creates the greatest impression at any training session, however, is the team members' smiles, which are identical to the smiles that spectators see at games.
"If we can't smile in practice, then we won't be able to do it at an actual game either. We smile until our cheeks get cramp, always remembering that we must provide the best support, as cheerleaders sharing the field with the members of other sports clubs who are doing their best to win."
The cheerleaders are always frustrated to hear the words, "You did well, even if the team lost." They live each day waiting for the joy of hearing these words instead, "The team won thanks to your support."