Finding My Group: Club Sports in Japan
When making the leap across the ocean to Japan most of us look for something to remind us of home. For some it could be familiar foods or fashion, others music, but for me that thing was always sports. Since childhood, sports were ingrained in my DNA and being a part of a team, having camaraderie and sense of purpose was something I really missed while not playing. Thus beginning the search!
At first it was a little rough to be honest. I really wanted to find competitive basketball but since it’s popularity is only beginning to rise in Japan finding anything better than a half court outside eluded me. But after making a few key connections I was finally invited to play inside the gyms at the local city sports centers with some guys who rented the court.
This one time event was a great warm up but I missed the buzz of the crowd, the sound of the scoreboard and the whistles from the referees (unless they were calling a foul on me of course). After meeting another foreigner at the gym he told me about a club/semi-pro team in Nagoya, I was invited to a practice and the rest is history.
Looking back, I could have skipped a lot of time and frustration if I just knew where to look. A quick Facebook search looking for any groups or teams in Nagoya would have given me the information I was looking for right away. For example the Nagoya Futsal Facebook group organizes weekly matches and scrimmages for foreign and Japanese players in Nagoya. Recreational leagues are sometimes held at the local sports centers and more information about these can usually be found at your local international center.
However if you are looking to play at the club or semi-pro level like I was then information about how and where to join teams will be harder to find. My advice would be to try to search for a tournament, find it’s location and go watch some games.
Sports at every level are so different in Japan. The style of play, enthusiasm of fans, how organized and professional games will be shocking! Go watch, talk to some friendly faces and they will be able to give you more information about joining teams and finding times to play. The tournament I played in over the weekend through the Aichi Club Basketball Federation hosted games from morning until night with teams at all skill level.
Competitive basketball is rare in Japan and has to be searched for. I am confident that if I was able to find basketball then you will be able to find a more popular sport fairly easily. Baseball, tennis, soccer and futsal fields are abundant and probably the most easy to find and play in.
I have never played futsal before coming to Japan but once a month some work colleagues and I will rent a futsal pitch on the top of a roof near the Nagoya Station and play for a couple hours. It is really quite fun! Maybe considering trying out a new sport would be a nice change of pace.
In conclusion sports in Japan won’t find you, you have to find them. Search the Internet for leagues, Facebook for any groups and your local international centers for any information. Good luck with your search and play hard!
Some Final Thoughts:
I do want to bring attention to an interesting point about Japanese sports that definitely took me by surprise. Depending on your league and skill level, there may be rules against having a certain number for foreigners on the team. In certain tournaments my basketball team is only allowed 2 foreign players on the roster, and 1 on the court at all times. This isn’t as common with other club sports, however the closer you get to the professional level the stricter the rules will be. Most professional sports teams have a restriction on the number of foreigners they can have on the roster.
Each ward (kind of like a small county) within the main cities in Japan will all have a city sports center. This place will usually include a weight room with free weights and machines, cardio machines such as stationary bikes and treadmills, and even classes (usually for seniors). If you are travelling through or just moved to Japan and looking for a workout these city gyms are very cheap! My local gym (Naka City Sports Center, Nagoya) costs 1600 yen for the month, or 200 yen per day. Please check out the official site for further information.
Photos were taken of Proline Nagoya Basketball Team. We recently won the Aichi Club Basketball Championship.