Mishima-san’s friendship has helped me navigate Japan. Specifically the cultural, social and sports world. His advice has always been spot on, and he has certainly taken me under his wing to ensure that I’m always doing the right things, and completing my work to the best of my ability.
Mishima-san owns a bar, fairly close to where I initially lived in Japan. This bar has been a staple of Princeton in Asia Fellows in Kurashiki for the past 10 or so years. Offering a place to not only relax, but practice Japanese, and if you’re feeling adventurous making some…interesting…friends.
Mishima-san was born in Katsuyama, Japan. A very rural area and he had your run of the mill upbringing. He attended school, played baseball, until his high school graduation when he decided to get into the food service business. Starting as a “ko-hai (junior)” crêpe maker, his “senpai (senior)” was extremely tough on him. Forcing him to do everything perfectly, no bad posture, no flour on his apron, and when he would make a mistake his “Senpai” would jab an object into his side. Mishima-san always made sure blunt objects were around him during these training sessions.
Similar to all of our conversations, we discussed everything from his childhood to politically relevant topics. I started by asking what sports he and his siblings played during their childhood.
“Boys always play baseball, It’s like a right of passage in suburban and rural Japan. But within rural areas, Kendo (Japanese martial arts using bamboo swords) is also very popular. Girls usually play volleyball but are not really expected to pursue sports after high school. But we weren’t very serious, it was fun unfortunately we didn’t have the coaching necessary to be great.”
What about track and field? Were you involved with that as well?
“Everyone does track and field too, I forgot that one. During sports day in schools, the most popular event is the relay. We used to practice the baton pass so much, sometimes for 1-2 hours. Every person who has gone to Japanese schools is really good at the baton pass I think, even in the Olympics, it’s one of our strongest sports.”
There is certainly a correlation, team Japan brought home silver in the 4×100 relay, second only to team Jamaica. So, how do you think sports in Japan, specifically rural areas become better? Is more coaching necessary?
“I think the “senpai,” “ko-hai” relationship is very important. Seeing someone else work hard to make you a better athlete, while also working on themselves is powerful. It also makes us better people. But it’s important that the “senpai” is not too hard on the “ko-hai.” This can make the “ko-hai” resent the “senpai,” and the sport as well.”
So how should the “senpai” get their knowledge of this sport? Do you think all of the information required is known in Japan and by Japanese coaches?
“Of course not, when we look at the top summer Olympic sports such as track and field, basketball and soccer. Generally, the most elite teams are not Japan. Not to say we don’t do well, judo, volleyball and most recently track are doing well. I think these athletes need to go study with the elite athletes and bring back the information to Japan to coach kids to be the best that they can, then they will become great.”
Sounds pretty expensive, and time-consuming. Do you think it’s that important?
“Well studying that sport is not the end goal, it is important to experience other cultures. The best way to do that is to go to another country and study a sport and well…anything really. I believe that sports bring people together. Only through interaction and working together will we be able to see each other’s hearts. Without sports, that’s very difficult.”
What do you think is currently stopping us from this meaningful interaction?
“Selfishness. Only that”
“World leaders. From our own to Putin, Kim Jong, Trump. Everyone wants to give themselves and their “people” the best opportunity for success. But we should be working for everyone’s success.”
Do you really think sports can help a problem like this?
“I bet, if all world leaders get together and played a sport for about 2 hours, basketball or soccer, anything really, they would make more progress than has been made recently.”
Wow, that’s an amazing outlook, anything else you would like to add?
“I think your project is a good start. It may be kids just messaging each other now with workouts and tips, however, it could grow into an exchange that could change the perspective of kids and athletes everywhere. We need more projects like this in the world. How was the interview? I hope I didn’t sound like an idiot.”
We had a laugh after that and just continued our normal flow of conversation. I interviewed Mishima-san because through all of his experiences both bad and good he has consistently made his business a welcoming place for non-Japanese residents. Yes, he loves sports and recognizes the potential that sports can have in bringing the world together, but he is always striving to understand and even communicate with non-Japanese natives, and I think that above all else is admirable and always worth a conversation.