Monday, April 14, 2008

Volleyball in Japan

One of the very few sports that I can play with any frequency of accuracy at all is volleyball (I'm a bit of a klutz). But, after high school, except for those few who are either on the volleyball team or know someone who is, volleyball is not really a sport talked much about in the US. It has it's small nitch, it's relatively small group of dedicated fans, but it certainly doesn't get broadcast on the national news, not when there are more "appropriate" things to watch, like American football, basketball, or baseball. Furthermore, though there ARE men's volleyball teams, they get even less press coverage. Why? Because something about the American psyche stereotypes volleyball as a sport that is somehow less manly than, oh, say, football? We generally tend to think that if there isn't a possibility that you could break a bone, or if it doesn't involve a slam-dunk or a homerun, or if it doesn't involve cars, then it's just not a man's sport.

That's why it surprised me so much to find out that Japan has a National Men’s Volleyball team that gets national attention. Last semester, during volleyball and soccer (excuse me, football) season, all that was on at my host family’s house was the latest game. And volleyball had priority over soccer. What was even more amazing was that men’s volleyball took priority over the news, which until volleyball season had previously enjoyed number one priority in the Yuasa family’s list of acceptable programs. The usual cartoons (even Yoshi’s adored pokemon and Aki’s adored maruko-chan) were pre-empted, there was a significant decrease in the family’s knowledge of current events, and all the family’s activities would be rescheduled according to the schedule of the Japan National Men’s Volleyball team. Aki would skip juku on game night, Yoshi and her friends would reschedule their band practice, Hiroko-san (the mother) would come home unusually early from teaching at her English school. In fact, the only person who seemed unaffected by volleyball in the Yuasa household was Katsu-san, who would come home later than usual and bring a newspaper to read, having come to terms a long time ago with the fact that his usual news hour would not be allowable on game night. Even yours truly was caught up in the volleyball madness, though I had my own ulterior motives—both the games and the conversation in the commercial breaks were fantastic Japanese practice!

There is nothing that defines volleyball as strictly feminine in Japan. The men’s team had just as much (if not more) coverage as the women’s team. Neither was preferred over the other. And if there wasn’t a game, you could almost be guaranteed to see the team members on all of the regular game shows. And heaven forbid that the international home-stay student forget the names of the team members! The normally very quiet Yuasa household would erupt in loud cheers of joy whenever Japan won its match. It was like football season at the University of Arkansas; complete with cheerleaders, fanatics in the stands, everything, and all over volleyball.

Consequently, the current shrine at the Yuasa house is not to any kami and it is not a butsudan. It is a small placard, signed by Panasonic and Aki’s favorite member of the volleyball team.


visual gonthros said...

Volleyball is certainly popular in Japan, as evident by the number of students who posted on the subject this week...

Where are your photos? Why the wikipedia link?

Sarah said...

Did you tell your host family about the Arkansas-Tennessee volleyball game we watched?