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Crowning the Sitting Volleyball Japan Champions: Driving Momentum Towards the Tokyo Paralympics!

The 22nd Japan Sitting Volleyball Championships, in which domestic club teams compete to be Japan champions, was held at the Musashino General Gymnasium from December 8-9.

The 18 Men’s teams were divided into four groups for the preliminaries, with the three highest-ranking teams in each group advancing to the finals. The 11 Women’s teams were divided into two groups for the preliminaries, with the two highest-ranking teams in each group competing in the finals the next day. All teams were fighting for the crown of Japan champion.

Chiba Pirates Win Their Third Consecutive Title in the Men’s Event!

In the Men’s event, the Chiba Pirates beat powerhouse Kyoto Otabezu Taro in the semi-finals to advance to the finals, and claimed a 2-0 (25-14, 25-13) victory over the Saitama Red Beads Bozu, to win their third consecutive championship title in the tournament.

After the match, Captain Jun Tazawa of the Chiba Pirates expressed outright joy at the results, telling us, “We felt so much pressure—we couldn’t lose. We’re so happy we were able to win this third consecutive title.” Tazawa is a former volleyball player, who played libero in high-level volleyball all the way from elementary school to high school. He discovered this parasport after getting his right leg amputated at the thigh after an accident, and in the previous year—despite only playing the sport for a year—had been named tournament MVP for his receiving skills. This year, he also racked up experience as a member of the Japan national sitting volleyball team. “I was originally a volleyball player so my strength is in being able to predict what’s gonna happen, but it’s hard to move in sitting volleyball… I want to improve my mobility so I can cover for my teammates too,” he said, promising even more growth in the future.

Jun Tazawa is integral to the Chiba Pirates’ defense

The Sport’s Growing Popularity in Chiba, Site of the Tokyo Paralympics Sitting Volleyball Venue

In addition to the Chiba Pirates, who has for a long time been a powerhouse team, was their brother-sister teams, who practice alongside them at their training site in Inage-ku, Chiba Prefecture, and who also competed in this tournament—the Men’s Chiba Peanuts and the Women’s Chiba Ladies Peanuts and Chiba Ladies Pirates. In total, they are an extended “family” made up of 4 teams and approximately 40 people, though their numbers were not always so numerous. In fact, about 10 of these members joined the family this year.

The group competed in four different brother-sister teams

As other teams struggle to acquire players, how is it that the Chiba Pirates have bolstered their team’s overall strength?

Masahiko Kato, one of the very few players who has competed in the Paralympics, and who also acts as the face of the team, told us, “Ever since the Tokyo Paralympics became a sure thing, more and more people have expressed interest in parasports. Sitting volleyball especially is gathering more attention since the games are gonna be held in Chiba (Makuhari Messe), and we as the Chiba Pirates are getting a lot more requests from the prefecture and the city to hold seminars or give visiting lectures. Lucky for us, some of the people who become interested in the sport at these seminars and lectures have come to join the team, and it’s led to direct improvements in the team’s overall strength.”

Younger players come in, and inexperienced players get better in leaps and bounds, which in turn drives the long-timers to work harder. This kind of invigoration in the team has generated an unfaltering trend of strength for the Chiba Pirates.

“It’s been twenty years since I started playing sitting volleyball, but the fact that we were able to compete in this tournament with four teams is something that’s been incredibly moving for me. My dream is to one day have a Chiba vs. Chiba finals game.”
So said the 49-year old long-timer—and tournament MVP—with sweat running down his face.

Masahiko Kato, who plays at the front lines of the sport at the age of 49

Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro Claims Women’s Championship Title in a Straight-Set Win

The finals in the Women’s event was a battle between Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro, the home of four members of the Asian Para Games Japan national team, and Western Japan powerhouse Kyoto Otabezu Hanako. The result was a 2-0 straight-set win by the Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro, for the second year in a row.

Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro, home to Shiori Ogata (right) and other members of the Japan national team

Mika Hata, Captain of the winning Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro team, was named tournament MVP. At 17 years old, she is the youngest member of the team, and only started playing sitting volleyball three years ago. She was appointed Captain by the older members of the team after the Summer Para-Volleyball Championships in August, where the team had won their third consecutive championship title. “It’s not like there was a great purpose behind me being Captain,” she said, smiling modestly, though it was clear she took her role as an athlete seriously, saying about the very close sets they had against the Chiba Ladies Peanuts in the semi-finals, “We went into the finals with a bolder stance than we had yesterday.” She plays as setter, in a continuation from her years in able-bodied volleyball, which she had started playing in her elementary school years. “Just basic mobility while you’re sitting around is hard. I want to be like my teammate [who plays as setter on the Japan national team] and train so I can move more quickly and purposefully.” Hata, Captain of this now almost invincible team—and quite good at serves too—has within her the potential to carry the women’s Japan national sitting volleyball team.

Mika Hata, Captain of Tokyo Planets Megumi Kuro

text by Asuka Senaga
photo by X-1

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