How a community sports program continues to inspire me

I was sent to Japan in 2007 as one of the country’s two participants to the JASA Study Tour Project for Leaders of Asian Youth Sports. It was a project that reinforced my impression of the Japanese brand of professionalism and efficiency.

That year’s study tour was hosted both in Tokyo and Fukushima. Apart from the study-related tours, seminars, and presentations, our group also had the chance to immerse in a comprehensive community sports program in Minamiaizu in Fukushima Prefecture. The experience left an indelible mark in me so much so that almost five years later I still think about how I could use it to start a program of my own.

For the love of sports: Meet Mr. Kenji Yuda

Mr. Kenji Yuda is the manager of the Hinoki Sports Club in Minamiaizu where club members come from all ages – small kids, high school students, adults, and the elders of the community. He used to work in Tokyo but he decided to settle in Minamiaizu to put up and manage a sports club, which was his lifelong dream.

Our group met Kenji in a school ground one drizzling, cold, and breathtakingly beautiful fall afternoon. He was accompanied by community elders who were all members of the club.

Dressed for the rain and the cold, Kenji and all the elders taught us the basics of ground golf. We were then divided into groups so we could play with the club members. I began to appreciate the sport after a well-played and, I must say, a bit competitive game. My team lost but playing with the elders made me feel like a winner just the same.

Sports for all: A community that plays together

The following day, our group was brought to the local gym that serves as home base of the Hinoki Sports Club. There we met the rest of the club members from the youngest to the eldest.

We were told that the club meets regularly to play various games. While there, we played kin-ball, dodgeball, jump ropes, and many other fun games that I tried playing for the first time.

Apart from the time spent playing with them, talking with the members was also one of the highlights of that visit. They shared how the club encourages various types of activities suitable for every season. They said that hiking in mountain trails is one of the most popular summer and spring activities on their list. Adults take younger members on treks, which gives plenty of opportunities for the former to inspire a deeper appreciation of nature and the environment.

I think that the Hinoki Sports Club set-up allows for a bridging of generational gaps in a very positive manner. The young and old alike get to spend quality time together. It was a truly inspiring experience to witness how well a community sports program like theirs provide an environment that value fitness and traditions. I cannot think of a better way for people from diverse ages to form bonds through sports and outdoor pursuits.

Sport at its best: Watching seeds grow

Minamiaizu and its sports club are both invaluable experiences that I will not forget. The brief time spent there further strengthened my belief in possibilities. It left me believing in the value of playtime and face-to-face interactions. Nothing beats the connection and learning that people gain from interactions through sports, games, and (re)connecting with nature.

I was deeply touched by all that I have seen and learned from the people I met in that trip. I remembered the kids, so young and full of life as they waved their goodbyes. I could not help but think that they were lucky to be part of all that.  I promised myself then not to forget them along with the lessons I learned from them. I am happy to say I never did.

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