Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Kyushu Open Squash Tournament

Since living in Japan, what used to be something of a passing interest has become more of an obsession - namely, squash. At the weekend I made what is an annual trip to Fukuoka, where I once again played in the Kyushu Open. If truth be known, I am far too old to have any hope of playing at the top level in Japan (arguably the best player in Japan is only 23!), but I love the game, and even though I have been playing on and off since I was 14, I think I am still improving, and I still have goals to fulfil.

So on Friday, Greg and I set off to Fukuoka on the kodama - the slowest of the shinkansen, which stops at all the stations en route. This was a money-saving measure as there was quite a big discount for buying our tickets together. Here I am at Hakata station in Fukuoka. Am I very small, or is the station very big?! (A brief break here for a bowl of Hakata ramen - a must for any visitor)

Greg, in fact, wasn't scheduled to play until Saturday, but we rather fancied the idea of arriving in plenty of time, and warming up on one of the courts at the tournament venue which has an idiosyncracy that can cause problems if you aren't used to it.

As much as I enjoy the squash, a big part of the weekend is meeting up with friends. Once we arrived at the sports club we hooked up with Richard who works in Tokyo, and Joakim who is based in Seoul at the moment - he was able to arrange a business trip to coincide with the tournament. The banter for the whole weekend was terrific!

Richard, Greg and I warmed up for an hour and a half, before checking into the conveniently situated hotel next door to the sports club, and having a bite to eat. Richard, Joakim and I then got ready for our first matches in the evening. Sadly Joakim had a very tough first match and lost. The only consolation was that the guy who beat him went on to have a very successful tournament (...until he played Greg in the Best 16 round!) Richard had no problem, and I was pleased with the way I played, and we advanced to the Best 32 round on Saturday morning. I finished in the Best 64 last year, so this was already an improvement, and my first goal for the weekend.
Interestingly on Saturday I played against the same player who beat me last year (Taro Sakamaki), so I was eager to have another shot at him. I thought I gave him a much better game this year, but unfortunately lost again. Nothing to do now but watch and chat!

Rchard kept winning until he came up against on of Japan's top juniors, Hayate Gunji, in the Best 8 round. He enjoyed his match, but Hayate prevailed. Greg meanwhile was marching on unhindered to the final on Sunday afternoon, where he triumphed over Hayate. (Here he is with his winner's medal!)

We had so much time to kill before our train home that I half-jokingly suggested to Greg that we have a game. He was all for it, so, much to the disbelief of the tournament organisers, we went back on court for almost an hour and did some practice routines, joined by Kazuko Michishita, one of the top ladies players in Japan. We got so involved that we ended up having to run for our train! The journey back allowed for some relaxing reflection on an enjoyable and, for Greg, very successful weekend.

If you are interested in learning more about the tournament, and seeing the full results, please follow this link - it's in Japanese!


Monday, 16 May 2011

Azaleas at Ondo Bridge

Slightly later than I expected, but here, as promised in my last blog, are the famous azaleas at Ondo Bridge - the cause of many a traffic jam in and around Golden Week! On the far side of the bridge you can just about see the "multi-storey car park" approach road. As much as I like this bridge, I am looking forward to the convenience of the new one.
It will also mean that we won't have to plan alternative routes to get home when the azaleas are in bloom - the tailback from the bridge often stretches the three miles back to where we live. Hopefully we didn't add too much to the traffic congestion this day, as Kayo and I took advantage of some time without the children and went on my bike - the only way to travel at this time of year!
I've had this bike for over twelve years now and we made quite a few memorable trips on it before the children came along - Shimane, Tottori, Kobe, Shikoku... Having said that, I don't think Kayo has quite forgiven me for classing a bike trip to Kyushu and the the Oita Squash Open as our honeymoon... Apparently I still owe her one! There's just no pleasing some people...