Tennis Culture in Japan
The first Asian man to win the Japan Open, the first Asian man to reach the Grand Slam final, and the first Japanese man to ever rank higher than 46th in the world, number seven world ranked tennis player Kei Nishikori is credited by many to be making tennis popular in Japan. While the sport’s popularity is rising
higher, there was also a time in Japan when tennis was the ultimate pleasure.
According to Michael Shapiro’s article in the New York Times, “Tennis Booms in Japan, But Like Nowhere Else” tennis had its golden age in Japan when its popularity had increased ten fold form the 1960s to the 1980’s when one of every ten Japanese citizen was playing tennis. When asked why, many point to Michiko Shoda, or better known as “Michi” by the Japanese citizens.
Michiko Shoda has a story similar to that of Cinderella. She was the first commoner to marry into the Imperial family after she met the Crown Prince Akihito. The unlikely pair met at a tennis court in 1958, and smitten, the prince continued to visit her at the courts – the only place they were every allowed to meet— throughout the year until he finally asked her to marry him in 1959. Soon after, tennis became both a symbol for status and romance. The tennis courts became a place to pick up dates, and the pleated tennis skirts, V-neck sweaters, and rackets that the young Imperial couple used, became fashionable items.
As time wore on though tennis started to fade slightly, as all fads do, while other trends took its place. Differently from most trends, however, tennis captured the hearts of an ample number of Japanese citizens, and continues to make its presence known today.
Tennis in Manga and Anime
While the sport is, in its own right, an art form, it has contributed to other art forms in Japan: manga and anime. Manga is the Japanese equivalent to the western comic, and anime is equivalent to cartoons. There are many tennis-based comics that have been adapted into cartoons; however, there is one that stands out from all the rest. The manga series The Prince of Tennis written was so popular, it sold over 40 million copies in Japan alone. Written and illustrated by Takeshi Konomi, it first started publishing in 1999, and released 42 volumes before concluding in 2008. The manga follows the story of a young middle school tennis prodigy who attends a prestigious middle school where he and his teammates work hard to win the National Middle School Team Championship. Art works like this and people like Kei Nishikori help to keep the enthusiasm for tennis alive in Japan.
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