Well we found it.  This past weekend, Saturday, October 8, Avalon and Halyard went to their second weekend of water polo practice.  A lot of advance and follow up work got us to the point of locating the Toyonaka Water Polo Club.  Water polo is called Suikyu (Sue-ee-que) in Japan.


As with many challenges here, there were several people who were involved in this success.  Our friend Art is the one who first found the website back when we were still in the States.  But we couldn’t read it until our friend Hiroko, here in Japan, helped to translate the website and also contacted the coaches on our behalf.  The club arranged for an English speaking parent to come meet us and help with communication at our first practice.

I feel the need to stress that water polo is not a super popular sport in Japan.  Baseball and soccer rank high for school kids.  Most people here look shocked when I explain that 2 of my kids play it.  “Ahhh, honto ni?!” they say, which means “Really?!”  I myself am shocked that we found a club so close by.  It’s an hour train & walking commute and yes, by public transportation standards that’s considered close by.  One of our friends here told me she was super impressed that we were able to line it up at all.

The water polo father that came to meet us lived in the US for a while.  Wonder of all wonders, he lived in Orange County for a brief time and of course, it was Irvine.  I’m at the point where I’m not even surprised anymore when a Japanese person here tells me that they have some connection to Orange County.  It’s becoming so typical, mundane, expected!  This same father graduated from San Jose State University.

The first practice was THREE hours long.  Stretching for an hour, swimming laps for an hour, drills and scrimmage for the last hour.  I wasn’t sure how Avalon would like that.  But literally, the second that we arrived, a young water polo girl spotted Avalon, squealed, “KAWAII” and grabbed her by the hand.  Kawaii means cute and in Japan anything that is worth anything is kawaii.  So Avalon had an instant friend who took her under her wing.  She doesn’t speak a word of English that I can tell but I see her constantly chatting to Avalon.


The team practices on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.  They have the problem of pool time, which is a premium here, so that’s why practice is 3 hours on Saturdays.  And lucky for Avalon, practice is FOUR+ hours on Sundays.  It turns out that because Halyard is young for his grade, he can play with the older junior players.  Good thing we encouraged him to bring his suit!  He reluctantly suited up and got in the water too.

On Sunday Avalon went back to try it again.  She was feeling a little apprehensive because she said she didn’t understand all of the drills and the foul calls were different.  But Avalon is a pretty good sport so she and I made the hour-long train/walking commute again.  Halyard opted to stay home and work on homework.

The SJSU father was unavailable on Sunday so he arranged for another English speaking parent to come instead.  This time we were met by a Japanese father who had studied at Cambridge University in England.  It’s so nice of these parents to come hold our hands for the day.  It really does make it so much easier to understand what the heck is going on.


For our second round of weekend practice we had to go to a different pool, this time at Ibaraki High School.  Ibaraki is about an hour train and/or bus ride or a 25-minute car ride.  John decided to drive!  I am getting better at navigating with Google Maps, but sometimes the map just isn’t that clear.  John is good at U-turns and retracing our steps.

Our English-speaking, Cambridge U grad companion is an alumni of Ibaraki High School and he played for the water polo team as a high school student.  Now he has the title of General Manager of the Ibaraki team and both of his sons are playing water polo.  He told me that the Ibaraki swimming pool is 100 years old.  There’s a plaque outside the building that chronicles the pool’s history.  He said the pool was just a “pond” 100 years ago.  Now it is a very large, nice, covered and heated pool.

Now, if Avalon thought a 4 hour practice sounded grueling… the practice at Ibaraki High School is basically from 9am-5pm.  What!?!?  An ALL DAY practice?  And we’re not even in Orange County!  It’s a casual practice though and you can arrive and leave whenever you want, but guess what – I noticed that nearly every kid there came at 9 and were still there when we left at 3:30 (15:30).  Avalon got out and stopped practicing after 3 hours.  Halyard stayed in the water till 3:30 when he decided to call it quits.  They did take a 1.5 hour lunch break at 12.


On this day several clubs have come to practice.  The pool is large and has plenty of room for the Toyonaka team, the Ibaraki team, an all girls high school team from Kyoto and a junior team from the city of Okayama.

This is what I’m saying about finding a water polo club so close by.  These girls have come from Kyoto because they don’t have a nice, big pool to practice in – in all of Kyoto and it’s surrounding towns!  I know this because I asked.  So these girls have come, probably on the train, to practice in Ibaraki.  When you play any sport, in any place, that is on the fringes of popularity you really have to go out of your way.  It’s funny because water sports are so big in California.  You can find a large Olympic pool anywhere you look.


The Okayama Water Polo Club came, I think, for two reasons.  One, they don’t have a big pool to practice in either and two, the coaches of the Okayama and Toyonaka programs are very good friends.  I noticed that after lunch the coaches appeared to exchange gifts.  The Okayama coach gave the Toyonaka coach a big box of fancy purple grapes that are very expensive in the grocery store.  I should write a blog post on the pervasive gift giving in Japan.  Everyone, from babies on up gives gifts to their peers, friends, enemies and strangers.

Interestingly, when the visiting club first arrived, the Toyonaka kids and the Okayama kids gathered around the opposing coaches and bowed to them and said, “Arigatou gozaimasu!” in unison.  This means thank you very much!  The Okayama team also bowed at the water’s edge before jumping into the water.  Very respectful toward the coaches and the pool!

After lunch, Halyard’s team started a scrimmage game against the high school girls from Kyoto.  They were good but not as good as Mater Dei girls.  The Kyoto girls are ranked 4th in Japan for girls high school water polo.  Halyard got to switch between playing in the goal and playing the field.  After a while they switched to scrimmage against the Okayama Water Polo Club.

When the high school girls from Kyoto were ready to leave they circled around our coach and in unison, bowed and loudly said “Arigatou gozaimasu!”

Then they went over to the Okayama coach and did the same thing.  A low bow and a loud “Arigatou gozaimasu” cheer!


There’s a 2-day water polo tournament coming up and the coaches would really, really like Halyard and Avalon to come.  It’s about 2-3 hours by car in an area called Mie (me-yay) Prefecture.  A few of the parents drive all of the kids and they all split the cost of gas, hotel and food.  This could be a really big adventure!  Hope we can talk the kids into going.  John can’t wait to go himself!