Last year (2020), the dream stage for high school students, the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship, was canceled due to COVID-19. This year (2021), the tournament was held under thorough infection prevention measures, and it had been a while since the title for the best high school in Japan was awarded. With the new COVID-19 requiring various changes in Kendo, how did powerhouse schools respond and improve their team strength? We will look at the current efforts of the top two schools in the boy’s and girl’s divisions that have reached the finals of the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship to learn about their methods for improvement.
Toin Gakuen High School (Kanagawa), Shimabara High School (Nagasaki)
Nakamura Gakuen Girls’ High School (Fukuoka) Chikushidai High School (Fukuoka)
High School Kendo Jidai vol.1
Composition = Teraoka Tomoyuki
Photo = Nishiguchi Kunihiko
Translation = Jouke van der Woude
Shimabara is always mentioned as a powerhouse in high school Kendo. Both the boy’s and girl’s Kendo teams are among the best in the country, and they always seem to come out on top in every national tournament. In March, at the All Japan Kendo Championships, Matsuzaki Kenshiro, who had been recognized as a talent since his high school days, won his first title. This was also the first time for Shimabara to have an alumnus win the All Japan Kendo Championships. The third place finisher was also an alumnus, Hayashida Shohei. Hayashida was selected to represent Japan at the last World Kendo Championships and is now the top-ranked teacher in Japan. On the women’s side, Takenaka Miho finished 3rd in the All Japan Women’s Kendo Championships. Like Hayashida, Takenaka is now representing Japan at the World Kendo Championships, and is attracting attention as a potential leader in the women’s Kendo world.
Watanabe Takatsune, who served as the principal of Shimabara High School until last year, has built the school into a national powerhouse. In 2009, he was succeeded by coach Fukuda Shuntaro. Under his guidance, the team is training hard every day to become the best in Japan.
Major results of Shimabara High School (Nagasaki)
All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship 2nd place twice, All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship 2nd place twice, Gyokuryuki High School Kendo Championship 1st place twice, Kaiseiki All Japan Kendo Championship winner three times
When he was a student at Isahaya Junior High School, he took second place individually at the National Junior High School Kendo Championship. In high school, he was not able to make a mark at national championships, but he contributed greatly to Nagasaki Prefecture’s three consecutive National Sports Festival titles. In his senior year at the University of Tsukuba, he took his first title at the 67th All Japan Championship, beating many other strong candidates. Currently, he is one of the most promising competitors
Human growth during COVID-19
The year before last (2019), just before the spread of COVID-19 in Japan, Shimabara was unexpectedly defeated in the Prefectural Freshman Kendo Championship. However, with that disappointment as a source of sustenance, they continued to train hard and won the right to participate in the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship through the preliminary rounds. However, its cancellation left the students with no opportunity to show the results of their efforts. Coach Fukuda explains:
“I heard that they tried to hold the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship up until the very end. It takes a lot of thought and effort to win the right to participate in national tournaments. Club members enter our school with the goal of becoming the best in Japan, so I think it was a real shock to lose that goal”.
However, he could not get complacent so he was united in his feelings with the team members, hoping that the All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship would be held in the summer.
With the declaration of a state of emergency across the country, they were not able to do Keiko regularly. While they were restricted from going to school or traveling outside of the prefecture, they tried to do what they could until the resumption of Keiko as usual. They quietly kept doing Keiko that they could do by themselves, such as Suburi and performing strikes on tires. Even after the resumption of Keiko as usual, of course it was not easy to return to the same training regime as before. It was quite difficult for the school to do Keiko with their Bogu on because of its location on the Shimabara Peninsula which is known for its intense heat. However, they practiced with much more breaks than usual to prevent heat strokes. Coach Fukuda said the following about Keiko during COVID-19:
“COVID-19 had many negative effects on the team members. However, if I had to pick a positive element, I would say that in the situation where Kendo was taken away, they felt a deep sense of gratitude for Kendo. In terms of personal growth, I believe that this period was a great lesson for them”.
With the championship canceled, the third-year students were preparing for a replacement tournament which was to be held in Okinawa at the end of the year. However, they were uncertain whether even this championship would be held.
“We didn’t know if the championship would be held or not. So we wanted to do our best to prepare ourselves so that we could show our strength at any time”.Then came the Kyushu High School Kendo Championship, where a good performance grants the right to participate in the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship. The Shimabara team overcame the feelings of last year’s frustration to take the title and a ticket to the national level.
Stranding in the semifinals
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