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
Looking back at the history of high school Kendo, there have been several schools that have made their mark, such as PL Gakuen High School, Aso High School, and more recently, Kyushu Gakuin High School. Nakamura Gakuen Girl’s High School is the current leader in women’s high school Kendo. They won their first All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship title in 2016. Since then, they have won four major high school tournaments, including the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship, Kaiseiki All Japan Kendo Championship, Gyokuryuki High School Kendo Championship, and All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship. For other schools, they have to beat Nakamura Gakuen at some point in order to become the best in Japan. This is the goal of every high school in Japan, and with their overwhelming strength, they have currently taken the All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship title for four consecutive years.
Another thing that cannot be overlooked is the participation of Senoo Maika in the World Championships in South Korea in 2018. With her outstanding style, she played a central role in the Japanese team. Coincidentally, Morooka Atsuko who was in the same grade as Senoo and had been in a friendly rivalry with her, won the All Japan Women’s Kendo Championship for the first time in March. The school’s coach Iwaki Norihiko was not surprised by this victory. Yamasaki Rina, another graduate of Nakamura Gakuen, won second place that time, so Nakamura Gakuen’s success continues not only in high school Kendo but also at the adult level.
Nakamura Gakuen Major Results
All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship title 4 times, All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship title 6 times, Gyokuryuki Highschool Kendo Championship title 8 times, Kaiseiki All Japan Kendo Championship title 3 times
A chance for revanche canceled
Since their first victory at the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship in 2008, the team has won that title six times to date. In the midst of this uptrend, there was one downturn in the 28th championship held in 2018. The Nakamura Gakuen girls, who had won the championship for two consecutive years, lost in the prefectural qualifying rounds and failed to participate which was a huge disappointment.
COVID-19 came while they were training for revanche. Coach Iwaki explains:
“When the decision was made to cancel the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship, the players were let down. They had entered Nakamura Gakuen to become the best in Japan, so I really felt sorry for the third-year students at the time”.
Although the championship was canceled, the students practiced with the belief that the All Japan Inter-High School Kendo Championship would be held. However, due to the declaration of a state of emergency, they could not practice at the school Dojo. This is when remote training was utilized.
Iwaki: “Since they couldn’t go to school anymore, we sent all the members back to their parents’ houses. Believing that there would be a tournament, we spent one to two hours every day on Suburi and remote training. The club members managed to maintain their motivation by seeing each other working hard”.
However, in spite of their hopes, the tournaments they were aiming for such as the Gyokuryuki Highschool Kendo Championship and All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship had to be canceled. From this point on, the third-year players were preparing for a replacement championship scheduled to be held in Okinawa, while the new team started off for the Prefectural Freshman Kendo Championship in the fall. The juniors seemed to be impressed by the spirit of the third-year students. Matsunaga Junon, the captain of the team, explains:
“I’m sure the seniors were frustrated that the tournament was canceled, but they went out of their way to help guide the new team. As the new captain of the team, there were many things I had to learn, and I had some worries. However, Ryu Hinako and the other third-year students were kind enough to help me out. I think we juniors became united in our desire to do our best to honor them”. In spite of their best possible efforts in uncertain times, The preliminary round of the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship was canceled, but at the Prefectural Freshman Kendo Championship held in March, Nakamura Gakuen Girls and Chikushidai would advance to the national stage.
Uncertainty leads to cherishment of opportunity
The team had a lot of emotion around COVID-19 and not being able to participate in tournaments. They went into the All Japan Invitational High School Kendo Championship strong-willed, but they faced a series of tough battles starting from the first Shiai.
Iwaki: “First of all, I was grateful that the tournament was held. It had been a long time since any of the schools had played in a tournament, and the new rules made for an unconventional experience. I told the team members to fight with a sense of gratitude before their Shiai”.The first round match against Yamagata City Commercial High School (Yamagata) was a close game, 2-1.
The second Shiai against Okayama Shoka University High School (Okayama) was also 3-1, which could be said to be a slow start considering the strength of Nakamura Gakuen in previous years.
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