A volley above and beyond the net
InterVoll Volleyball Club
Japan and Brazil men's and women's Volleyball teams may be set to square off in the fiercely competitive 2006 World Championships. But before turning to Yoyogi National Stadium on Oct 31 consider a local gym where players volley cross-cultural amity across the net.
Originally founded by Japanese returnees from Brazil, Intervoll Volleyball Club has been a multilingual, multicultural haven for fun-loving volleyball players for well over a decade. These days, the club's roughly 30 members, heralding from some 23 different nations, meet twice monthly at Shinjuku Sports Center and Shinjuku Cosmic Sports Center in Takadanobaba to carry on that tradition.
Aggressive stuffs, spikes and surly side-outs are served against bodacious bumps and deep digs. But these squeaking sneakers and sweat-soaked sets are about more than mere victory. Members say it's all about the fun of cross-net camaraderie - in more ways than one.
"There are many Japanese Brazilians and some players from China and Korea that come here," says Shinichi Tanimoto, 36. The Toshiba business planner has been an avid player since elementary school and says he joined this expressly non-competitive club a year ago as a way to ease back into the sport after a 5-year hiatus. Although he has since joined another volleyball club, Tanimoto makes no bones about what keeps bringing him back to this one: "This is a very international club; the people are very nice. There are not many groups like this one." It's an opinion others seem to share.
"I first came here about two years ago because I like playing volleyball," says Kanae Ogawa, 32, a Spanish/Japanese translator and interpreter. "But the interesting thing is there are people from many countries. Like me; my name is Japanese but I'm from Argentina." That's what newcomer Yoshika Kaganeya says caught her attention. "This is my first time here," says the 29-year-old elementary school teacher. "I wanted to play Volleyball and heard about the club from a friend. I also thought it would be fun to make some international friends."
Intervoll's No. 1 priority is having fun on the court, explains club co-manager Yann Sanchez, 32. The assistant engineer from France says the club's no-frills, friendly and non-competitive tradition is what attracted him seven years ago. "First of all, it's an opportunity for a foreigner to get involved in an activity without speaking Japanese," he says. "I love to play volleyball and I liked the atmosphere. It was easy make friends here. Our purpose is to have fun playing volleyball. We are mixing every kind flavor so if people are looking for competitiveness this may not be right for them."
The club meets year round about every other weekend on Saturday or Sunday. The first 30 minutes of reserved court time are usually set aside for open warm-ups then players make from two to four teams depending on the turnout, Sanchez says. Walk-ins are always welcome. It's just a matter of filling out a short form upon arrival and paying 1,500 yen to use the public court for the day. There is no club-membership fee or experience requirement, he adds. "We have all kinds of skill levels," Sanchez says. "Maybe intermediate is the most representative of our members. About 50 percent are average, 30 percent are higher level and 20 percent are beginners."
What's the sport of it, however, without a wee bit of the thirst for victory. Intervoll my play for fun but that doesn't mean they don't play for keeps. And while Sanchez and other members laud the club's no-serious-competition policy, in the summer members take to southern Yokohama and elsewhere to show their stuff in amateur beach volleyball tournaments. "Last year we played in a beach volleyball tournament in Odaiba" Sanchez says, adding that two of the club's four-person teams made it to the quarterfinals. Still, he insists the real goal of such outings is not just victory: "We're really just a gathering of people who enjoy volleyball and getting together to play it."
That works for Yuki Shinohara. As a regular member for the past for a year and a half, she says the gatherings afford a much-needed opportunity to let her hair down and cut loose. "This group is very friendly and international," she says. "I'm Japanese. In Japanese society we have to be very quiet. But here I can say anything I want." Intervoll's relaxed, fun-filled volleys indicate that you can to.