Softball tour illuminates Japan to Under 15 girls

A three-week tour of Japan to compete in the Under 15 Women's Softball World Cup saw the New Zealand team grow as players and people, writes Softball NZ's Tania Giles. While in Japan, the Developing Sox experienced an array of Japanese culture, from calligraphy lessons to shrine visits and trying their hand at kendo. The team were supported to include cultural activities in their itinerary with a grant from the Foundation's Community Sports Fund.
A group shot of the girls softball team in their New Zealand uniforms

The Developing Sox team in Tokyo ready to take part in the WBSC Under 15 Women’s Softball World Cup

For some of the players, this was their first time travelling outside of New Zealand and to go to a country as vibrant as Japan was a real eye opener.

Travelling by bus and train was an adventure in itself – the hustle and bustle and, at times, the squish of getting onto trains.

While the customs they encountered were unfamiliar and a learning curve for the team, the girls quickly adapted to the way people interacted with each other. They were amazed about how courteous and friendly people were and in turn showed respect to everyone they encountered and shared their own culture generously.

Girls in their softball uniforms sitting on the ground practicing Japanese calligraphy

The team practicing calligraphy at Shorin Global Junior and Senior High School in Kimitsu city

Our team had a haka written specifically for them to perform, which draws strength from Papatūānuku, their ancestors and all national players in the women’s development pathway, past, present and future. This was performed prior to every scrimmage game, as well as all games on the international stage – broadcast by the World Baseball Softball Confederation during the World Cup.

A design on the players helmets paid tribute to the girls' ancestry/lineage, but also their journey within the Developing Sox programme - it paid testament to their growth and development as both players and people, as well as their connection to whānau

Japan high school students tutoring the Kiwi girls in calligraphy

As well as visiting typical tourist attractions, such as Disneyland and Tokyo Tower, we were also treated to several experiences by our first host city, Kimitsu, including visiting Shorin Global Junior and Senior High School where we took part in calligraphy classes.

Kimitsu City also coordinated a cultural exchange and friendly softball competition with Vonds Ichihara and Josai International University.

Each day the team were treated to Japanese cuisine including bento (takeaway meals), mochi (rice cakes), inari (a type of sushi) and takoyaki (battered octopus balls). In return, we shared some New Zealand delicacies with our hosts, including the famous Whittaker’s chocolate and Cookie Time cookies.

The team even got to meet with the mayors of Kimitsu City and Ichihara City, who they presented with cultural gift packs including poi, tiki, national pins and other small souvenirs. 

The team of 18 girls and staff dressed in kendo protective clothing and holding bamboo kendo swords

Ready to rumble - the team suited up for a kendo session

In Tokyo, we took part in a kendo experience - a traditional Japanese martial art focusing on swordsmanship.

Players and management were taught the basic etiquette of kendo, learned about and used armour (bogu) and were taken through the principles and ideals of the samurai.

Everyone enjoyed the opportunity to study an ancient martial art, with a highlight being given the chance to take on the three kendo masters at the completion of class – utilising skills learned in the two-hour session.

Two of the team members in kendo protective gear listening to an instructor

In Tokyo, the girls got to try their hand at kendo and spar with kendo masters

Other awesome experiences included being treated to a shibu session – learning the art of traditional Japanese fan dancing and completing a routine.

Following the class, the girls then taught the shibu instructors movements with poi. Everyone had an amazing time sharing these aspects of their cultures.

During a stand-down day of the tournament, the team travelled to central Tokyo where they got to cross the famous Shibuya Crossing, checked out stores and stalls at Takeshita Street in Harajuku and visited the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

The Meiji Shrine was a very spiritual experience, with the shrine itself dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. 

The Developing Sox softball team posing with colourful kempo fans

Learning about shibu fan dancing was a highlight of the trip

The Developing Sox finished their campaign in a tight game against the Czech Republic.

The noise in the dugout was echoed by the many supporters in the stand. With the game over, whanau and friends performed a powerful haka, which the girls responded to in kind.

The trip was an incredible experience that allowed the girls to grow as players and people, and they returned to New Zealand with a wealth of experiences and newfound knowledge.

Without the Asia New Zealand Foundation grant, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the amazing experiences we did throughout our tour, with funding helping to provide cultural activities the players would otherwise not have experienced.

The Foundation's sports programme provides New Zealand sportspeople opportunities to grow more knowledgeable, connected and confident with Asia.

Our Community Sports Fund provides funding for sports groups travelling for sports to include cultural activities to their itineraries.