Ping Pong in Japan

Sometimes, in sports, greatness presents itself.


It is rare.

I walked into the Okinawa Sheraton lobby-gameroom. I was better than everyone. I hadn’t played yet, but I knew it. They knew it too…

The scene is initially murky. There is a haze that forms; tangible. It is ominous and foreboding. It is that way because I’m forming a metaphor predicated upon the unfamiliarity of differing physical appearances between myself and the Japanese. It is also murky because of cigarettes. Asians rip heaters.

I pace the room. There are two ping-pong tables, equidistant from the lateral and medial walls. They are regulation size and they do not disrupt the feng shui of the Sheraton. Both tables are in use. I continue walking; strutting, really. I stop in the back corner, opposite and diagonal from the entrance whence I came. On a table, there is box, formed by an intricate weave design, most likely bamboo. I extend my arm, demonstratively, never taking my eye from the two table tennis regulatory surfaces, and I place my hand in the box. There is an audible silence in the room. They watch. Tension permeates. Those in attendance that night will later say that the game room door, most likely bamboo, splintered. I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me… Eyes and intent are still focused on me. I grab a paddle. I feel the handle, coarse yet sturdy. I feel the wood. I spin it. I spin it again. I am a showman. Smiling, I take two practice forehands, aggressive in nature and force. I tell a little Japanese kid to “move,” in English. He knew. On the second swing I bellow. A quiet grunt, but sufficient enough to incite fear. Several families leave the room. One of the children leaves arcade tokens behind. I take those. I take another practice stroke. Three is enough. I let the paddle dangle in my right hand, wood and latex pressed against my quadricep. Again, I start walking. The two games continue, nearing conclusion. I circle, as a shark circles its prey. I complete the circumnavigation of the room. There was a chair, finely crafted, in a corner of the room. I sat. I called “next,” in English. They knew… The chair was nice, too. Probably bamboo or pleather.

My mom told me my posts are too long and I ramble. Her text read: “your posts are too long and you ramble. You’re an embarrassment. I love your sister.” So, I’ll finish up in bullet points, highlighting outcome and observation from my Tuesday night Japanese ping pong adventure:

  • The way I held the paddle and the aggressive ground strokes kept the people coming back for more. They loved it. As I think is common in Asia, they hold their paddles a different way. It seems unnecessary and is predicated by the ability to spin and cut the ball. It’s “gimmicky.” I shit on it. Power.
  • My three American friends stayed in the bar and didn’t support me.
  • I didn’t steal the kids arcade tokens.
  • After defeating four challengers in a row, handily, I lowered my guard. We all became friends and I taught several players/hotel guests proper grip and ground-stroke.
  • Per international rules, their serving techniques were illegal, as they didn’t adhere to regulatory distance required between the tossing-hand and the paddle. Google translate is unable to effectively communicate, “hey, per international rules, your serving technique is illegal, as it doesn’t adhere to the regulatory distance required from the tossing-hand and your paddle.”
  • Yuki didn’t show up.

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