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Blues Tour 2018: Tokyo

From tennis matches to dumpling eating competitions, war memorials to Hello Kitty cafes and naked baths to fish pedicures — the Tokyo tennis tour had it all. Our team of Oxford blues tennis players was 11 strong, 7 guys and 4 girls, and based at Keio University, the oldest higher education institute in Japan. We were lucky enough to train and play against the great students there almost every day of the tour.

Their tennis facilities were luxurious compared to Iffley’s humble tennis facilities — 8 newly refurbished championship acrylic courts, with two of those being indoors. Our joint training sessions were always great fun, whether it was us trying to survive their intense 30 minute pre-session warmup or teaching them how to play dingles, an OULTC special. We even picked up some Japanese tennis lingo along the way that we’ll be putting into practice against Cambridge — ‘Yoshi’ (よし) for ‘Come on’, ‘Naisho’ (ナイスショット) for ‘Good Shot’ and, on the extremely rare occurrence that anyone in OULTC might miss a shot, ‘Donmai’ (ドンマイ) for ‘Don’t worry’. The Oxford tennis team represented the club with a great attitude across the whole tour with some standout performances: Shunta Takino had a 3 hour epic thriller of a match whilst Saleem Rizvi even saved a heroic match point with a hot dog. Even with the team pulling out all the stops, Keio’s players performed in the big moments and had a healthy lead over us at the end of the tour. We also had arranged a fixture against Tokyo University, the most academically selective university in Japan, but unfortunately the heavens opened on the day of the match so it was rained off.

OULTC (left) and Keio University (right) before one of our matches

When we weren’t playing tennis, we did and saw some amazing things in Tokyo, albeit too many to describe here without writing a dissertation-length piece — here are some notable highlights!

Shibuya — Like Leicester Square, but on loads of steriods.

The so-called ‘scramble crossing’ (so-called as everyone crosses in all directions at the change of lights) was a favourite of the tour. Its scale and vibrancy was a wonder to behold and we visited it numerous times, sometimes to take epic team photos, practise our team chants or for press up competitions.

The Shibuya 'scramble crossing'

War Memorial — A bit of history

This solemn war memorial was eye-opening — built originally to commemorate all war dead, it became controversial after 1945 as many war heroes/criminals (depending on whom you ask) are buried there. A nearby museum also provided an interesting ‘un-Western’ perspective on the events of WW2, providing much food for thought.

The entrance to the war memorial

Sensō-ji Temple — Mammoth Buddhist Temple

A real wonder to behold was this enormous Buddhist temple in the middle of Tokyo. It is the oldest temple in Tokyo and also the most widely visited spiritual site in the world, with over 30 million visitors every year. It was surrounded by lots of small stalls selling everything from personalised chopsticks to lucky cats.

OULTC in front of Sensō-ji

Naked Bathing — ‘Team Bonding’….

In our last few days, we made the journey to rural Hakone for its famous hot spring baths. Our team was looking forward to relaxing some sore muscles after an eventful tour, although a slight spanner in the works was the news that swimming trunks were banned…… With the initial moments of awkwardness overcome, it was a great experience sitting in steaming rock pools looking out over untouched Japanese rural hillsides. Those more intrepid members of the team even braved the ice-cold baths adjacent to the warmer baths, an impressive feat in itself.

One of the baths

A final real highlight was the food we ate — as someone who loves their food, I can honestly say I have never had so much good food within such a short period. Not only were we amazed by the Japanese foods we know and love, such as mouthwatering ramens, succulent sushi and crispy katsu, we also discovered Japanese foods which we had never tried before: notable of these were okonomiyaki, pancakes of vegetables and meat which you fry yourself, and tsukemen, noodles which you dip into a bowl of soup before eating. However, this must all come with a stringent health warning — do not make the same mistake we did and order too much at an all you can eat!! On our final night, we faced a race to finish to avoid any fines for leftovers which left some members of the team a little worse for wear (not pointing any fingers, @Gaku ).

Overall, it was an amazing 10 days in a unique city with a great group of people. If you ever have the chance to go on a similar sports tour, I would highly recommend it. Huge thanks are due to Keio University and its students for hosting us so graciously and to Oxford students Shunta Takino and Nanami Yamaguchi for arranging everything.

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