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Volleyball in Japan: Service with a Smash

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By Chris Greenaway

In America, several attempts to form a professional indoor volleyball league have occured since the 1970′s and unfortunately for the sport, none have been successful. (Although the pro beach series is extremely popular as far back as the Gabby Reese era.) In Japan on the other hand, pro volleyball has carved a niche for itself in the nation’s pro sporting scene with the V-League entering it’s 12th season this year. (Or the “12th V-League” as they call it.) University and international volleyball have been enormously popular for decades but in recent years, the pro game has grown and held it’s own in the marketplace.

Pro volleyball in Japan has an interesting angle that no pro volleyball league ever attempted in North America has ever even considered; All teams in the V-League have a Men’s and Women’s team and when you go to a V-League game, many a time you will get to see both teams play. Never before in the history of professional team sports has a league had both a men’s and women’s division and treated them as equals so seeing this is a rare privilege.

The V-League has tournaments every week to determine the final season rankings for the playoffs. Each tournament is round robin with about 6 of the league’s teams competing in a series of tournaments during the year. After the round robin, the 2 top ranking teams face each other in a final.

If you want to catch a V-League game on tv, you can find them on the Gaora sports network. Check their website at www.gaora.co.jp for their broadcasting schedule. Later games and tournaments including the playoffs can be seen on NHK tv. To see a game live in Tokyo, the league calls 2 places in Tokyo home: the Tokyo Gymnasium and the Machida Municipal Comprehensive Gymnasium. Tokyo Gymnasium is located across from Sendagaya Station in the Shibuya area. You can get tickets at Tokyo Gymnasium or you can try the ticket machines at the convenience store machines like with the other spectator sports in Japan. Your best bet is to get your tickets at the door but as always, be sure to get there early as tickets may go fast depending on who’s playing.

The reigning champions of the V-League, the Toray Arrows play mainly in the Tokyo area and their website can be found at www.toray-arrows.jp. Be warned because they don’t have an English section so you will have to use a web translator if you cannot read Japanese.

Pro volleyball is very popular in Japan but like ice hockey until very recently, you have to go and look for it. Once you do, it all makes sense!

Until next time, happy hunting!

Chris Greenaway

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