A history of tennis in Japan, c. 1920.



1920sAmusements & RecreationsSports & Athletics
Tagged with: , , , ,

Onnanoko with tennis racket, c. 1920. In 1920, a Japanese tennis team first participated in a Summer Olympics. The Japan Tennis Association was formally established in 1922.

“At the entrance to the [Yokohama International Tennis Community] tennis court in Yokohama, Yamate Park, there is a monument of a roller carved as ‘the origin of the Japanese garden ball [sic]’. The monument commemorates the YITC as the birthplace of tennis in Japan, when expatriates in the Yokohama foreign settlements formed clubs and [constructed] courts for themselves in 1878 under the name of ‘Ladies Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (LLTCC)’, the starting point of the present-day YITC.

“… In 1886, at the Tokyo High Normal School, tennis was adopted by a school professor, Tsuboi Gendo, who had served as an interpreter for George Adam Leland (the American medical doctor who assisted in the development of the Meiji period physical education curriculum in Japan). However, the tennis equipment at the time relied on imports and was quite expensive. For this reason, Takashi substituted a domestically-made rubber mari [ball]. As a result of this, ‘soft tennis’ using a rubber mari became popular in Japan.

“By 1913, Keio University had decided to adopt the international-standard ‘hard’ tennis ball and the modern-era of ‘hard ball’ tennis in Japan began. In 1916, Kumagae Ichiya and Hachishiro Mikami journeyed to the United States to compete in the U.S. National Championships, marking the first participation of any Japanese in one of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments. Kumagae would win the singles title at the Newport Casino Invitational, defeating Bill Johnston, the 1915 U.S. National champion. In 1920, Kumagae won two silver medals at the Antwerp Summer Olympics – including a doubles silver medal with teammate Seiichiro Kashio – the first medals ever won by Japan in Olympic sports history.”

History of Tennis in Japan, Japan Tennis Association

Tennis courts, Karuizawa, c. 1920.

“Early in the 20th century, tennis was at the center of Karuizawa’s social life. ‘You can’t go anywhere without passing the tennis courts,’ reported a correspondent in The Japan Times in August 1920. ‘And really,’ he continued, ‘you don’t want to.’

“The Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and other missionaries who adopted this village in the foothills of the Japan Alps as their favored summer retreat in the 1880s brought with them three innovations: simple two-story houses clad with cedar-bark cladding; an all- denomination church, aptly named Union Church; and tennis courts.

“Tetsunosuke Adachi, whose father’s work with the Nippon Railway company took him to Karuizawa in the 1890s, recalled in a 1930 article for the magazine Ron Tenisu (Lawn Tennis) how the missionaries “believe that paying attention to health is a means of attaining happiness, and so from the beginning there were two courts near the church.” (Lawn tennis had first arrived in Japan with Western visitors in the late 1870s, just a few years after it was invented in England by one Maj. Walter Clopton Wingfield.)

“By 1917, when the Tokyo-based English-language newspaper The Japan Advertiser donated a cup to the Karuizawa tennis competition — and thus kicked off what is now known as the Karuizawa International Tennis Tournament — the number of courts next to Union Church had rocketed from two to around 10, as the village continued to attract growing numbers of summer holidaymakers, including not only well-to-do Japanese but also Western businessmen and their families, as well as tourists from Shanghai, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

“Back in those more leisured times for the privileged few, most visitors who braved the six-hour train ride from Tokyo would stay in Karuizawa for six or eight weeks to avoid the capital’s stifling — and in those days un-air-conditioned — summer.

“‘Coming from the sweltering heat of the cities, the purity and cool deliciousness of the air makes Karuizawa a veritable Earthly Paradise in the summer,’ wrote another Japan Times scribe in August 1920. And it was on Karuizawa’s tennis courts, it seems, that the men of god, commerce and leisure came together.”

“Anyone for Tennis?”, The Japan Times, August 29, 2010

Please support this site. Consider clicking an ad from time to time. Thank you!