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2011 Maguro Cup


  • 2011 Maguro Cup

    I've trekked up to the very top of Honshu to check out the inaugural Maguro cup, a middle-school kendo competition held in Oma. Oma is well-known in Japan for the maguro, or yellow-fin tuna, that are caught in the tumultuous meeting of the Pacific and the Sea of Japan between Hokkaido and Honshu. They have held a local competition here for the last 36 years, but this is the first time they've held a tournament open to schools from other prefectures. As most of the teams attending have suffered since the tsunami and earthquake on 3/11, it's also meant to act as a picker-upper for the kids and kendo in the region in general. I also came bearing gifts, some Kiwifruit donated by Zespri, and bananas donated by Dole, to give the kids some extra energy! The competition is a two-day affair, with shiai practice for 5 1/2 hours plus a final 40 minutes of jigeiko on the first day, asa geiko followed by the competition proper on the 23rd of October. 17 schools from Aomori, Miyagi, Iwate, Yamagata, Hokkaido, Gunma and Kanagawa made the trip, with all schools fielding boys' and girls' teams for a total of 34 5-member teams. The competition format itself starts with a round-robin, and then works up to a sudden-death round at the end. That's a lot of shiai to get through in one day. They have some good ideas on how to be as productive as possible with the limited time. Probably the most effective tool is a timer to cover all 12 courts at once, 2:30 per shiai, then the buzzer goes, a ten second wait until the next buzzer goes off to start the next shiai. If you're not ready to go, you lose shiai time, no confusion over which court's whistle went and so on. The referee's flags are placed in the middle of the court to minimise time spent on flag handling protocols (Naginata - I'm looking at you!). The referees are mostly the school sensei, but some of the oldest kids are also refereeing. Refreshingly very little of the pomp and ceremony you get at a lot of tournaments, with the referees all wearing whatever they dragged on at 5:30 this morning, and the focus is purely on the kids and their kendo. And their kendo is good! A number of the schools place in the single-digits in the All-Japan Middle School tournament, and you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a High School tournament from the general level. School-kid kendo might sometimes get a bad rap for bobbing and weaving, bent-back de-gote off to the side and that sort of thing, but there's not much of that in evidence here. In fact, I wonder how many would like to study in New Zealand for a few years...
    It wouldn't be the Maguro cup without maguro, however. After the asa-geiko on the second day, a local fisherman brought in a small 37kg tuna (street value about 150,000yen - about 1,700-2,000 USD), which he summarily rendered into 4 blocks with an assortment of different knives for further consumption later in the day. And the winners were from Kanagawa, but one of the conditions is they have to come back next year!
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