by Lauren Williams '14, MHC swimming and diving
It’s not every day that you get to explore a culture that’s completely different than your own. Taking a trip to a foreign place often opens your eyes, and your stomach, to situations that push you far beyond your comfort zone. It is not an easy thing to do, but 15 of Mount Holyoke’s own braved the journey across the globe, travelling to their head coach’s native Japan over the winter break this past January.
The trip, organized by seventh-year head coach Kanae Haneishi, has become a tradition for the squad. Every four years, members of the Mount Holyoke soccer team, venture to Tokyo and experience the culture, sport and tradition of the Far East.
Haneishi, who is a native of Japan and graduate of Juntendo University, located in Chiba, still maintains strong connections to the community. By introducing her players to her home country, she hoped to broaden their experiences and open their eyes to different cultures.
“I wanted to share my culture and my friends [in Japan] with my family here, because my team here is like my family,” said Haneishi, who completed her seventh season with the Lyons in the fall.
“It is a completely different culture, [the] food is different, people speak in a different language. My hope for this trip was that our players would expand their world and their comfort zone.”
Before the team’s departure, Haneishi ensured that her student-athletes were well equipped on Japanese social and cultural customs. The squad had mini language sessions, where they learned basic sentences and phrases such as “thank you” and “nice to meet you.” She also made sure that they were well aware of Japanese etiquette.
“We did some little language sessions and cultural manners, because for example Japanese people don’t hug or shake hands, we bow. So just little cultural lessons beforehand so that there was no offense while they were there,” she said.
Haneishi hoped that she could introduce them to parts of the culture that they never would have experienced, despite being unable to attend the trip herself. By linking the team to citizens of the country, she strived to give her squad an experience that they would not have gotten otherwise.
“The squad visited the university where I graduated from. They attended an English class and then our players gave a presentation about American culture, holidays and home meals. That was followed by a Japanese student presentation on their culture.”
Sonnie Terrell, the head volleyball coach at MHC, served as one of the chaperones, which also included Haneishi’s current assistant coach Mandy Dziewulski in Haneishi’s absence. For Terrell, the trip was an opportunity to not only experience Japan, but gain more insight into her friend and colleague’s [Haneishi’s] culture.
“I wanted to see [Kanae’s] native country so it worked out really well. The culture was so dramatically different. There is actually a word for this, the face that they show in public and how they really feel. Everything they did was just over the top in terms of the effort they put into it.”
Terrell, who concluded her sixth season at the helm of the volleyball team this past fall, was also impressed by the dynamics between players and their coaches. She saw players taking responsibility for every aspect of their sport and also noticed that players held their coaches in high regard.
“The player-coach relationships were very different,” she said. “The coach is much higher in the hierarchy in their culture, whereas here [in the U.S.], the athletes tend to look at coach and players as equals a lot more.”
Junior captain Hannah Yee noticed similar aspects of the Japanese culture. While playing in one of the five soccer matches the team participated in, Yee noted the discipline their Japanese counterparts had for the sport. Believing this contributed to their success, she noted her teammates began to adopt certain aspects of the Japanese style of play that helped to enhance the Lyons’ technique.
“Playing against several of the best teams in Japan, there was more discipline and it was easier to see that in the way they play soccer,” Yee noted. “They play in a disciplined, precise way that is a lot different from how we play here. I could tell by the end of the trip that our style had molded towards theirs and I think it was a subconscious shift, but it was really interesting to watch.”
The wins and losses became a part of the whole learning experience that the trip was. Although their coach wanted them to experience Japan differently than the typical tourist, the team still had the opportunity to jump into the role and have fun. Among their travels, the Lyons visited Buddhist shrines and temples, the Tokyo Sky Tree and the famous district, Asakusa.
A long street with many shops geared towards Japanese memorabilia, Asakusa is located in Tokyo. There the Lyons ate lunch that pushed them far out of their comfort zone. The lunch consisted of completely raw food and featured a variety of fish, fish eggs and snails.
“They just kind of ordered for us because we were a big group and we just had whatever they put in front of us,” Yee said.
“It was a defining moment of the trip because we all realized we’re really in Tokyo, and we’re with our soccer team, and this is something that we really are lucky to have and need to appreciate.”
Food was not the only moment where members of the squad were placed in unfamiliar territory. Sophomore midfielder Ally Madden, along with Dziewulski, spoke to a predominantly male audience on a panel at the International Women in Sport: Facilitating Development and Performance of Female Athletes conference.
Madden spoke about her experiences as a female athlete in high school as well as her current career at Mount Holyoke. Much of her talk though, focused on the positive influence Haneishi has brought to the program, and the benefit it has been to Madden and others on the squad.
“I talked about coach’s [Kanae] style and how I think having a female [coach] who’s able to push us to do our best physically, but is also there as an emotional support,” Madden explained. “It’s really great and a different dynamic as I’ve always had male coaches, which is definitely different.
Madden also touched on the opportunities that female athletes from other foreign countries receive upon their arrival in the United States. She believes that those chances can have a tremendous impact on these women, who can then go on to make changes in their own societies.
“I spoke about female athletes in other countries knowing that there are opportunities to rise up in the ranks,” she said. “I think being aware of the opportunities out there, like coming to study abroad in the United States for example, is a great way for them to gain skills to change things in their own culture and society.”
For most, stepping into a foreign landscape is never easy. There is so much to take in and the easy thing to do is to stay close and do what is most comfortable. For the MHC student-athletes and staff who traavelled to Japan, remaining open to a new experience a world away, led to memories that will last them a lifetime.
Photos courtesy of the MHC Soccer Team.