The T-league, Japanese brand new TableTennis league, opening ceremony is approaching, and it’s garnering a lot of excitement. We had some big news. Jin Ueda (from ‘Shake Hands’ since March), who has worked at ‘Kyowa Hakko Kirin’, a business company that is in the ‘Japan Table Tennis League’, announced that he is going professional and decided to join the ‘New Table Tennis League in Japan’ tournament. Although he has won three times in a row at the last 3 all ‘Japan company sports championships’, and is hailed as a great player in the Japan league, what was it that made him decide to become a professional player? We had an exclusive interview with him and we’re going to post it in three parts.
On that day, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of something that was on TV at home. What he was so into, were the games in Germany at the world table tennis championship in June of 2017, such as the gold medal winning game by the Yoshimura and Ishikawa pair and the silver medal winning game played by the Oshima and Morizono pair. He was thrilled at the sight of other Japanese table tennis players playing so well there. On the other hand, something bothered him. “ Why was I not there!?” He realized that there is another part of him that felt unease. He was also surprised that he found himself feeling frustrated. “This feeling of frustration must have meant that I should push myself further.”
What the young players planted in him was the seed of uncertainty and conflict. “Is it okay if I remain the way I am now?” He kept asking himself that question and the conflict was getting bigger. He was considering, whether he would maintain the status quo, or challenge himself further. The balance started to wobble.
On one side of the scale, he had to think of his successful career. He had won the ‘Japan company sports championship’ three times in a row and had a world ranking of 23(as of in March,2018).
He was thinking about his legacy as a great player in the ‘Japan table tennis league’, and his accomplishments as an ace player for ‘Kyowa Hakko Kirin’. He had been playing while bearing the weight of his achievements. He told me, “At first, I was thinking that I should be careful in joining the ‘New table tennis league in Japan’.” As he says, there were plenty of reasons for keeping things the way they were. Mr. Shinji Sato was the director of Kyowa ‘Hakko Kirin’ that Ueda was working and playing for. Mr. Sato is someone who is in the center of the ‘Japan table tennis league’ and everybody knows that he’s famous for being careful. Also, Ueda is 27 years old this year and if you take his age into consideration, he can’t do whatever he wants. He has a wife and they’re having their baby soon. If he kept working and playing, he could live without worrying about not only his current livelihood, but his retirement as well.
Then, what made the balance end up tilting towards becoming a challenger? There was a game that was the last decisive factor. The opponent was neither Jun Mizutani, nor Tomokazu Harimoto. “Gauzy, Simon Gauzy.” He said, “He made me realize something during the game.”
The game with Gauzy was the one from the ITTF world tour German open in November 2017. At this time, Ueda had already defeated 4 players that were ranked in the world top 30.
His condition was pretty good. If he had good results here, he could catch up with Mizutani, Harimoto and Niwa. He also could have a chance to be chosen as a member for the team competition (You have to win more than 6 player who are in best 30 world ranking.) for the World Table Tennis Championships (Halmstad 2018). He had defeated Simon Gauzy, the opponent, all the 3 games so far, and his scores were overwhelming, such as 4-0, 4-1. “I think it’s a good match up for me, and I’m pretty confident.” He said and looked back on that time.
But things don’t over turn out the way we expect them to. He went all the way, and ended up being defeated.
The entire match went on with a tight score gap with a 2point difference such as, 10-12, 11-9, 11-9, 10-12, and 12-10 from the first game to the fifth game. He managed to be in the lead scoring 3-2, showing his ferocity by the time he finished the fifth game. He was still in the lead in the first half of the sixth game, 5-3 and it seemed that he was going to end this match quickly. But he gave into Gauzy’s significant persistence, he lost this sixth game, 8-11, and he couldn’t capture his firm bloks from the back serve, 5-11, which lead him to the unexpected loss.
From what we can see from his records and his techniques, he could have beaten Gauzy easily. He analyzes that, “I don’t think there is a huge technique gap when it comes to the top 30 world ranked players. But I couldn’t beat him. There is the gap between being an amateur player and a professional one.”
Then, how come he couldn’t win? The only thing that Gauzy had over him was, “It’s the distinct feeling he gave off. The air was different around him.” He mentioned. “I could feel the spirit of a real professional from him saying, “I cannot lose”. When he watched the match again, he thought all of the games were pretty close, until the sixth game. The one that used up all of his energy was Ueda. There was a 6 points-gap between Gauzy and Ueda. Even though Gauzy was left behind, he kept playing with his persistence. Every time Gauzy kept up with Ueda, he was devastated while Gauzy kept taking points steadily, which lead to the comeback match that unfolded.
He’s been playing table tennis since elementary school. He was struggling to go up the upper levels where the best 30 in the world are, struggling to reach that next dimension, but he made it. He was already taking his step into the world where extraordinarily strong monsters, such as Mizutani, Niwa, and Ma Long from China, Ovtcharov from Germany were. He was the only one who still had his fingers in two pies. He had strong feelings like wanting to win, of course, but I wonder if the feelings are as enthusiastic and strong as those monsters’ have.
Ueda said, “I was able to gain some skills and become strong as a player from a business association on behalf of the company”. And he continued, “when I belonged to the business association, I asked myself many times “What are business sports like?”. I think that we don’t really care if we win or not and having a good time with people from companies is more important. But once I got into the place where there is only win or lose, that kind of thinking would be my weakness. Then, I wanted to find out how far I can go as a player.”
Once the feeling of becoming a challenger grew inside his mind, it made the balance tilt immediately. Also, the things about being a challenger that he used to see in a bad light, took a 180-degree turn, and he started seeing the good side to them. In terms of age, a 27 year old can’t do whatever he wants, which means this would be the last chance. Then, I shouldn’t take slow steps in the ‘New table tennis league in Japan’, but I should leave good results, and be leading the team from the begging. The fact that he has his wife and baby is not a distraction anymore. “I admitted to her that I’m going to be a professional player. She said that “the last thing that I want you to tell me was that, you gave up on your dream because of ME.”. I let go of the weight that I had been carrying on my back, and I made up my mind to become ‘a table tennis player’.
Ueda, who threw away his suits from Kyowa Hakko Kirin, is making a jump from businessman to a ‘monster’. He was a member of the human resources and general affairs department when he worked at the company. He’s usually modest, but we’re looking forward to seeing his face as ‘a man who takes a chance’.