Post by Rikki White.
I first encountered my Japanese friend, Shuichi Takayama, on the internet when it was in its infancy. Few of my friends hadPCs, even fewer had access to the net and I was looking for ways to take advantage of using the world wide web. News Groups seemed to be a way of making contact, so I posted a message asking if anyone could help me to track down a book on Japanese gardens as they were my passion at that time – there were many books on bonsai, but very few on other aspects of oriental gardens. I never expected to get the genuine article, but Shuichi e-mailed me to say that he would be very happy to send me a couple of books on Japanese gardens and in return I sent him a book on English gardening and so began a most unlikely friendship between a young Japanese businessman and an English grandmother.
Despite the age difference we had much in common. We are both keen on jazz and gardening, but the thing that formed a real bond between us was a mutual enthusiasm for golf.
At that time, golf in Japan was dominated by expense account entertaining so it was not too easy for Shuichi to get a game. Living just 100 metres from my golf club, I was fortunate enough to be able to play as often as the weather allowed. Nowadays, things have changed greatly in Japan. There are many more courses, it is not at all difficult to get a game and the driving range facilities are superb, so the young people start on the range and then very soon move on to the course . .
Golf club membership is not for the masses as the entry fee is around £20,000, plus an annual subscription of around £800, so from an economic point of view it is better value to pay and play. Though it is about £40 during the week and £60 at the weekend for adults to play, it is only £8 for juniors, so the young people can, and do, get off to an early start.
At the moment, the greatest phenomenon in Japanese golf is a young lady named Ai Miyazato, or Ai-chan as she is affectionately known. She started to play golf at 4 years old. During 2004 and 2005 she won just about everything in Japan. She is a real superstar and adored by her compatriots. 2006 was her rookie year on the LPGA tour in the US and whilst she hasn’t had much success yet, if home support is any help, it’s only a matter of time.
There are strong western influences in the Japan of today. Shuichi’s three sons grew up with Thomas the Tank Engine and graduated to Harry Potter, but spurred on by the success of Ai-chan, they are now regulars at the driving range ( the youngest is 4 years old and the eldest can these days drive the ball almost as far as his father).
Perhaps one day Shuichi and I will meet and play a game of golf together. As they say “It’s a small world”. Meanwhile it’s a friendship I value very much.