I’d like to tell you a story, a story about someone who is regarded to be the best player in the history of Japan Lacrosse.
I have often heard Japanese coaches and players refer to him simply as, “The Legend.” I think it’s a rare and amazing accomplishment to be regarded as “The Legend,” especially while you’re still around to see it. Meet Shinya Maruyama, the living legend.
The Making of a Living Legend
40-year-old Shinya Maruyama, referred to as Marushin, began his lacrosse career at the Nippon College of Physical Education as a freshman. He was a former baseball and badminton player who was introduced to the game by one of the upperclassmen at his school. The term is called SEMPAI, which literally translates as senior, the underclassmen are called KOHI.
I got to know “The Legend,” as I was extremely curious to learn how he crafted his path to Japan’s lacrosse stardom. He recalled that his enjoyment for passing and catching sparked his passion for the game that grew from there. He worked hard at the skills he was taught and became a starting attackman his freshman year, which led to him starting all 4 years of his college career.
The efforts through college all paid off because he made the Japanese National Team in the late-90’s and went on to play in four field lacrosse World Championships; 1998, 2002, 2006 & 2010.
While competing for Team Japan, he was enjoying the success of his club team which has won a record 10 championships.
The club culture is huge in Japan, and he created a team in 1998 called Valentia, followed by the formation of the Falcons in 2004. These two teams are now recognized as the most powerful club teams in Tokyo.
When I asked him how he learned to perform so well, he mentioned that he would watch videos of the Gaits and just study their movements. That’s Paul and Gary Gait for you young folks out there.
In 2002, Marushin made history for Japanese lacrosse by being drafted into Major League Lacrosse by the Baltimore Bayhawks (now Chespeake). He spent two months playing for the Bayhawks, along with the likes of Canadian lacrosse legend Gary Gait, whom he modeled his game after.
We talked about what it was like playing here in America, try relate to his teammates and other barriers he had to break through. Marushin mentioned that they would sometimes eat in the Johns Hopkins’ cafeteria, where he would join his teammates, but usually stuck to just fruit. Finally, one day his fruit binge was put on hold, the cafe served a Japanese noodle called Soba and he could finally eat normally with the guys. This is just one of the struggles of being an overseas player trying to find a role on a foreign team.
The language barrier was also quite a challenge for him. Without much of a background in English, daily life was filled with countless obstacles. One funny story he recalled was his inability to pronounce “vegetables” in a way that people could understand. Based on his diet of mostly fruits and other fibers, it’s needless to say he had a tough time. He laughs about it now and takes it all in stride, but if you run into him, you have to hear him say VEGETABLE…do it, it’s good stuff!
In 2007, he went on to play box lacrosse for the Calgary Roughnecks of the National Lacrosse League for around two months.
When I asked him why he had such a brief stay, he replied, “well the English was tough. Though there was a translator, the translator didn’t know much about lacrosse.”
This is a concept I totally understand being an English-speaking coach in Japan. I’m extremely thankful to my players who really make an effort to speak English, making my life easier.
A good amount of lacrosse terminology isn’t translatable. The field markings are all English words, just written in Japanese Katakana (the simplest of Japanese scripts). Katakana is essentially a part of the Japanese language that gives characters to words that don’t exist in the language, such as hamburger (ハンバーグ) or coffee(コヒ).
Lacrosse players say “ground ball”, “stick work” and other lacrosse terms, just with the Katakana sounds. Then there are other terms we use that are purely Japanese, such as substitute (こたい) “KOTAI” and transition (きりかえ) “KIRKIKAE.”
I Told Marushin, next time I will head out and give him a hand!
Growing the Game in Japan
I wondered what he thought was different about playing in Japan compared to the high level in the U.S. He reflected on the the pre-game ceremonies. Basically he said the singing of the national anthem was something that isn’t done in Japan, and was something that really had an impact on him, he hopes Japanese teams will follow suit.
I wanted to know what he thought would be necessary to grow the game in Japan. He thought more players should come to America and pursue lacrosse at a higher level by becoming pros. I asked him if it would be better to have a pro league in Japan. Marushin felt that the sport needs more growth in Asia before that can happen.
Most recently, he’s created yet another club team, this one called Advance. I asked him, “what makes players join your teams so willingly?” He believes it’s because he is admired by the players, as they all want to assemble around him and be in his company, so to speak. Now it seems obvious to me how Marushin gets Japan’s top-notch players on these clubs.
The Legend Continues
Currently, Marushin works as an Orthopedist off of the field. On the field, he is an assistant for Japan University and aslo teaches lacrosse in PE at Chuuo University and Hitsubashi University.
Lacrosse continues to grow in Japan and I now have a player on my team who is planning to head to the United States to play college lacrosse. I told Marushin, that it’s my hope that he will become the next Marushin, “The Legend” of Japan lacrosse!
He laughed and said, “I’ll be rooting for him.”