The first Grand Slam of the 2015 tennis season has concluded and we’ve witnessed two fantastic finals contested by four great players but ultimately it was Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic who deservedly reigned supreme against Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray respectively. As a fellow Brit I was naturally rooting for Murray in a final which was so closely fought in the first two sets in particular. One other guy I’ve been following quite closely at the Australian Open has been Japan’s Kei Nishikori and at one stage I was even thinking the U.S. Open finalist may get to the final for a rare face-off against Murray. However, he fell a little short this time round and lost in straight sets in the quarter finals.
Nishikori is very much part of modern-day tennis in Japan and one might think the sport is relatively new to these shores but it actually has a history dating back way over a hundred years. The ridiculously named Ariake Collosseum in Odaiba may be the contemporary heart of Japanese tennis as that’s where the major Japan tournaments on the seasons calendar take place. However, the true origins of tennis belong in Yokohama and whilst my wife and I were wandering the bluff area last December we came across the small Yamate Museum of Tennis.
Entry is free and one of the first things to catch my eye was the Wimbledon ladies Championship brass replica plate which was won a record nine times by Martina Navratilova (USA) but was last won by a Brit in 1977 when Virginia Wade won it.
There is a section showing the history of women’s tennis attire explaining the evolution of the outfits from long skirts and hard collar blouses with ribbons on their sleeves and flower-decorated bonnets (end of 19th century) to rolled up sleeves (1904) and sleeveless one piece dresses and bandanas (1919). All very different and a world apart from the modern era where shorts skirts, all-in-one spandex catsuits, visible knickers, exposed midriffs, lace dresses and so on have donned the courts.
The museum also explains about the popularisation of tennis in Yokohama and its growth around Japan. In 1878 the land in Yamate park was leased to Ladies Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on the condition that they manage the park in lieu of residents and things have run smoothly ever since then.
Around 1300 foreigners were living in the area towards the end of the 19th century when the tennis club opened. The majority were English with a fair few Americans and some French and Germans too. According to one of the signboards in the museum, playing tennis and chatting over a cup of tea in Yamate Park was a great pleasure for these foreign ladies living abroad.
After the war, Yamate Park was requisitioned by the U.S. occupation forces but returned in 1952 and 12 years later the club started to accept Japanese members eventually leading to the park being returned to the local citizens as a place of international friendship.
Displays of balls and racquets through the ages take up the majority of the space and for a tennis fan it was interesting and pretty comical to see the old-style wooden racquets and the balls which they played with way back in history.
Visiting Japan’s second largest city just to visit this museum is probably a step too far but combined with a day or two in Yokohama it may be worth a little detour and the rest of the Yamate area is definitely deserving of your time.
You can read about my trips to watch the Toray Pan Pacific tournaments in Tokyo by clicking on the following links: