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YOKO TANIGUCHI, VICE CHAIRMAN OF AFP – THE JAPANESE PICKLEBALL MAESTRO’S IKIGAI AND HER INFLUENCE ON JAPAN’S PICKLEBALL LANDSCAPE

生き甲斐

IKIGAI

noun [ee-kee-gayh] Japanese


"Iki" (life) and "gai" (worth), is a Japanese concept of discovering joy and purpose in one's life. At its multifaceted core, ikigai posits itself at the convergence of its essential elements – passion, mission, vocation and profession.

In the global arena of Pickleball, Yoko Taniguchi stands out not just as a skilled sportsman but also as a dedicated Vice Chairman of the Asia Federation of Pickleball (AFP) who embodies the essence of ikigai. Yoko's journey in the realm of Pickleball is an unwavering pursuit and dedication towards growing the sport in Japan.


PASSION FOR PICKLEBALL

At the heart of this is Yoko’s passion for Pickleball. Hailing from Japan, Yoko first discovered the sport through Shiguru Nishigami, Chief Operating Officer of AFP, at an event organised by the International Pickleball Teaching Professional Association (IPTPA) in 2018. It did not take long for Yoko to find herself immersing in the beauty of this sport, “I like the communication, we just say ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ when you need your partner’s help! Plus the fun and the fact that the young and old can play together.” She appreciates the friendly and inclusive nature of Pickleball that makes the sport an approachable one for people of different age groups. The ease of maintaining rallies even between players of different skill levels alongside opportunities for fostering camaraderie through communication made Pickleball more than just a sport – it has now become one that made Yoko realise her source of joy and fulfilment.


MISSION TO BUILD THE JAPANESE COMMUNITY

As the President of the Japan Pickleball Association (JPA), Yoko can be seen dedicating hours to promoting the sport in Japan, allowing its growth to take flight from its initial form as a small social group in 2016. Today, the Pickleball community in Japan has grown into a much bigger family, from 1000 to 4000 players, since the sport’s officialisation in 2019. Of the 47 prefectures in Japan, 67% of them currently have at least one Pickleball group. Recognising the potential of Pickleball to bring people together and promote a healthy lifestyle, Yoko has been actively introducing the sport to a wider audience with aims to establish Pickleball groups in all prefectures.


Donning multiple hats, Yoko manages her Pickleball group in Okayama, Japan. Grounded by her conviction to prioritise togetherness above all, she shares her practice of grouping her members by age rather than their skills rating. Yoko also plays the instrumental role of a coach developer who brings together licensed coordinators and instructors to organise Pickleball related events and courses with the unified goal of allowing Japanese to have a taste of Pickleball.

Yoko is amid attaining her coaching certification by the Professional Pickleball Registry (PPR), “I want to teach more people as a volunteer of the JPA. It’s not only for the wins, it’s not just for the competitions.” Her mission is clear and simple — to share the joy of Pickleball and inspire more enthusiasts.


While Pickleball’s popularity is picking up speed in Japan, Yoko is determined to work towards seeking recognition for Pickleball and JPA by the Japan Olympic Council (JOC) to bring Japan Pickleball to greater heights.  


VOCATION AS AN AFP LEADER

Yoko’s initiatives extend beyond building the local communities. Being one of the key representatives of the AFP, Yoko alludes her role to that of a bridge as she promotes meaningful connections between players internationally, especially in Asia. She had hosted Daniel Moore and his USA team on their Pickleball tour to Japan, “I still remember how excited my Okayama players were to meet and interact with overseas players for the first time!”. This is not the only time she pumps the multinational Pickleball teams with adrenaline. In March 2023, Yoko’s students joined her on a trip to Guam where she organised multiple clinics for advanced players in joint efforts with Daniel Moore and the Pickleball Guam Association.


Clinic with Pickleball Guam Association


More recently, Yoko graced the 2023 Asia Pickleball Games in Taiwan, sending 52 Japanese players, aged 12 to 80, to the tournaments.



That was shortly after her visit to Singapore to exchange community development ideas with her Singaporean counterparts from Pickleball.sg as well as explore collaboration efforts with Skechers’ management team at the Singapore Skechers Friendship Walk 2023.


Pickleball Exchange at Hillview Community Club, Singapore



Singapore Skechers Friendship Walk 2023


Yoko’s vocation as the Vice Chairman of AFP is rooted in her belief of facilitating connections and forging stronger ties that transcend geographical boundaries to honour the sport and its players as one unified family.

 

 

PROFESSION AS A PICKLEBALL PLAYER

If her commitment doesn’t make it a profession, what does? ‘Ittaikan’, the commitment to a group or role shines through as Yoko reiterated her mission and purpose in supporting the growth of the Pickleball communities, “I want people to still enjoy a sport even after their retirement, there’s no age cap unlike gymnastics which I used to teach; it doesn’t have to be competitive too, just have fun and rally. The young can communicate and play with the old, there can be exchanges with other countries. No other sports does these better than Pickleball.” How players support each other in the sport by complementing one another’s weaknesses and strengths is an exemplary embodiment of ‘jiko jitsugen’, the pursuit of personal fulfillment and self-realisation that Yoko holds dearly to heart.


Yoko Taniguchi's ikigai weaves together her passion for Pickleball, her mission to inspire others, her vocation as a leader, and her profession as a player. Her journey exemplifies the fulfillment that is found not just in personal pursuits but also in contributing to the growth of Pickleball communities across the globe. Likewise, here’s to finding your ikigai as a fellow Pickleballer!


Editor : Lim Jia Hui

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