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Club Oki-Slam takes it to the volleyball courts

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-08-13

Volleyball is one of the more popular sports in Japan. It is played by many people at different levels, from junior high school to professional. The game is fast-paced and requires both skill and endurance. Practice sessions are sometimes long and hard, and games between rival teams are usually very competitive. The idea behind Oki-Slam, a volleyball team for creating international friendships between Americans and Okinawans, however, belongs to Arthur Arao, who is an American living here on Okinawa.

Arao, an avid volleyball player himself, had the idea of putting together an international volleyball team about ten years ago. Born and raised in Seattle to parents of Japanese ancestry, he first came to Okinawa in 1979 and found himself attached to the island and its people. Arao came back again in 1989, and after retiring from the Air Force, he began to look for ways to improve relations between the military and local communities. "I wanted to give Americans, who love this island, a chance to make long-term friendships here," explained Arao. "We wanted to give those people the opportunity to not only play a competitive sport, but to also play in the environment in which they are living - it's a way to experience some of the things off-base, out in the community."

Taking it one step at a time, Arao contacted the Okinawa Prefecture Volleyball Association to gain support for starting his team. With the help of Okinawa City Volleyball Association Chairman Masaru Shinya, Kadena Air Base Employees Richard Holguin and Takeshi Tengan, and many others, Arao was able to get the project off of the ground. "I learned over the years that you can't do anything by yourself," said Arao in reference to an international baseball team he tried to start several years ago.

Arao then began seeking both Americans and Okinawans to compete for his team, which plays the Okinawan league format of nine players. A men's team quickly came together, and practices began at the Yamauchi Elementary School in Okinawa City. Club Oki-Slam played in its first competition on July 11 at the "25th Okinawa City Zichikai Taiko Volleyball Tournament." According to Arao, although Oki-Slam lost both of its only two matches, the team showed much promise. "We were very pleased with our performance," commented Arao. "We went in knowing that we had a question mark - could we compete, and do we have the potential to become better....the answer is yes we do."

Oki-Slam is the only international team currently competing on Okinawa. Arao explained that some teams have one or two foreigners on their roster, but only Oki-Slam is comprised of an equal amount of Americans and Okinawans. The situation helps the players to accomplish their other primary objective, which is to foster international exchange.

"We looked for players who could not only play volleyball, but also for those who had the right combination of personality. We wanted the 'whole' person, with certain characteristics," said Arao. "Language is also a key element, and our players must make the effort to learn both Japanese and English. They must be willing to immerse themselves and learn from each other."

Having Americans and Okinawans play together under one banner has brought Arao's dream to reality. He is planning to take his team slowly through the ranks of Okinawa-City inter-league play, eventually breaking into the Prefectural level. He also is entering players from Oki-Slam into the Yoshida Cup All Japan Beach Volley Tournament on September 4 and 5 at Naminoue, and he is hoping to put together a women's team by November.

"I love this island. I am just trying to return something to it," commented Arao. "I also believe there's a way to improve relationships though sports."

If anyone is interested in joining the women's team, you can stop by the Yoshida Elementary School gymnasium on Wednesday nights from 8 pm to 10 pm or at the Agena Junior High School gymnasium on Thursday nights. For more information, please call Arthur Arao at 090-8414-0871.

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