Let’s take a trip to a ryokan in our imaginations. What do you see there? Many people might start with the charming atmosphere of the street leading up to the hotel, the owner and workers politely greeting you in kimono and then showing you to your room where you can get changed into your yukata, a comfy cotton kimono you can relax in. Your shoes are left at the entrance, and you will have slippers to use throughout the halls. A dip in the onsen might look relaxing or you might be picturing antics from numerous anime scenes, and afterward, while your body is still warmed up by the hot mineral water bath, you can chill out and drink some milk from a little glass bottle. The ryokan of course has a first-class, multi-course Japanese style meal with a focus on fresh, local products, but after dinner you’re not quite ready to curl up in your fluffy futon and go to sleep.

No, now is the time to challenge your friends to table tennis!

This classical ryokan activity is something everyone is familiar with, but I can’t say I’ve seen any of these tables set up at the ryokan I’ve been to. That said, the Tamatsukuri Onsen area is pretty much everything else you’d look for in an onsen resort area, so they got the idea to invigorate this ryokan-style sport. Just holding a big table tennis match wouldn’t do–to make it more ryokan-like, they replaced all the paddles with hotel slippers, and offered a free stay in Tamatsukuri as the top prize.

Since it’s not likely any other place on Earth is holding the same sort of competition, it automatically became the first world slipper table tennis competition. So as to represent the rest of the world, a couple fellow CIRs and I entered the competition in the mixed-gender doubles match (there were also girls-only and guys-only doubles categories). A big thank-you to them for sharing the photos!

Representing China with Liu, XiaoMan looked just as cool and as competitive as ever.

I, however, must apologize to the United States and by extension to the entire western hemisphere for having been such an embarrassing table tennis representative.

I teamed up with Kim, who was representing South Korea. We had a perfect losing record, but it was still fun!

While other people were talking about how hard it was to hold a slipper instead of a paddle, I found it didn’t make much difference for me. Perhaps I did a little better with a slipper than with a normal paddle. You could hold them anyway you want, so while some people gripped them, others just put their hands inside like a mitten. I thought they were helpful for catching runaway balls.

While I was busy chasing balls I completely missed or sending my opponents chasing after balls that were clearly out, there were many more serious competitors attacking for the bragging rights and for the big prizes. Everyone was awarded a consolation prize for of local dried seafood, as there was also free crab miso soup and rice balls (because the local crab and rice is delicious, of course) for all of the participants. Still, at events like this, you can usually expect to see at least a few people dressing up or otherwise making a show out of it with muscle shirts or, in keeping with the retro-ryokan theme, some kimono.

Since we all lost in the preliminary rounds we went out for lunch instead of sticking around, but I heard later that in the finals that afternoon, each of the participants were given yukata to wear!

Like so.

There was a lot of exposure for the event, though I’m glad I didn’t have my picture in the paper this time because I was wearing my “I am concentrating super hard and do not look like I’m having any fun at all” face even though I really was enjoying it once I got the hang of it. There was also a TV crew there for whatever question-and-answer TV show this was. I had to chase balls around the camera crew sometimes.

It seems the first world competition was a success, and everyone–including people who couldn’t make it this time–is talking about their plans for next year, everything from when to practice and who to team with, and coming up with snappy team names. Maybe with a little more practice I could be a better representative next year, but anyone is welcome to come try their hand at it next March!