September 16, 2017

Kiribati has a new arrival calling the island home.

As part of a program run by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Momoko Washitsuka is dedicating two years to growing table tennis in Kiribati.

JICA’s mission statement is to forge bonds of trust across the world, aspiring for a free, peaceful and prosperous world where people can hope for a better future and explore their diverse potentials.  For two years Momoko will be the standard bearer for this international cooperation effort. In this instance it is through table tennis that JICA hopes to achieve its goals.

“My objectives are to accompany the national squad to matches as a coach, to teach others how to coach in Kiribati, and to visit elementary schools and outer islands to spread table tennis,” says Momoko.

Japan is a leading nation in table tennis and Momoko brings with her a wealth of experience.

The recent graduate studied at Tokyo Fuji University. While their she represented the university as part of their table tennis team, dedicating thirty hours a week to training on top of her studies. Ex-national coach of the Japanese women’s team, Takuji Nishimura, headed her training during her four years as part of the team. Nishimura is famed for coaching Ai Fukuhara to the quarterfinal of the World Championships when she was just fourteen years old. With that background Kiribati is in good hands.

Momoko Washitsuka (blue shirt) is looking forward to two years of spreading table tennis throughout Kiribati.

Momoko feels table tennis is perfectly suited for an island like Kiribati. While there are some stark differences between Japan and Kiribati, the lack of space available for sports is something that the two nations share in common.

“Exercise is important for health,” says Momoko. “Kiribati is a small island, but for table tennis you don’t need a lot of space. So, table tennis is an important sport for Kiribati.”

A significant part of Momoko’s mission over the two years will be getting more individuals with disabilities involved in table tennis, promoting the sport’s inclusive values, complementing the Smash Down Barriers program.

“Table tennis doesn’t need a lot of power to play, so anyone can join table tennis regardless of their disability,” says Momoko. “Basketball, baseball, volleyball and rugby all need a lot of power and strength. But, table tennis doesn’t need this type of power, so it is an important sport for people with disabilities to play.”

Momoko’s mission; table tennis for all in Kiribati.

Momoko Washitsuka assisting Oceania Participation Officer Rowan Fajerman (right) in a program at the Special School.