KUALA LUMPUR: The interest in squash in Japan has not picked up momentum ever since the sport failed to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics list.
That however has not stopped two of Japan’s top women players - Misaki Kobayashi and Satomi Watanabe - from chasing their squash dreams in their own way.
The 26-year-old Kobayashi is a trailblazer. She left home at 15-years-old to base herself in Penang for five years under the tutelage of Aaron Soyza.
Then in 2011, a then 12-year-old Watanabe followed suit, staying with Aaron for a year before mother and younger sister also relocated to Penang.
Now 17, Watanabe is already showing tremendous potential for the future having reached the quarter-finals of the British Junior Open Under-17 category in January.
Ranked No.156 in the world, Watanabe also did well on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) Tour, reaching the semi-finals in the second and third legs of the Malaysian Tour Squash Circuit (SSJM).
“Squash is not big back home and I actually started out with gymnastics and swimming,” said Watanabe.
“Then Misaki’s father offered me chance to become a squash player...I don’t regret this choosing squash at all.
“But there were not many coaches in Japan and it’s the reason why I moved to Penang. Being in a place where squash is popular certainly helped a lot.
“It’s just unfortunate that squash is not big enough in Japan to make it into the Olympics.
“It got a little popular last year when I was part of the team for the IOC presentation...but it has slowed down again.
Despite that, Watanabe who has finished high school, is setting herself a lofty target - to become the world No.1 one day.
And world No.38 Kobayashi believes that’s the kind of commitment that is needed to help push squash into the Olympics.
“Satomi has been doing very well recently but she is still just the only junior who is that committed,” said Kobayashi.
“If squash had gotten into the Olympics it would have made a world of difference...unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way.
For now Kobayashi is just focused on making the main draw of the Naza Women’s World Championship.
“It’s tough because I need to upset one of the higher players to get into the main draw. There are so many good Malaysian juniors...hopefully I’ll get an easy one,” added Kobayashi who takes on Andrea Lee in the first round on Saturday.