Thursday, February 14, 2008

Golf in Japan

There are three courses in Japan ranked in the world's top 100 courses. Kawana (ranked #80), often described as the Pebble Beach of Japan, is a resort course. Unless you consider the 8,000 mile flight a hindrance, it is not that difficult to get on the course and play. The other two include Naruo (ranked #75) which is located in Osaka and is a private club and Hirono Golf Club (ranked #35) also a private club, located in Kobe.

I had fun last year trying to get on the #47 ranked course in the world, Morfontaine in France. It was a learning experience to try and play a course in a foreign land without any contacts. I received a lot of good feedback about my many aborted attempts to play this ideal French course and I was ultimately successful. So, I'm at it again.

This time, I am trying to gain access to the top ranked courses in Japan. As usual, I am aiming high, trying to get onto the best private courses in the land of the rising sun. I did a Google search for both Hirono and Naruo and found the phone numbers for both. I figured a good first try would be to just call them up and see if I could schedule a round. I was steeling myself for a tough time. My odds of this being successful are low, however, given the language barrier. I'm not too worried about breaking through eventually, since I've been rebuffed, turned away and put in my place by some of the best private clubs in the world. I have become very resilient and feel that when I put my mind to something I can achieve it.

With my calling card in hand, I decided to ring them up and give it a try. Since so much can be lost in translation, I have included an actual audio transcript below of my first attempts to play a round at Hirono and Naruo. Well, as you'll hear, the language barriers between Japan and English are high.

I'm still not quite sure whether she told me 'no' or whether it was 'no problem' and I actually have a date and time when I'm supposed to play. My guess is the former. Japan is a country with a lot of customs, traditions and protocols. Perhaps asking directly for a tee time was the wrong approach at Hirono. Maybe I need to be more polite and respectful of their customs first.

My phone call to Naruo took a different tact. Naruo is one of the oldest and most distinguished private clubs in all of Japan, so I thought rather than asking for a tee time directly, I would ask to be introduced to a member. Still a disaster. A total breakdown in communication, even though they could hear me.

Apologies about the herky-jerky nature of the recording. I went to the Richard Nixon school of tape recording management.

Clearly, I've got to find someone who speaks Japanese for my next attempt. I think having someone who better understands the nuances of Japanese cluture better would be in an easier position to help me arrange a round.

As I continue on this quest, I'm getting excited as I learn the differences of playing golf in Japan: the multi-tiered driving ranges, the white-hooded female caddies, a long break and massage after nine holes, and learning how to yell "fore" in Japanese.

I've also decided to learn some basic Japanese so I can at least show some respect when trying to ask to play the course. I've already learned that Japanese people tend not to say things directly. For example, it is impolite to directly say "no," so they have developed an elaborate ritual and process around saying no. They are much more obtuse and circuitous than Americans. I see that there are actually ten ways to say no in Japanese: "iiya, non, ina, ie, iie, ieie, no-sankyu, nain, hi, iya." What's curious is that two of the words, "iiya" or "iya" also mean yes. My new goal is to at least get an "iiya" and "iya," instead of the more serious sounding "no-sankyu" and hopefully I can turn the ambiguity into a round of golf. I'll keep eveyone apprised as I continue my attempt to golf in Japan...


Anonymous said...

A Few years ago there was a report that many Japanese golfers were concerned with the limited number of golf courses within their country. During your visit did you hear the same concerns?

StonebraeB said...

I was surfing Japanese golf courses on line and came to a tour company that offered Hirono and Naruo in their packages. The site was You may want to check this out if you are willing to pay the cost and endure the entire tour (may 2008)

Anonymous said...

"can you hear me now?" Classic.

Matt said...

Great stuff. I'm really enjoying reading about your travels and linked you from my own blog.

Good luck with the rest of your quest! I'll be reading.

St. Catharines, ON, Canada

Anonymous said...

Classic American approach to dealing with a non-english speaker: keep saying "can you hear me?", or alternatively keep talking louder.
Volume, or even clarity of your words are not the problem. The problem is that the person on the other end of the phone doesn't speak english.
This may come as a surprise to you (and most Americans) but the majority of people in non-english speaking countries do not speak english and to assume that any institution in one of these countries will train their staff to speak english for your benefit is arrogant and wrong.
Your opening statement at Hirono: "Can I book a tee time". Can you imagine the response if someone rang up Augusta (or for that matter any golf course in the english speaking world) and simply asked in another language to book a tee time?
Why should you think that the response you received at Hirono (ie they hung up) would be any different to that at Augusta?
American arrogance perhaps?

Anonymous said...

I will help you with the translation side of things if you want to try again. You will meet with more success if you appeal in person rather than over the phone. They have a hard time saying no in person, and truly are respectful of golf purists. They will no doubt see yours as a noble undertaking. Reply expressing interest and I will send you my contact details. If successful, you will then get to experience the weirdness that is Japanese Golf!

精神年齢 said...