SAO PAULO – Hugo Hoyama, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian table tennis coach, is working to impart to Brazil’s Olympic hopefuls the skills and spirit he learned in Japan.
Hoyama, 46, was born in Sao Bernando do Campo, Sao Paulo, and began playing table tennis at the age of 7 at a local elementary school before joining a club to improve his skills.
When he was 15, he was offered an opportunity by a table tennis equipment manufacturer to train at Nihon University, which had a top-class table tennis team at the time.
Living in a dormitory, Hoyama spent all his time training and studying Japanese.
“Many of the foreign players couldn’t endure the tough training under drill sergeant-like coaches,” Hoyama recalled. “But I learned patience and concentration most Brazilians lack. I could become Japanese in this respect.”
Hoyama drastically improved his skills during his 10-month training stay in Japan and was picked to join Brazil’s national team after returning home. At 23, he became an Olympian for the first time, competing at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He had his best individual result — advancing from the singles preliminary round and finishing equal-ninth — at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Japanese-Brazilians account for an estimated 40 percent or so of table tennis players in Brazil and include many Olympians. Hoyama stands out among them because he competed at six Olympics.
Since Hoyama has also played in leagues in Sweden and Belgium, he feels like he is something of a trailblazer for Brazilian players who want to compete in Europe.
At the 2011 Pan American Games, a multisport competition for athletes from all nations in the Americas and the Caribbean, Hoyama had the honor of carrying Brazil’s flag during the Opening Ceremony.
Hoyama brought his days as a player to an end after competing at the London Olympics in 2012 and was immediately picked to coach the Brazilian national team.
The national team has two female Japanese-Brazilian hopefuls for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“Though Japan is my second home, (other) Japanese-Brazilian players today don’t feel close to Japan,” Hoyama said.
But as a pioneer who learned table tennis in Japan, he said, “No one but me can teach patience and concentration.
“I will drum this into my (players) without making any compromise,” Hoyama promised.