Tennis With A Rubber Ball?

by Alex B. Rabin

The first thing most people associate with the word “Tennis" is the game that has been blessed by legends in America ranging from Don Budge to Andre Agassi Many of these people would be surprised to know that across the world there is another kind of tennis that does not include a wooden table and a paddle. In Japan, they have developed a sport named Soft Tennis, which is very similar to the traditional game that we play in the US. Soft Tennis was derived from physical education classes where the Japanese took the sport of tennis and transformed it into something of their own. This sport enjoys tremendous popularity and has been spreading since the Meji era in 1878. Many Americans have gone to Japan on foreign exchange programs and they have become intrigued, which has led to a new movement to begin playing Soft-Tennis in America.

The game of Soft Tennis is not that different from the familiar game celebrated in the U.S.A. There are many similarities in the rules and style of play, although there are some crucial differences. The main change is the type of ball. In this innovative game, a softer rubber ball is. With the change in the structure of the ball, an individual has the ability to strike the ball with force and still have control of the placement of the shot. The rackets look very similar. However, they are designed to be lighter and more flexible. Also, the softer ball, lighter racket and lower compression strings make the ball decelerate after it hits the court, which allows less athletic individuals to enjoy the game. In fact, one player from the University of Yamanashi summed up the potential for the sport when they noted, “Soft Tennis is for anyone and everyone”. The game allows for more volleys and play as it is much harder for an individual to blow away an opponent with a single powerful wallop. This allows for more cross-gender play because a male is less able to overwhelm a female, or a younger person someone older, with force. Overall the game comes down more to adeptness and who can come out dominant in a rally.

Soft Tennis is more often played in doubles than singles; although you can find it played in both ways. In doubles, the individuals engage into fevered rallies and net battles. When watching doubles Soft Tennis you can often find dazzling cooperative plays created by both teammates. Singles and Doubles are played for both men and women like in America and can also be mixed between genders. The game is based on points and the first player to reach four points wins. However, when the two opponents are tied at three it becomes “deuce”, which means one of the contenders needs to score two points in a row to win. In singles the objective is to win the best of seven games and in doubles it is best out of nine. Tournaments are made up of either singles or team play. Players can be organized in either a round robin or normal tournament method. The seeds for the competitions are usually arranged by a draw from the person organizing the competition.

One major example of a tournament is the World Soft Tennis Championship. The International Soft Tennis Federation holds this event every four years between countries including Japan, the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and Zaire. The popularity of Soft Tennis has been increasing in recent years and is reaching new heights. As the audience has expanded, several leagues have been formed. When China and other Asian countries were introduced to Soft Tennis, they created the Asian Soft Tennis Federation. As time progressed, more countries have joined the organization and it now includes 45 countries. The Federation’s leadership has lead to other tournaments including the OCA's Asian Games of Sports and the Hiroshima Games. Many avid players hope that it reaches the Olympics someday.

Nagase-Kenko, a prominent Japanese sporting goods manufacturer, has been a leading supplier of Soft Tennis products in Japan for many decades. After receiving an increasing number of inquiries concerning Soft Tennis products from potential customers and distributors in the U.S. in recent years -- most of whom had become familiar with the game through visits to Japan and Hawaii -- it is now making plans to introduce the product here this fall.

If you’re interested in learning more about this enjoyable game, or would be interested in information about Soft Tennis products, please inquire at your latest sporting goods dealer or contact Nagase Kenko at

Look forward to seeing you on the courts!

Soft Tennis Information and Resources:

Japan Soft Tennis Association English Website

Honolulu Star-Bulletin Article: Soft tennis, anyone?


Editor: Dr. Scott B. MacDonald, Sr. Consultant

Deputy Editors: Dr. Jonathan Lemco, Director and Sr. Consultant and Robert Windorf, Senior Consultant

Associate Editor: Darin Feldman

Publisher: Keith W. Rabin, President

Web Design: Michael Feldman, Sr. Consultant

Contributing Writers to this Edition: Scott B. MacDonald, Keith W. Rabin, Russell L. Smith, Caroline G. Cooper, Mark Reiner, Jean-Marc F. Blanchard and Kumar Amitav Chaliha

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