The Tomodachi Cup: Tokyo Roller Girls

And your second look at Tomodachi Derby Tournament attendees this week are a two-for-one interview. Tokyo Roller Girls are not only attending the WFTDA Sanctioned division of the tournament with their travel team, but have also entered one of their home teams, the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers, into the non-Sanctioned division.

As the first Roller Derby league in Japan, Tokyo Roller Girls have been a full WFTDA member league since 2013,  and are strong contributors to Women's Roller Derby Japan, the governing body of the National team. As well as playing in Japan, Tokyo have played in Hawai'i (in 2014). Home team, the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers were TRG's original home team, and are based in and around the Yokosuka Naval Base.

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TRG and Sushi Rollers' coach, Ms. Judgment, was good enough to answer our questions.

Tokyo Roller Girls have always been strongly involved in the development of Roller Derby in Japan - indeed, your skaters have formed the backbone of Team Japan, and contributed strongly to the founding of Women's Roller Derby Japan. How do you think the sport of Roller Derby plays in Tokyo - and how have you been recruiting?

Roller Derby in Japan is unique, and Tokyo Roller Girls is no exception to this. Playing roller derby within our league and against NinJapan Rollers has helped us grow as skaters and form new bonds.

Traveling outside of Japan is difficult because of the expense and the approval process some of our players have to navigate. Inviting teams to come bout against us here has also proved to be difficult. There are many more rules and regulations when it comes to fundraising, advertising, and reserving venue space here in Japan than in the United States (largely due to our military affiliations). With all of these factors challenging us, our love for the sport helps to keep it going, and helps to continue growth here in Japan.

With our home teams spread throughout mainland Japan and the majority of our members attached to the U.S. military we have a very high turnover rate. Each home team is responsible for its own recruiting, which is largely accomplished through social media and recruiting events. We have also been lucky enough to have a few transfer skaters from the States. Our Japanese counterparts who are not on military bases have a more difficult challenge - they try to recruit friends, family, exchange students and co-workers. If we can attract a larger Japanese fan base here our recruiting efforts will be made easier, but it is difficult to get the word out to the Japanese public about roller derby.

You're also part of the newly minted Japan Derby Tournament Committee - what changes has this made to the organization of this tournament from last time?

The Japan Open is planned for every two years. The last one was in 2016 and the next one will be in 2018. The Tomodachi Derby Tournament is the alternate year tournament. It’s taking place in the same venue, but that’s really all it shares with the Open. The Tournament Committee is entirely different from the Japan Open Committee.

We’re trying to make this year’s tournament much more home-grown, with each of the Japan leagues working with Ninjapan to host this year’s tournament. So you will see us skating, NSOing, taking care of the venue (and each other!), and hopefully all having a great time as we get a chance to skate for WFTDA rankings for the first time this year!

In the last tournament, Tokyo played all of the visiting A teams from outside Japan, and came off worse (although pretty closely against Juneau). What lessons are you taking into the Tomodachi, when facing Fairbanks and Pacific, in particular?

We know that our isolation here works against us, but we are working hard on both skating fundamentals and team play. We were fortunate to have Sausarge Rolls here for a clinic in November – he certainly taught us quite a bit and left us with plenty to work on.

I skated previously with Monterey Bay Derby Dames (another small league), so I have been trying to bring a lot of our lessons learned about skating with a small roster to use here. We have a great group of skaters that have a lot of desire to learn and improve – attitude really matters!

The Sushi Rollers have, until now, only played as a home team (notably against [fellow home team] Neon Roller Monsters many times in the last year). How are they preparing to play not just their first away game, but also their first bouts against new skaters?

Most of the Sushi Rollers participated in the Sausarge Rolls clinic and that was a great introduction to new skills and skating with others. We also hosted Season’s Beatings, which was a day-long mash-up of seven mini-bouts that challenged us by changing the roster for each game. A few of our transfer skaters have some tournament experience, so we are sharing as many tips and tricks as we can.

We have played against many of the members of the Women’s Roller Derby Japan team (and love playing with and against them!), but we are really looking forward to meeting and skating with the members of the Pan Asian Spring Rollers team!

(Speaking of the Neon Roller Monsters, they're strongly represented in Team WRDJ - does this help to plan how to take on the team, or are you expecting new challenges from the other skaters?)

It does help. Thunder BELL is an active member and skater in TRG, NRM’s head coach, and WRDJ’s head. While we much prefer playing with her, we respect her on the track and look forward to seeing what she has put together with Team WRDJ for this tournament!

What's next for Tokyo Roller Girls, after the Tomodachi?

We will continue to skate and practice, and hope to help prepare both the men’s and women’s world cup teams. Unfortunately, we have no travel scheduled at the moment – if you have a tournament you think we would be a good fit for, please let us know!

Other than your fellow TRG team, which teams are you most looking forward to watching at the Tomodachi, when you're not playing?

Frankly, we are just really excited to be in a tournament environment! I’m sure we’ll be watching ALL of the teams, but I am really looking forward to watching our US challengers, as well as the Glenmore Reservoir Dogs – you never know where you will pick up new skills and strategies!