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Ace o Nerae! and Jin Munakata

by Rosa María Carmona Plata

He was alone when he died. He could not stand even a witness at the oracular moment when all his strengths abandoned him, revealing the weaknesses of his uncontrolled articulations.

Death found him writing, updating his ultimate wishes. Even there, Death did not reach him unaware of his fate. Despite the fact that he would have desired a few more instants, not even a mumble escaped from his lips when the feared moment arrived... Nevertheless, he could not avoid a last and passionate cry, a tortured shout through which he said goodbye to his beloved.

He pronounced her name. A name that meant for him the reason of his living for the past three years... The name of the person he loved deeply with a never-ending hunger hidden in his soul. How had he desired to continue living for her! His last breath was given under unbearable sufferings. Between his hands laid his last thought and it nearly came to life when the inert body tumbled down over the bed... "HIROMI, aim for the ACE!"

Jin. Jin Munakata. His name is a synonym of fortitude, passion, acceptance and strength. It evokes hard battles for reaching physical perfection, cruel confrontations against an inflexible disease, donation of oneself for the sake of a young promise devoted of reaching those desired tennis goals that tragedy obliged to lose.

A man with courage enough to overcome sadness caused by the certainty of a painful death in his middle twenties, when his life was full of youth and success. A man so rich in his passion for tennis that he was eager to dedicate his last three years of life for the sake of preparation and instruction of teenagers with his very same dreams. A man that found love at the end of his life and who had to give it up to avoid his beloved’s sufferings. A man, in conclusion, whose memory inspired other lives and whose death darkened the existence of everybody who knew and loved him.

Jin Munakata. A pure symbol of samurai aesthetics projected in the twentieth century. Samurai, because this character lives through values such as loyalty, sacrifice or denial of himself in order to reach a honourable goal. Samurai because in his ideal of life coexist sublimation of physical and spiritual perfection and worship of a moral system based in zen philosophy. This current of thought teaches that "if a man achieves his destiny, and if he tries his best, free of fear, the infinite comes true in him". It was only through his own destiny accomplishment, after overcoming all kind of obstacles and proofs, when Jin found peace so longed for. "You cannot come with me where I go now, Hiromi. Finally I have found peace... But remember that I will always be with you", are Jin´s last words to his pupil before entering the Buddhist Nirvana.


Mother orphaned when he was a child, Jin promised himself never letting life defeating him, no matter as much sufferings as he had to confront. His mother, a woman of serene beauty and delicate fragility, could not stand the fact that her husband had abandoned her and lost any wish to live. "Our daughter was married when she was 18 (original quote from Jin´s grandfather), she returned back here with Jin when he was seven but she was ill and died soon after the war". "My mother was weak, she renounced to live and to love when her husband fell in love with another woman. She was never able to overcome this situation, never. She stood crying and crying, it seemed that she would never be able to do anything else for the rest of her life. She died as a flower does, she was of that type of women: beautiful, kind but weak (Jin´s original quote)".

Under his grandparents’ loving care, and forgotten by his father, Jin grew as a rebel and quarrelsome teenager, friend of alcohol and fights, lonely and harsh. He seemed to hate and challenge life. Lacking his parents care, problematical... "Since he was a child he had to face a cruel reality, that is why, having to endure that heavy burden, Jin offered a sad appearance and looked tired of life. Until he began to play tennis. Tennis saved him" (Katsura´s quote). Jin met Katsura when both were students, when as leaders of rival gangs they had a fight that changed their lives. "Long time ago, there were two rival schools. Normally when two schools are neighbours they have unusual relations. Once, there was a hard fight between the leaders of the gangs. They were both very tall, at least 1.75 m high. Despite they were 15 years old, they did not have common sense at all. They were fighting very hard. Their noses and mouths were bleeding. Members of the gangs were enjoying the quarrel just until they realised that things were turning really hard between the opponents. Their dispute continued until they fell, strengthless and emaciated. That fight did not resolve anything but made both guys aware of their foolishness. Later on, they casually concurred at the same tennis club to fill in the inscription. That is how we became friends. Since that moment Jin dedicated his entire life to this sport. He was born to be a champion." (Katsura´s quote).

Jin and Katsura were great friends out of the tennis court and eternal rivals at the court. They competed intensively but that competitiveness did not darken their friendship but enforced it. Jin and Katsura reached the summit in Japanese Tennis League. They defended the colours of their flag at international competitions and also their own professional prestige at Grand Slam Championships...

Jin´s character had suffered multiple changes during his life. His father’s behaviour towards him and his mother, and her sudden death afterwards shocked him deeply and awoke him to an adult world where innocence did not have a place. That turned him lonely, sad, quarrelsome, diffident... but at the same time strengthened his soul. Boasts and jesting of his youth were due to his being indifferent to the world that surrounded him, to all his internal emptiness, to the lack of hope born in his childhood. Since he found tennis everything changed. Tennis gave him back confidence, illusion, innocence, appetite for living. In conclusion... HOPE. He became a happy person, loving, tender and, at the same time, made him exigent, struggling, a searcher of perfection. He was still a rebel but he drove his wills through the right direction. He never again considered death with indifference. Instead he began to love life dearly... until he discovered his irrevocable fate. "He had not begun to enjoy his life as a tennis champion when his destiny tore him out of the tennis courts" (Katsura´s quote).

"Jin and Katsura reached the summit of international tennis and made their goals come true with incredible matches. They became the best japanese players and appeared with the most renowned international players of their time. Press was excited with them until a serious incident took place. Jin and Katsura were training to participate at the National Championship when the former collapsed victim of great convulsions. He was immediately taken to a hospital and that very same day he retired" (Mr. Ryuuzaki´s quote, President of Japanese Tennis Federation). He was 22 years old. Only his near family knew the real reason for his retirement. "Causes for those strong convulsions were never revealed, some journalists spoke of a mysterious virus" (Mr. Ryuuzaki´s quote). "He was told he had leukaemia and that there was no cure for it. He only had three more years left. He had to retire. Leukaemia. A sentence to death at the age of 27 years old " (Katsura´s quote).

After that first stroke, physical recovery was fast but transitory, psychological healing slowed down but finally arrived. Jin was no more the frightened boy he had been when his mother had died, never was he the elder he would have liked to be when death came. Sport discipline had moulded his spirit, he had enough strength and love for life to bear the most difficult proofs.


Jin had decided to retire. He had been diagnosed an incurable disease and was given a maximum of three more years of life. After receiving that cruel news, Katsura and Jin decided to follow different paths. Katsura was to become bonzo at the buddhist monastery of Eiji, known for his austerity and discipline, whereas Jin tried to find a sense for his existence. Answer came when two years later, Japanese Tennis Federation proposed him to be in charge of Nishi High School´s Tennis Team. This centre had reputation for being a cradle for tennis talents. "Federation asked Jin to return to the courts but we could not convince him. Maybe his pride prevented him from returning! Soon after he was offered being Nishi´s tennis coach. And he accepted" (Mr. Ryuuzaki´s quote).

Then, Jin dedicated entirely to training. He loved tennis and being surrounded by teenagers so fond of tennis offered him a reciprocal relation: he instructed his pupils sportively and spiritually and, in return, he indirectly participated of their sporting life, suffering their defeats and enjoying their victories. "Those 27 years Jin has spent with us are like those 80 years I have lived. They have passed very quickly. I wish he had been as the rest of the people of his age, that so many times fall in love, make mistakes, get angry, enjoy life and friends. So many intense moments that never come back because they fly away with youth! He devoted his life to his work" (Jin´s grandfather).

Nishi was an institution where tradition and formalities had built their own and closed universe. Schoolrooms were full of students from the most renowned and richest families and most of them practised tennis, the king of all sports. However, this atmosphere of exclusivity did not intimidate Jin. He was fighting against a harder and invisible enemy, time and cancer, and had concrete aims to achieve. He began his coaching introducing radical changes that gained him the antipathy of some of his pupils. Despite the complaints, Nishi´s director backed him for he had been strongly recommended by the Federation. Few people remembered that he had been a tennis champion. Either, none of his pupils were aware of his identity as a player.


Which coach does not dream of finding that special pupil for whom the practise of a sport seems to be innate? That sportsman/woman that transforms technique in art? That person that appears to be in perfect harmony with a sport? Hiromi was precisely that: pure potential, clay prepared to be moulded by an expert artisan. Jin saw her potential, though no one else could see it at that stage. "I have found a player in whom I have posed all my expectations. I will teach her to duplicate or triplicate her speed and I think that she will learn fast" (Jin´s quote). "During his short life, Jin had known despair twice. Since he was a child he had not stopped suffering. But when he found you, Hiromi, he flourished again. Hope and love helped him to survive three more years" (Katsura´s quote).

Though Nishi had excellent tennis players, Jin wanted to develop a new tennis concept: tennis power. Katsura and he had tried to make that idea a reality during their sportive lives as it was considered unrealisable in practise. Their retirements prevented them from achieving that aim. When Jin found Hiromi he saw not only her innate talent but her inexperience. Those were the keys for developing tennis power technique. Hiromi was the one who could succeed as a tennis player achieving Jin´s dreams.

Nishi veteran feminine tennis players did not understand Jin´s attitude. They did not agree with his special dedication towards an inexperienced player as Hiromi and distrusted his decision of making her an entitled player of the team. They even tried to boycott Jin´s duty as a coach, becoming Hiromi´s enemies. Jin´s decisions, though criticised, were finally accepted thanks to Federation backing. Nevertheless, Hiromi had to bear difficult situations, ostracism, despair, jealousy and frustration close to tension generated by the fact of having to demonstrate nearly each day her value as a tennis player. She had to show everybody that Jin´s confidence in her possibilities was right, that she would never disillusion him. Those were hard times for both: Hiromi was unaware of her own potential and Jin was afraid he could not end his coaching. However he had foreseen that contingency. "When I decided to become a coach, I made Katsura promise that if I could find a especial pupil, he would also train him/her when I died" (Jin´s quote). "Jin wrote to me, he wanted to challenge life and leave here teachings that could never be forgotten even if he died. He told me about a girl with great talent and I promised him I would continue his work helping Hiromi to reach the highest levels" (Katsura´s quote).


Jin and Hiromi trained together for three years, each day nearer to achieve their common illusion: Hiromi´s participation and victory at international championships. Hiromi was never a deception for her coach, she donated herself to training, even did she sacrifice her first love in order to concentrate herself only on tennis. Jin never forgot this oblation and tried to compensate her with his complete dedication. During those three years they shared happiness and pain, successes and defeats... It was inevitable that between them aroused a very special relation. To Hiromi, Jin was coach, friend, confident, teacher, companion, the most important person of her life after her parents. To Jin, Hiromi was pupil, muse, hope, happiness, his most valuable conquest, and finally his greatest love. Jin was aware of the age difference between them (9 years) and of his uncertain fate, that is why he never revealed her his feelings. "Hiromi and Jin are fighting together to get their dream. He has discovered her, she is his favourite pupil, he trusts her deeply. Players and coaches are human beings and we are talking about a man and a lovely woman" (Takashi´s quote).

They spent so long time together that they got to understand each other as if they were the same being, the same soul... Some way, without a special confession, they were in love: without words, without reproaches.

"Separated from death just by one step, it does not matter whether I love Hiromi or not, I have always loved her... Katsura, life is so cruel, how hard separation seems to be when life you leave is so marvellous! I do not want to die and leave Hiromi alone but it is my fate. Look after her, I beg you, you will be the nearest person to her when I abandon her, there is nothing I can do to avoid it. Despite that Hiromi and I understand each other deeply, despite that we have walked a long path together, one of us is going to be left behind to travel towards an unknown country. Those are the surprises that fate has for us and we cannot fight against it, it is inevitable, it is the strongest and, although it sounds terrible, we must accept separation. I welcome my destiny but, instinctively, I continue looking for her smile, Hiromi´s smile. Since I knew her, my life changed. During these past five years I have thoroughly meditated about my fate, always searching for the minimum chance of hope." (Jin talking to Katsura) "Hiromi, when I die, Katsura will be in charge of you. But remember that I will never leave you, that I will always be with you. You are my hope, Hiromi" (Jin´s letter to Hiromi) "We were always taking care and helping each other, spending whole days together, sharing everything: happiness and sadness, trust, efforts, goals. If this means being in love then I can swear that we were" (Jin talking to Ranko).

"Jin, I trust you more than anybody else. If you are not with me I cannot concentrate, I need you. You know how I am better than anybody. I will win for you, Jin, as a gift for everything you have taught me. I want to show you what you really mean for me" (Hiromi thinking about Jin).


Jin knew that his death was near. Pain and convulsions were getting harder. He wanted to see Katsura before he died. He wrote to him and Katsura abandoned the monastery where he had been living for the past five years in order to accomplish his promise. Katsura met Hiromi. "At last I have met the girl to whom you have transferred all your teachings. I thought I knew everything about her for what you told me in your letters but I got impressed after meeting her personally. She is a talented player and there is something very important about it, she does not know about it" (Katsura´s quote). Jin did not want that Hiromi knew about his critical state, he felt he was going to die very soon. She depended on him both personally and sportively and he did not want to be a negative burden for her tennis career until it was inevitable. Finally, 15th January, at 6:37 a.m., Jin died. Emptiness left behind him was immense.

"It will be hard being without you. Although Reika, Ranko, Yuu and I began to play tennis before we met you, you have been our teacher. Not only did you teach us how to improve our tennis techniques but also to trust, to love. Maybe Hiromi is the one who loves you most and now you are leaving her alone. What is she going to do now?
" (Takayuki´s quote).

"From now on, I will come to this court to remember you, Jin. I will think about the best and the worst.. I will remember our childhood, when we were children and played together. I could never have imagined that you would go away, leaving me alone. It is the only thing I can do now if I want to find some comfort" (Ranko´s quote).

"I am going to tell you this only once, dad. Jin has been the only man, besides you, really ideal that I have found in my life. The only man who accomplished all my expectations. Now when I play tennis, I do not feel lonely. Before meeting him, there was I and no one else at the court. I was my own rival. It has been a hard private war but now, in some way, I feel somebody is with me. When I play, I see familiar faces in front of me: Hiromi, Ranko, Takayuki. I am sure that Jin´s spirit is with us whenever we play tennis" (Reika´s quote).

Hiromi was told about Jin´s death soon after, when she came back home after wining a Tennis Tournament at USA. Shock was terrible. Lack of that dear and needed person drove her to great desperation. "Hiromi has not slept during the night. She spent all night long sitting in front of the window looking at the sea. She has said that the rumour of the waves is always different, that it changes every time waves break at the shore. She says that the same sound is never repeated and past never returns" (Mrs. Oka´s quote).

"I do not want to have other teachers, none can be a substitute for Jin...(Hiromi to her parents). I am confused, Katsura. In a way, I do not want to die but at the same time I do not want to live this way, I want to know if there is still a way out. Now that Jin is not with me, I cannot continue playing tennis, I do not want to... Only three weeks have passed since Jin´s death and although I thought I was recovered, I have been lying to myself, trying to convince me that everything is OK. At the beginning it was only a little pain in my stomach, but each day that sensation has been growing bigger and now I feel as if I were in a no-way out cavern. I try not to think about it but it is stronger than I. I am empty. I am afraid not to have enough strength to continue. I feel lonely, unable of moving even one of my fingers. I have a great dark hole in my heart, I lack Jin" (Hiromi to Katsura).


But time is the best healer. It leaves scars but helps to forget. It is our own survival instinct that makes painful memories get hidden in our minds for being remembered only under special circumstances. For Hiromi, time and her friends´s backing were the keys to recover from the depression she entered after Jin´s death.

She spent horrible months full of sadness and desperation but finally, she found out her internal equilibrium and could continue living. She had left practising tennis for it brought back Jin´s memories, but thanks to Katsura´s dedication and advises she reappeared at the courts. Katsura made her the living instrument of her dead coach, achieving the summit of international tennis when she implemented the special technique Jin had been training her for: tennis power.

Hiromi was very young. Her heart was empty... finally, Mother Nature imposed its laws and she found out love again with Takayuki. He was that first love she had been obliged to abandon. Jin knew Hiromi´s character. He understood that she was a loving and tender girl, full of life, able to express deep and steady emotions. He knew that she could have been in love with him in the past for they had been stretchy in contact during three years, but he trusted that time and youth could help her to forget and find love again. He knew that for Hiromi to flourish and be completely happy she needed to love and be loved. That is why, foreseeing future, he wrote a letter to be given to Hiromi and Takayuki by Katsura when time had come. "When Hiromi becomes an international player and knows everything about tennis, what will she be needing? I am sure that neither you nor I, Katsura. We will be part of her past. Hiromi will need somebody by her side sharing happiness and sadness, not only at the courts but also at her private life. She had just found that person when I met her, but I thought it was too soon and I asked them both to sacrifice their love for tennis´sake. When time arrives, set her free and let her live her life with the person she chooses, I am convinced that it will be the same person she chose in the past" (Jin´s letter for Hiromi and Takayuki, read at the end of the series).

Jin did not want that his memory was a burden for Hiromi. He organised even the most minimum details before his death to avoid her being forsaken. He was sure that she would overcome sadness caused by his death and face future with courage. He knew she would find somebody to love. And that her choice would be right... But he did not value correctly Hiromi´s feeling towards him. When he was alive, Jin accompanied her to each of her matches. At the end, whether had she won or not, their eyes met. Hers, looking for his approval; his, baking her not ever to surrender.


Jin forgot something: the love they shared could not die. Ever. Maybe he has been able to see from the Buddhist Nirvana where his soul rests in peace, how Hiromi even today and despite time has passed, after each match continues looking, among de public of the court, for his glance. Jin´s glance.


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