Megumi & Miki
on their Mission Impossible
Megumi Murakami and Miki Ishii giggle when the translator asks them about the current status of beach volleyball in Japan. Women’s beach volleyball in Japan is primarily perceived as watching cute women performing in bikinis. It is still indoor volleyball that dominates the scene. And people watching indoor volleyball are more interested in the sport itself than just watching women playing in bikinis. But the culture is changing and the gap between indoor and beach is getting smaller. This development has been enhanced by several Japanese top indoor players moving to the beach and increasing its popularity. Megumi Murakami:
“It is very important to have a strong team because beach volleyball in Japan requires an idol. If there is a strong team, it will be seen as an important sport.”
Therefore Megumi’s and Miki’s mission is twofold: making beach volleyball popular in Japan for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and challenging the beach volleyball elite as the shortest team competing at that level.
Building a common vision for Tokyo 2020
Megumi Murakami and Miki Ishii won silver in the Asian Games today and bronze at the FIVB tournament in Tokyo just a few weeks ago. It was their first ever medal in an FIVB World Tour 3-star event. Mid-July they finished 5th at the Gstaad Major, upsetting a range of top teams from the U.S., Brazil and Germany.
The pair first teamed up after the Rio 2016 Olympics but broke up shortly after due to a lack of common vision. After playing with other partners, they joined forces again in 2017 with the shared goal of playing the World Tour and preparing for the home Olympics 2020 in Tokyo.
Both Miki and Megumi got started in indoor volleyball before moving to the beach. Miki played indoor volleyball between age 8 and 24, also on a professional level and in different teams. With 24 she moved to beach volleyball after a high school teacher had recommended it to her. It took some time until she caught fire. And she played Megumi as opponent on the other side of the net. Megumi played indoor volleyball from age 10 to 22 until college graduation, then she also moved to beach volleyball.
Looking back, they find indoor volleyball rather boring. While in indoor you sometimes even don’t get to touch the ball, in beach volleyball you are always busy because every second ball is yours. Once having started beach volleyball, they don’t wanna go back. Megumi loves winning and she thinks in beach volleyball her chances to perform at the very top are good. For Miki playing beach volleyball is even part of building her personality since she has to organize everything herself which is a contrast to indoor.
A creative approach to challenge the beach volleyball elite
Compared to international standards, Miki and Megumi are both rather short. Miki who does the blocking is 171cm (5’8″) tall, Megumi only measures 165 cm (5’5″). Nevertheless, they regularly defeat international top teams that are way taller than the Japanese, sometimes both opponents being above 1.80 (5’11). Miki and Megumi have three main strategies on how to compete with tall teams.
First, they always try putting pressure on their opponents with strong and precise serves. Moreover, you will see them playing quite some variations in offense, primarily using quick, sometimes long sets to avoid the block. But probably their biggest asset is the defense.
“We have to have a good control and we are always changing our positions depending on the teams we play against. We always practice many variations against taller or shorter teams.”
Both have very strong ball control and they make few to no mistakes. Top teams are usually surprised how many balls are being returned. There are no easy points against Miki and Megumi. Both are changing positions rapidly and they adjust their defense strategy based on their opposition. In a recent interview, Brandie Wilkerson commented on this creative approach to beach volleyball:
“There is so much more about the sport than being tall and hitting a ball hard. It is also about being creative and owning a style. And even your mental game and the support you have with your partner and executing a game plan make beach volleyball really interesting.”
Megumi and Miki seem to have this type of chemistry. They also support each other and split the tasks off the court. While Miki does the driving, Megumi does the cooking, for example sushi. Compared to her performance on the court, Miki rather takes it easy outside of the court.
“My spike is fast but my driving is slow and cautious.”
Find out more about Miki and Megumi on Facebook.
- Nationality: Japan
- Date of birth: September 14, 1985 / November 7, 1989
- Height: 1.63 m (5’5″) / 1.71 m (5’8″)
- Tokyo, 2018, FIVB 3-star, Bronze
- Gstaad, 2018, FIVB 5-star, 5th
- Asian Games, 2018, Silver
Interesting article. I have been to Japan and studied their culture but didn’t know anything about the state of volleyball there. It makes sense that the idol idea would permeate into sports as well. I look forward to the Olympics.
Definitely. Having a team everybody looks up to would surely help beach volleyball in Japan.
A different approach and style would probably confuse lots of teams. Beach volleyball has become a bit samey !
I’m sure sport being sport there is a way to make the taller players feel uncomfortable.
And not have the game being mainly for tall people. Versatility, vision, creativeness , talent and skill must all make a difference!
Yes, their approach is definitely confusing other teams. Most teams are not used to playing against shorter players with a different style.