Rock-Paper-Scissors, that’s how he was introduced to soft tennis

[Photo: Hideto Ide]

"NARO" (Naro) ... If there were a "Soft Tennis Dictionary," it would probably already be listed under the section of "Na" . That's how we feel about the specialized soft tennis store, "Sports NARO," and its president, Mitsuaki Minaro, who is affectionately known as "Naro-san."

He encountered soft tennis in his first year of junior high school. He had four close friends and they made a promise to join the same club, but, as expected (laughs) , they couldn't agree on a choice. So they resorted to rock-paper-scissors! As a result, friend D, who hoped to join the tennis club, won, and finally, they agreed to join the "soft tennis club."

In the past, newly joined first graders weren't normally given a chance to hit the ball. Furthermore, it took time to be able to participate in matches. That's why the
joy of hitting the ball for the first time and achieving the first victory was overwhelming. Naro-san went through these same experiences. In the fall of his second year of junior high school, he took second place at the district's rookie tournament. However, in high school, he only made it to the top 64 in the Tokyo city tournament... Unfortunately, his dream of participating in the Inter-High did not come true.

There were no prominent tennis coaches in his middle school or high school.
While there were managing teachers, the players had to learn by themselves to improve their tennis skills. After entering university, Naro-san began coaching high school students at the school he graduated from. He always thinks about how to make a weak team stronger. It seems that these experiences from his childhood and youth have formed the foundation of Naro-san's current mindset. After graduating from university, Naro-san was hired at a certain tennis store he had been visiting since his student days. During university, he balanced coaching younger players and working part-time at the tennis store. Although his family hoped he would pursue a regular corporate job, he couldn't see clearly what he wanted to do with his life. Two months before graduation, he made the decision to work at the shop full time. Over the course of his nine years working for this store, he saw, experienced, and learned many things, until he eventually decided to open his own independent store.

"The comfortable shop for soft tennis players” is the origin.

From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, for about a decade, soft tennis equipment was typically placed alongside the hard tennis gear in most shops. Even at the shop where Naro-san worked, the first floor displayed hard tennis rackets, while a small corner on the third floor was designated for soft tennis equipment.
"Soft tennis had a sense of being overshadowed," said Naro-san.
While there were specialized shops for hard tennis along the Yamanote Line in Tokyo, there were no dedicated shops for soft tennis. However, he thought, the absence of specialized soft tennis stores meant there was no competition. Could this be a possible "business opportunity"?

Naro-san consulted with numerous people about his idea. Out of the ten people he asked, nine opposed the idea, questioning why he would choose soft tennis and warning that the business wouldn't be easy. But among them, one person said, "You should give it a try."
"Perhaps I had been waiting for these words," said Naro-san.
He believed success in this business. This decision eventually led to the birth of the first-ever specialized soft tennis store in 1986.

The foremost passion in creating the shop was to make it a "comfortable shop for soft tennis players." Upon its opening, not only did local enthusiasts flock to "Naro," but many from distant places also made the journey. It was a soft tennis specialty store the players had dreamed of. Previously, they were uncertain whether the sports shops would have the equipment they looked for. However, if they visited "Naro," all the soft tennis equipment they needed would be available! The presence of "Naro" was seen as an "essential lifeline" for anyone playing soft tennis.

Even I, the writer, often said in my student days, "I will go to 'Naro' to have my racket restrung." I frequently visited, and there I always found fellow enthusiasts connected through the sport. It was incredibly joyful to have a place I could consider my "regular spot."
Here's another episode. When Mr. F, the creator of "Soft Tennis Online," was in high school, his school team wasn’t strong. However, when they went to inform Naro-san that they had qualified for the Kanto Tournament, Mr. F never forgot how immensely happy Naro-san was upon hearing the news. Later on, coincidentally, Naro-san's son entered the school Mr. F graduated from, and Mr. F went on to establish "Soft Tennis Online." The connections in the world of soft tennis continued to grow. These cherished memories at "Naro" seem to have played a significant role as a driving force behind Mr. F’s love for soft tennis.

"Naro" is unique and unparalleled.

"Naro" celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. Currently, they continue to provide support to soft tennis enthusiasts in both tangible and intangible ways. They offer in-store sales, online shopping, conduct workshops not only in the local area but also nationwide, and organize international tournament viewing tours.

Speaking of the wide variety of racket options available today, it makes you wonder how many players use a racket that truly suits them. When asked, customers have their own preferences such as "because top players use it," "because I like the color," or "because it stands out from others." However, in order for players to enjoy soft tennis for a long time, it is important for them to find the racket that truly feels right for them.

That's why "Naro" provides precise information with a focus on individual requirements, assisting each person to select the best racket, the correct type of string, precise tension, and more.
"We want to use our expertise to select the right equipment for each person," says Mr. Naro.

Their role goes beyond being experts in equipment selection. They also offer a wide range of goods including rackets, accessories, and other items from a user-centered perspective, and provide valuable information to domestic and overseas equipment factories. They have taken on the mission of bridging the gap between users and manufacturers.

"The comfortable place for soft tennis players" remains unchanged, both in the past and in the future. It embodies the motto of tennis players: "Each shot is a unique shot." Truly, "Naro" is unique and unparalleled. As the first specialized store of soft tennis, they continue to challenge new frontiers.

Loving soft tennis alone is not enough to excel in this business. It also involves tasks like stringing rackets at the court while people are playing. That's why the most important requirement to become a member of staff at "Naro" is to "love people," Mr. Naro says. With their warm-heartedness, they always welcome soft tennis enthusiasts, and continue to pursue what can be achieved as the true concept of "Naro."

[Sentence: Sports writer Yoko Yagi (from Waseda University softball tennis club)]