Debuting in the Pro League at the Youngest Age of 9, Pro Ping Pong Prodigy Misora Matsushima: “I Don’t Want to be No. 2”
Whenever I play an important match, I write words on my hand to get myself fired up!
I will not give up.
Let’s not give up.
Miku Matsushima, who made her debut in the Nojima T-League professional table tennis league on October 22 at the age of 9, the youngest player ever to play in the league, wrote the words on the back of her right hand.
She said, “In important matches, I write words on my hand to get myself fired up! In my league debut match, I decided to go for it and never give up.”
Matsushima recalls in a firm tone of voice. Her opponent was Miwa Zhang (younger sister of World No. 2 Tomokazu), who had entered the tournament in February ’19 at the age of 10 and held the record for the youngest player to date. 30 cm taller Zhang took five consecutive points in the second game and briefly led, but lost in straight sets 0-3. She lost 0-3 in straight sets.
I’m still not good enough, but it’s frustrating to lose. I want to become stronger and win a gold medal at the Olympics in the future.
Matsushima, who speaks with an innocent smile, started playing table tennis when he was two years old. His father, Takashi, and mother, Yumi, are both former table tennis players, and his grandparents, Hiroshi and Kazuko Tasaka, are instructors at the Tasaka Table Tennis Hall (Fushimi-ku, Kyoto). They grew up in an environment where racquets and balls were close at hand. Takuji says, “I also played ping-pong at the Tasaka Table Tennis Kaikan.”
I also taught at the Tasaka Table Tennis Hall, so Misora would often take naps in the practice room. The sound of table tennis was her lullaby.
”Even if it’s just a mascot thing.”
Matsushima has broken many records as the youngest player ever. In October 2021, Matsushima became the first second grader in elementary school to win four matches and place in the top 16 at the All-Japan Championships in the cadet division (under 13 years old). In January of this year, he was selected to represent Japan in the 12 and under age group. In May, Kyoto Kaguyarise, a new entrant in the T-League, made an offer to Matsushima.
Matsushima said, “No matter how good she is against elementary school students, she is still just a kid and won’t be a competitive player. She may be a mascot. Nevertheless, she accepted the offer because it would definitely be a plus for Misora. She can learn a lot from professional players, such as their attitude toward games and preparation in advance,” said Takuji.
Matsushima chose “1” as her number.
I don’t want to be number two. I always want to be at the top.
Takuji does not spoil Matsushima just because she is his daughter. She practices four hours after school on weekdays and eight hours on weekends. On Sundays, she runs 4.5 km round trip to the nearby Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, which she has done since she was 3 years old. He sometimes makes Matsushima cry with his harsh words.
“Children tend to express their frustration when things don’t go well,” he says. Sometimes an unlucky goal can cause them to throw the game away. Misora, in particular, is very competitive and demands a perfect 10-0 win; a win is a win even at 6-4, but she becomes sad after just one point is scored. When that happens, I tell her that she is not a professional. It is important for a professional to always be in a stable state of mind. Misora often says, ‘I will do my best so that people will support me,’ but she must be aware that she is in a position to be watched by fans,” says Takuji.
Matsushima has a player she admires. Mima Ito, who, along with Jun Mizutani, won Japan’s first gold medal in table tennis history in the mixed doubles event at the Tokyo Olympics held in July 2021.
“It’s amazing that she smiles even when she loses,” said Ito. I want to learn from her as a professional.
The table tennis prodigy continues to practice hard with the goal of one day competing on the same world stage as Ito.
Matsushima / Born in June ’13 in Kyoto, Japan. 133 cm, 31 kg. 4 siblings, 2 brothers and 1 sister. All of them play table tennis. Her eldest son, Terukora, made his debut in the T-League in February 2021, when he was 13 years old, making him the youngest male table tennis player in history.
Photo： Kei Kato