That seems a harsh thing to say about a team, the Pastels, dressed in pastels, who blew away the audience with an intricate, energetic club passing routine covering all of the stage and including complex four-person patterns and some acrobatics, passing from atop one another’s shoulders. They opened the teams competition – not usually a top-seed position – and got a long, standing ovation at the close of their routine.
However, they do not think of themselves as jugglers. Asked about future performances, Daisuke Kitajima, 30, said: “We have no juggling plans; we are amateurs.”
The four are products of the University of Tokyo Juggling Club. Daisuke, the oldest, works for an overseas development company. Yusuke Onojima, 26 is a software engineer. Shinya Yokosaka, 26, is a chemist. And 21-year-old Yusuke Murakami was not available for the interview because he is still a student and had to leave right after the performance to fly all the way back to Japan and take an exam. He is studying economics.
All live roughly in the Tokyo area and managed in the run-up to the festival to practice their act three times a week, for four or five hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Most of the conversation was about comparing the US juggling scene to Japan’s. In the latter country, juggling’s popularity has increased dramatically over the past decade, with juggling clubs popping up even in middle schools. The University of Tokyo club boasts 100 regular members.
“Most of the good jugglers in Japan now are very young. Club juggling has only gained popularity fairly recently, so there is a higher level of club juggling and passing in the United States,” said Daisuke, who was the spokesman for the group mainly because his English is the best.
“We get a very good turnout for the Japanese Juggling Festivals each October, and the Internet assures that juggling styles are pretty much the same all around the world. The IJA Festival has much weirder games than we do, like the Gauntlet, but everybody here seems to have a great time.”
He noted that “juggling” covers a broader set of activities in Japan than in the United States. Yo-yos are considered juggling props, and one year someone won the Japanese Festival competition with kendamas.
One of the Pastels was wearing a tee-shirt that had on it the word Malabarista, Spanish for juggler, allegedly because the early Spanish explorers found the people of the Malabar coast, now India’s southwestern coast, to be such rapacious thieves and swindlers. Asked where in Latin America he got it, he replied, “No, no. The University of Tokyo juggling club was named the Juggling Club Malabaristas by its founder, who went on to establish a juggling shop in Tokyo called Naranja.” This is, of course, Spanish for orange.
So four Japanese Malabaristas who are really chemists, software engineers, economists, etc., dressed in pastels, won the 2013 teams competition, overwhelmingly. They say they hope to come back next year. Maybe they’ll be jugglers by then.