The slogan for lacrosse in Japan, since its inception in the mid-1980s, has been "Lacrosse Makes Friends."
The Keio High boys lacrosse team is getting a chance to do just that in Baltimore.
While some Japanese college teams frequently compete abroad in the United States, Keio, located in Fujisawa, is savoring the opportunity to experience lacrosse and a different culture in the United States. After spending three days in New York City, the team arrived Wednesday night in Baltimore and will play against the junior varsity teams from three of the area's top high school programs - Gilman, St. Paul's and Boys' Latin.
"This is not just about lacrosse for us," Keio manager Kosuke Mitsumoto said. "We want to try to get to know each other, share each other's cultures, and I think it's going to be a great experience for our players."
Lacrosse has been a part of the Japanese culture for nearly 25 years, but it has been mostly prominent for university-age athletes. In Japan, the focus with younger students is mostly geared toward academics to advance to the best university possible.
Keio High is a part of a larger campus that includes Keio University, one of the biggest universities in Japan. Keio University and Johns Hopkins have worked together on a number of occasions.
"In Japan, college is a bit of a deep breath where they have some fun and some time to commit to lacrosse or other activities. In the time leading up to college, especially in high school, that's when academic pressure is most intense," said US Lacrosse president Steve Stenersen, who helped spearhead the trip. "So the ability to grow sports at the high school level is tough because of that."
Mitsumoto said this experience can change that.
"My thinking with the experience was the younger the better, so I brought the high school team to the United States and play these games," he said. "We try to have many interaction between U.S. and Japanese students."
The team took in a practice session and clinic at Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field before visiting the Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Keio got its first taste of American competition yesterday when it visited St. Paul's. The team plays Gilman at 12:30 p.m. today and then goes to Boys' Latin tomorrow for a 3 p.m. contest.
Keio players said they have been impressed with the facilities and have enjoyed the different way of life here.
Gilman coach Brooks Matthews said the experience is beneficial for everybody.
"I think exposing our kids to other teams around the country and, in this case, around the world, who play lacrosse is a great thing," he said. "You want the kids to see that lacrosse is lacrosse wherever you play it. It's such a great game, such a fun game, and there's a lot of people around the world who enjoy playing it."