Playing side by side until high school and how they think of each other
――You two have played on the same team from elementary school to Higashiyama High School. What are your differences as volleyball players?
Rui Takahashi: Ran is great at receiving balls, including serves. Maybe because he started off as a libero. He was pretty short in elementary and junior high—probably about 160 cm?
Ran Takahashi: I don’t think I was even 160 in my first year of junior high (according to the record from the All-Japan Junior High Championship, Rui was 182 cm and Ran was 160 cm tall).
Rui:We attended the same junior high school and played in the national championship together. Back then the ace of our team and myself were the attackers and it was like “you receive the ball for us and we’ll kill it.”
Ran:Yeah, I remember receiving and digging balls all the time.
Rui:The other day our mom sent me videos of us in elementary school and Ran was jumping around on the court.
Ran:And I looked so thrilled! It was when I made this awesome dig and Rui killed it. I guess I was really happy. I was running around so much that I disappeared from the screen haha.
Rui: （Last year, I injured my left knee and had surgery to repair my meniscus. I was just about to get my body back into shape for the Autumn League when the coronavirus broke out and both the Spring League and East Japan Intercollegiate Volleyball Championship were cancelled. On top of that the state of emergency was declared, and right when situations in Tokyo were looking bad in late-April our team was split up, so I returned home—where our entire family got together for the first time in like, 10 years. Because of the pandemic, Ran and I ended up spending a lot of time together.
Ran: Our whole lives were about volleyball, and because of games and going on tours all the time we were barely home, so it’s really been a while.
Rui: Being together with family for an entire day felt like we were back in kindergarten, and it was refreshing. Still, we tried to do whatever we could to keep our bodies moving while we were told to stay home.
Ran: We did things like going on walks in our neighborhood and practicing our passes with Rui and our little sister.
Rui:We also studied videos from the Spring High. We had plenty of time, so we talked about all sorts of things. It was kinda intense.
Ran:We haven’t really talked about volleyball before huh. I feel like we’ve been talking more often after I joined college.
Rui:When we had those conversations I thought, “Wow, my baby brother has gotten so big!” We had a huge height difference but now you’re taller than me. Was it during your later years in high school when you grew past me?
Ran:Maybe in my third year?
Rui:Back at Higashiyama High School when we played together, I was still somewhat taller than you, by about two or three centimeters. And—it’s not just about how tall we are. When Ran and his team won the Spring High, I had complicated feelings for the first time, like I’ve lost. Needless to say, of course I’m rooting for my little brother. But at the same time, I also feel competitive now. I realized for the first time that Ran had probably felt the same way ever since we started playing volleyball.
Ran:You know what, you’re right. Rui would always be the first one with shiny records all the time, so seeing his team win third place in the Inter-High School Sports Festival (2016) made me feel really competitive. I’ve always told myself, “I’d beat him someday.”
Rui:Our little sister (who is now in high school) probably feels the same way too.
Ran:Maybe. I loved practicing our passes between the three of us the other day. I won’t forget that. Since this spring I live in Tokyo to go to college, so I can go see Rui anytime if I wanted, but not so much with our sister.
Rui:If anything happens to Ran, I’d come right away.
Ran: My brother is a really dependable person. Our family counts on him and he is so independent that I sometimes feel ashamed of myself. He’s been a captain of his team the entire time since elementary school. On the contrary, I’m not the one who people rely on, not even my family haha.
Rui: Do you think it’s in our blood types? I’m type A and Ran’s is O. Our personalities are a bit different too.
――Do you have different food preferences?
Rui:Yes, and they’re completely different. I’m such a sweet tooth. When people ask me how I got tall, I say to them it’s all the candy I eat haha.
Ran:I’m more of a meat eater. I like all sorts of meats.
Rui:See, I can’t. I couldn’t eat yakiniku until I was in high school. I couldn’t even eat beef bowls when I was a kid. I have this thing against food I’ve never tasted before.
Ran:You were really particular about food.
Rui:Yeah and I think that made things difficult for my parents while growing up. Ran didn’t have any of that. He was practically fine with anything.
Ran:Well, in terms of food, I was never picky. Right now, I’m trying to eat a balanced diet. In the Japan men’s national team training camp, I got to learn a lot about health management and eating well from my seniors. But it’s hard to keep up when you’re on the road a lot, so whenever I feel like I haven’t eaten enough vegetables or my meals are unbalanced, I make sure to take Sun Chlorella A . I do this routine checkup on myself to see how tired I am, and if my body feels heavy when I wake up, I take them three times a day. I just like chlorella.
Rui:I’m kind of the same way too. I take them when I’m tired or after practice.
Ran:It’s gonna be a huge help down the line when I’ll be travelling internationally more often.
How it all began and practicing together as kids
――Rui, how do you feel about Ran being chosen on the national team?
Rui:I’m just like, wow. Him winning the Spring High felt the same way, like he’s skipping grades. I watched the livestreamed matches of the Japan national team the other day, and seeing Ran play on the same team as Yūki Ishikawa was like, unbelievable!
Ran:There was so much to learn from being on the national team. I got to ask questions to Shimizu-san and Fukuzawa-san, who have been incredible players for so long, and I also had a chance to learn about the Italian Volleyball League from Ishikawa-san. The experience was very helpful for me to think about my future.
Rui:Do you remember the time when we went to see the Japan Volleyball League games and asked Fukuzawa-san and Shimizu-san for signatures? We were still elementary schoolers.
Ran:Right! We were cheering for them. I can’t believe I’ve actually gotten some advice from them in person!
Rui:I’m glad we chose to play volleyball. I was in second grade when I saw Megumi Kurihara (former national team player) play. I didn’t know a thing about volleyball at the time, but at that moment I just knew that I wanted to be like her. That’s when it all started.
Ran:I just kinda tagged along at first.
Rui:Ran said he won’t do it, but he followed me to practice…
Ran:Because you told me that it would be good for me if I join.
Rui:I kinda forced you into it, didn’t I? Our father played baseball so we went to games but instead of watching we were practicing volleyball on the field haha. That’s how much we were into it right from the get-go. I would pick up a ball that’s been lying around and call
Ran, “hey, let’s practice!”
Ran:We’d wake up early and practice in the park from 6 AM. To tell you the truth, I hated it haha.
Rui:Passing in volleyball is something you can’t do alone so I dragged him along. We then had our parents find a volleyball club that we joined when I was in third grade. I had so much fun at practice. They were more fun than winning a game. I just loved volleyball. Besides, our head coach at the time was so funny. He came to watch the Spring High, didn’t he?
Ran:Yes! He told me he was impressed by my performance. I was so happy to hear that from him and really spurred me on. Unlike my brother, I came to like volleyball in high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, I wanted to play with my friends instead. But as our efforts paid off, like winning the prefectural tournament in junior high, my volleyball skills improved, even more so in high school year by year, and finally I felt like I was actually having fun.
Rui:I remember when our parents asked you if you were sure you wanted to play volleyball when you entered junior high. They were like, if you wanted to do something else, you can, you know?
Ran:Yeah. That made me think a lot. But I didn’t have anything I wanted to do instead, so I joined volleyball again. But because I didn’t quit, I got to win the Spring High and be on the Japan national team this year, so I’m truly glad that I stuck with it. More importantly, I couldn’t have done any of this by myself. My team won a national title but the reason why I came this far is Rui, and I’m just really grateful that he’s my brother.
Rui:No way, thanks to you too. You took me to the Spring High to watch you play and let me meet with Kurihara-san haha. I heard that Kurihara-san will be there at Spring High to interview Higashiyama High School, and with my mother’s advice I wrote a fan letter for the first time in life.
Ran:Which, I had to hand it to her for him haha. I hated it. I was like, why do I have to do this?
Rui: Well, that meant a lot to me so thank you. I was so happy to be able to say hello to her at the Spring High.
Messages to parents and thoughts about the future
――You played on the same court until high school. What was your most memorable game?
Rui:The final match at the Inter-High preliminaries?
Ran: Yeah, that match we won from the brink of defeat!
Rui:Our highest achievement was winning third place at the National Sports Festival (2017), but that match against Rakunan High School at the Inter-High preliminaries that same year is definitely the match I still remember clearly. I felt the most nervous too. Rakunan had won the first set, then the second set by 19-24, and we all thought that we’d lost but we made a comeback and won.
Ran:It really was incredible.
――What skills do you have that you think you’re better at?
Rui:I’m not as tall as Ran, but I think I have more precision.
Ran:Yeah. Since you were a kid you were good at cross-court shots and hitting around the block. I might be taller, but I’m not that good at those. I think that what I do best is receiving and digging a ball. I’m especially confident at how fast I can position my posture to prepare for a spike after receiving a ball.
Rui:Ran is a natural at playing any kind of sports. On the other hand, all I can do is volleyball, and I’m the practice-makes-perfect type.
Ran:Well, I played catch with my father all the time before I got myself into volleyball, so I’m a good thrower. If I hadn’t known volleyball, I might’ve played baseball instead.
Rui:I wonder how you would’ve done in baseball
Ran:I probably would’ve wanted to quit haha
――Any messages to your parents who have always supported you? Please also tell us your future goals.
Ran:When I was thinking about quitting volleyball in junior high, my parents were the ones who heard me out and made me rethink that. If I had chosen a different path, I would’ve never won the Spring High. I stuck with volleyball and that’s why I’m here now. Their advice on life skills has also proven to be useful today too, so I’m just really grateful.
Rui:I feel the same way, so grateful. They let me do volleyball and other extracurricular activities too without uttering a single complaint. Practice hours were long during high school, and no matter how late I got home at night, they were always awake and waiting for me.
Ran:They woke up early in the morning and packed us bento lunches too.
Rui:I respect them for their efforts and I’m just really thankful.
Ran:Now that we’re both playing volleyball in college, I would never want to lose against your team. He’s my rival, but at the same time he’s my older brother too, who I count on so much. I get the feeling that we’d have more chats about life from now on.
Rui:We’ll be on opposite sides of the net for now, but in the future, I hope we’ll play on the same professional team someday. I look forward to it, and for that, I’ll keep going.
Since the brothers began volleyball in elementary school, they’ve not only passed balls back and forth, but shared dreams together, and over the years tightened their brotherly bond. They encourage one another, both aiming high but reaching even higher. The Takahashi brothers will one day be the brightest shining stars in the world of volleyball.