Watanabe speaks little English or Tagalog, but is well-versed in the language of the ancient Japanese sport
by Rey Bancod
Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar — Fil-Japanese Kiyome Watanabe sat in one corner, her eyes glued on television Saturday at the lobby of their building inside the Athletes Village.
She’s watching English cartoon. There’s something about cartoons that gets the attention of teenagers, even if they don’t understand a single word.
Kiyome was born in Cebu City where she spent a good part of her childhood. Before her family relocated to Japan, she attended the St. Paul Learning Center. She went to Japan at the age of eight.
Now 16, Kiyome barely understands English or Tagalog. That’s probably one reason why she’s shy.
Conducting an interview without her Filipino mother is a daunting task. No one in the team speaks Japanese. Teammates said they communicate with Kiyome through sign language.
Inside the mat, Kiyome is a picture of calm and determination.
During the final of the women’s 57-63 kg. division, Watanabe carried five-time champion Thi Hoa Bui of Vietnam like a rag doll and threw her on the ground to end the contest.
Using her fingers, Watanabe said she bench presses 90 kilograms, nearly two sacks of rice.
“That’s her specialty,” said coach Ronald Llamas, who was responsible in inviting her to join the national team.
The first time Kiyome competed two years ago in Jakarta, Indonesia, Llamas said Kiyome was not prepared for the dirty tactics used in the competition.
“Sa Japan kasi, malinis ang laban. Walang gulangan. Kaya laking gulat ni Kiyome nung lumaban siya sa Jakarta,” Llamas said.
In her second Games appearance, Kiyome competed in a lighter division, having shed excess baby fats.
“She’s our best bet for the Summer Olympics,” Llamas said.
Kiyome has qualified for the Youth Olympic Games next year.
Llamas revealed that Japanese officials are keeping a close eye on Kiyome, now ranked fourth in her age division in Japan.
“Her mother, who has business interests in Cebu, has assured me that Kiyome will represent the Philippines,” Llamas said.
While in the Philippines, Kiyome gets to train with university male judokas.
“Hindi madamot ang bata. Tinuturo niya ang mga techniques na natutunan din niya,” he said.
Kiyome and her mother, the former Irene Sarausad, will spend the holidays in Manila before returning to Japan for another competition.