There was a satisfying click as Alex, my old school friend, jammed the pistol’s barrel against the garage wall and the pin slotted into place. He slipped a plastic BB into the stock and handed me the pellet gun. “So, just in the leg, to see how it feels, right?” I agreed and, taking five paces back, I took aim and squeezed the trigger. It was tight, but eventually I felt the spring release, I heard a ‘thwock’, and Alex squealed, hopping around the garage on one leg.
Eventually, once his pain subsided, Alex took the BB gun from me. “Right, your turn, Guthrie,” he said, pushing the barrel hard against the wall. “Not a bloody chance,” I said, jumping on my BMX and shooting off down his driveway. “Why on Earth would anyone want to get shot by a pellet gun?”
Alex never answered my question (in fact he refused to speak to me for a month), but today, some 24 years later, I find myself asking the same question of David Yoshida, an organiser at Tier One Aichi Airsoft Team, a multi-ethnic, multi-background, multi-talented group of men and women who get together on weekends to do just that. Apparently it’s a lot of fun.
Airsoft, also known as Survival Game, started in Japan in the early 1970s, with the name coming from the “Soft-Air” gas used for firing pellets. Originally designed for target practice, as the bullets could be fired at people without causing lasting injury, it soon became popular amongst war-games enthusiasts.
David is a relatively recent convert to the sport that is played by millions around the world. In fact, as a retired member of the British armed forces, he initially held it in relatively low esteem:
“At first I saw it as ‘playing war’ with ‘toy soldiers’. However, a couple of friends persuaded me to give it a go and, using my military training, I found that I was doing pretty well and started to really enjoy it.”
He presumably did better than ‘pretty well’, as his talents were recognised by a Japanese ex-military personnel who encouraged him to join the Tier One Aichi Airsoft Team. The group, of around 50 men and women, has quite a few ex-services within their ranks, but there are also people from all walks of life including English teachers, engineers, retail workers, and pharmacologists. Not only that, but a wide range of nationalities are represented with people from Japan, U.S.A, The UK, Brazil, Pakistan, Tunisia and France all part of the squad.
“Our group is so multicultural, I can get to know people that I would ordinarily never meet. It’s that diversity that really makes us a great team,” reckons David. “We don’t all have the same outlooks, the same thoughts, which means we are always learning from each other.”
Not only are they diverse, but they are also pretty into it. While members are free to drop in and out as they wish, they tend to get together most weekends – Saturday and/or Sunday – and as a team take the train or carpool to the surprisingly many Airsoft centres, both open field and purpose-built renovated buildings, all around Nagoya and the city’s surrounds.
Once there, participants get kitted out in overalls, gloves, facemask and weapons (beginners without their own gear can rent for between ¥500 and ¥2000, depending on the level of kit you require) and it’s time to get down to business. Starting at 09:00 and going on until 16:00, there are a whole array of high octane, high-energy combat simulation games going on. Things get pretty fast and furious which means it’s a great way to get in shape. And if you’re not in shape?
Well, as they say in Airsoft: move fast, live long. If you don’t, you’re dead.
Okay, not exactly dead dead, this isn’t a real battlefield after all, but you are going to get shot. Fortunately in Japan the pressure of the guns is restricted by law, so getting hit, or ‘tagged’, by the 6mm BB doesn’t hurt a great deal, perhaps akin to a smart pinch or a tough flick. That jab of pain, sharp as it is, is necessary, because unlike paintball there is no splatter to show you have been hit, and as the onus is on the ‘tagged’ to own up and take themselves out of the game. This necessitates enthusiasts playing with a strict honour code of trust, something that David and Tier One Aichi Airsoft Team considers extremely important.
“Foreigners can get a bit of a bad rep in Japan, and historically some Japanese Airsoft teams have been reluctant to compete against them. I like to think that we have gone some way towards changing that. We don’t mess about, we don’t go running around on ‘God mode’. We treat our opponents with respect, and behave with the same code of honour and discipline that I experienced in the forces.”
For someone not acquainted with the sport, this can come across as a little, well, intense. But according to David this is part of the fun, because it encourages the bond you create on the battlefield. While the bullets may just be biodegradable plastic, there is still a camaraderie, an espirit de corps that you won’t find on ‘civvy street’.
“On our team we have guys who are ex-US and ex-Pakistani military fighting side-by-side. That’s not something that would ordinarily happen in a real combat situation, but in Tier One Aichi Airsoft Team, they are ‘brothers’. That’s what we call each other, male or female, we make no distinction. I know it sounds a little cultish, but as soon as we are in the field, that’s what we are: brothers.”
So, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, with Tier One Aichi Airsoft Team you can get in shape, shoot some shit up, and make some great friends.
No, scrap that. You can find your brothers.