Japanese-raised Shigeyama sprints through injury


Freshman sprinter Aki Shigeyama runs on Wilson’s Field track during a practice. Photo by Grant Sewell

In 2012, Aki Shigeyama’s sister left Minoh City, Japan, for Chapman. Five years later, he followed his sister’s path to Chapman.

But moving to California wasn’t a complete shock – Shigeyama visited relatives in Northern California at least once a year before coming to Chapman.

Shigeyama, a business –administration major, was interested in many of the schools in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The University of La Verne, the University of Redlands and Whittier College were some of his top choices.

A runner in the 200 and 400-meter sprint events, Shigeyama had never run track until six months ago, although he had played both volleyball and basketball at Osaka International School in Japan.

“I didn’t know anything about track until I came here,” he said. “I like to believe I am pretty athletic, so I decided to join.”

Shigeyama has been fighting injuries for most of the season, but says he has no intentions of quitting.

“It all started around the beginning of January when I began training – I had a minor strain in my left hamstring,” he said. “Since the season was about to begin, it was hard to balance resting (my hamstring), but also preparing my body to compete.”

In high school, sports weren’t Shigeyama’s only extracurricular activities – he was a part of the Sannoh Children’s Center, an organization located in Osaka, Japan that helped homeless people.

Shigeyama was involved in monthly meetings for two years.

“We got together every month and made rice balls, gathered daily supplies – like razors, heat packs, socks, and tissues,” Shigeyama said. “Then we would break up into groups of six or seven and walk around the city distributing these items.”

The experience gave Shigeyama a chance to “stop, reflect and appreciate.”

Shigeyama’s mother is from California and his father is from Japan. He said the culture in Japan is different from the U.S. – Japanese people don’t want to stand out.

“The people in Japan are very polite,” Shigeyama said. “They’re hesitant to speak their mind in most situations. This can be good and bad, depending on the situation.”

But people in the U.S are not afraid to speak up, Shigeyama said.

“Culturally, Japan and the U.S are polar opposites. But that’s why I think playing sports is special, because when it comes to competing, culture doesn’t matter,” Shigeyama said. “I have met a lot of really cool people and they make me enjoy the sport even more.”

Shigeyama has played team sports his entire life, but with track, individuality comes into focus.

“I really enjoy the competitive side of an individual sport. You aren’t able to rely on anyone else when running,” he said. “There are bad parts to that though because you can only blame yourself.”

Shigeyama plans to continue to run track for his remaining three years at Chapman.

Teammates Cade Becker and Kyle Brown said Shigeyama brings a positive attitude to the team.

“Aki is such a nice and funny guy. He always has a lot of energy on and off the track,” Becker said. “He has done an incredible job with track, especially because he never did it prior to Chapman.”