A switch was flicked when Japanese volleyball guest team Kurashiki Ablaze delivered this pivotal moment in the 2023 PVL Invitational Conference against powerhouse team Creamline Cool Smashers.
Tamaru Asaka delivered a service ace to seal Kurashiki's undefeated run in the tournament. She later went on to win the Best Outside Spiker award.
Ablaze's performance turned out to be the spark the Akari Chargers needed to change things up.
"Lalo mo na-affirm na, 'Sige, let's try the Japanese way,'" Akari team manager Mozzy Ravena shared to One Sports.
"Si Kurashiki talaga, isa lang malaki and yet they were able to beat Creamline. Pero ang bibilis nila! So ang galing galing, it really opened our eyes."
At the time, Akari tapped a Brazilian coach in Jorge Souza de Brito to helm the Chargers.
Foreign coaches are nothing new to the local volleyball scene, as Thai tactician Tai Bundit helped give the Ateneo Blue Eagles women's volleyball team multiple titles in the UAAP.
But the young Akari team had pretty young players and the management wanted the Chargers to dip their toes in during the 2022 PVL Reinforced Conference before heading to a full year of volleyball.
De Brito was available, as the coach of the Philippine women's national volleyball team.
"We wanted to balance [the young team] by getting a coach to teach them well," Ravena said. "[De Brito] was willing, mahilig magturo."
After a year and a half, Akari was mulling to form another team, wondering in which direction they would go.
They were directed north, to Japan.
The Chargers management even went to Kurashiki but found coach Takayuki Minowa to be an appealing choice.
"Kasi he's also young. Feeling namin magbe-blend kasi half ng team galing Akari. So alam na namin, okay siya sa young ones," Ravena explained. "Baka makaka-blend, communicate better."
She actually asked permission from Taka's wife Jaja Santiago when they all had dinner.
"Syempre because they're a young couple. I had to ask Jaja, 'okay lang ba?'" Ravena recounted.
"The biggest part of why we also got him is also that willingness to teach and share his knowledge."
And Jaja was willing. She encouraged him, actually.
[ALSO READ: Taka Minowa comes clean on Jaja Santiago's role in PVL move, life as Nxled coach]
That move worked wonders as rookie team Nxled Chameleons finished ninth in a 12-team field with a 4-7 record.
Jho Maraguinot found resurgence in a neon green jersey, along with Krich Macaslang, Camille Victoria, and May Luna.
It got so successful that Minowa was tapped to become the volleyball director for both Nxled and Akari.
Next thing they knew, the young Farm Fresh Foxies tapped Kurashiki coach Hideo Suzuki as consultant.
They also had a Japanese consultant in Master Shimizu.
The Petro Gazz Angels joined in the fun by hiring Koji Tsuzurabara.
It's not just in the professional level.
The UST Growling Tigresses also got valuable training in Suzuki's facilities in Kurashiki.
While the NU Bulldogs continue the tradition of training in Japan.
The Japanese system is getting well and truly ingrained in the Philippine volleyball scene.
Why the Japanese system?
It was a choice between Thailand and Japan for Akari.
"Kasi mabilis, maliksi. Gusto mo 'yung discipline," Ravena explained.
With the Japan men's team winning one Olympic gold medal and 10 Asian Championships, while the women's team nabbed two Olympic golds and three World Championships, there really wasn't much of a choice.
"'Yung innovation, 'yung development. Siguro gusto lang natin kumuha a part of it, kahit konti," Ravena explained, smiling.
Farm Fresh Foxies coach Jerry Yee sees a simple explanation.
"Personally, mas malapit 'yung ganung system sa physique natin," Yee told One Sports in a separate interview.
"They play with speed, accuracy. 'Di sila masyadong height, power-reliant. Same sa physique natin," he observed.
But the similarities stayed there.
"Ibang-iba disiplina nila, malayong-malayo... In my humble opinion lang 'yun, pero sa tingin ko mas bagay sa Asian coaches kasi they understand Asian physique."
Japanese volleyball, in their words
For the uninitiated and the unskilled, what is the Japanese system exactly? What is Japanese volleyball?
These coaches and players share their takeaways.
"Unang una, 'yung kultura sa paglalaro. 'Yung competitiveness ba? Mas na-broaden ako na 'ahh, ganito pala dapat,'" Galeries Tower Highrisers coach Lerma Giron told One Sports.
The Japanese volleyball culture isn't new to Giron, since she has assistant coach Godfrey Okumu.
"Floor defense," emphasized Akari interim coach Raffy Mosuela, who used to play libero himself. "Merong mga idea si coach Taka na nakikita namin sa training na hindi na mahirap [mag]adjust. Kasi floor defense system, may knowledge ako kaya okay. 'Yung may konting kino-correct."
"More on that movement na lang ng team, kung paano ibalanse 'yung tao mo sa movement na ganito, every situation," shared Cignal HD Spikers coach Shaq delos Santos, who was part of the UST team which went to Kurashiki.
"Not only sa players. Nag-observe din sa coaches, pinapanood trainers nila. Sobrang okay 'yung techniques and tactics, 'di lang basta... I'm sure 'di naman siya ganun kadaling gawin, siguro diskarte as a coach kung paano i-apply," he added.
For the players, it was all about basics, basics, basics.
"'Di naman mahirap intindihin. Mas sa basic siya nagfo-focus," noted Farm Fresh captain and setter Louie Romero. "In terms of skills, sa blocking."
"Sobrang hands on niya po sa lahat ng aspects. Kahit sa onting move mo ng ganyan, nakikita niya lahat," Farm Fresh spiker Trisha Tubu said of Master Shimizu.
He seemed intimidating at first, as Kate Santiago called the training "intense."
"Sobrang jolly niya po kasi. 'Di siya like ibang coaches na seryoso, papagalitan ka. Kunwaring magagalit, sisigaw, tapos tatawa, pagti-tripan ka. 'Di mahirap sumunod sa kanya. Susunod ka kasi gusto masaya ka, 'di ka paglalaitan, ta-tiyagain ka niya," Tubu recounted.
The language barrier, at times, actually helped.
"'Pag 'di namin gets, alam na niya kasi 'di kami sumasagot, iaa-action na niya," she explained.
[READ MORE: Feisty Foxies: Trisha Tubu, Caitlin Viray embrace healthy competition at Farm Fresh]
"I never practice [to] lose," Master Shimizu said in an interview with reporters after practice. "I teach them to go champion. I cannot say second, I do not have experience. I cannot do practice [to] lose."
For Jema Galanza of the Creamline Cool Smashers, watching a game in Japan was an eye-opening experience.
"Napansin ko sa Japan system, number one sa depensa," she told One Sports after training. "Depensa talaga. 'Yung bilis din ng palo, saka 'yung technique nila kung paano sila pumalo."
Bryan Bagunas, the powerhouse spiker of the Philippine men's national volleyball team, had to agree after his stint with Oita Miyoshi in Japan.
"'Yung basic nasa kanila. From the start, nasisimulan sa basic para ma-polish nila 'yung skills," he said in an interview with Pilipinas Live's Starting Lineup.
"'Yung Philippines, medyo naaadapt na nila 'yung Japanese style kasi 'yung coaches, lalo 'yung galing sa university, dinadala 'yung players sa Japan para magtraining camp."
[ALSO READ: Cignal recruit Bryan Bagunas bares selfless reason for Philippine return]
The Petro Gazz Angels only had a few days with Japanese coach Koji Tsuzurabara, but discipline was quickly installed right on the first day.
"Strict siya sa time, sobra. Saka naka-programa 'yung gusto niyang mangyari," new captain Remy Palma recounted to One Sports.
"Nakakatawa siya kasi parang bago sa amin yung experience na ganun," she said. "May kaakibat na discipline. Sinisimulan sa maliit na bagay. 'Dun naman nagsisimula eh, small things na nag-aaccumulate."
"Siguro that's the Japanese culture na gusto niya ipa-implement dito, which is a good thing kasi part of the discipline. Tinuturuan niya kaming maging disiplinado," Rem added.
"Ang sarap sa feeling. Kunwari, feeling ko, akala ko eto na 'yung skill ko na pwede kong matutunan," she said, motioning her hand near her head. "Pero hinde, may mag-a-add up pa pala. Madadagdagan 'yung alam ko."
"'Yun 'yung nafi-feel ko kay Coach Koji. 'Di ka pwedeng mag-stop mag-learn. Every day is a learning day."
[ALSO READ: PVL: How a full volleyball arena led Koji Tsuzurabara to Petro Gazz]
Recruit Brooke van Sickle echoed the sentiment.
"He wants us to use our minds, because volleyball is a very situational game," she shared to One Sports. "He wants us to use our brains and develop a higher IQ as volleyball players."
[ALSO READ: PVL: How Kalei Mau, Lindsey Vander Weide led Brooke Van Sickle to Petro Gazz]
"Everyone expects me to do Japanese style. My basics are not Japanese style, but my own original style," Tsuzurabara explained to One Sports.
"I don't like basic book. I like other volleyball, original volleyball," he added.
It paid off. They won the PNVF Champions League on Saturday.
What does this mean for local coaches?
There is a school of thought that the entry of foreign coaches in the professional league means a reduced opportunity for local tacticians.
Delos Santos sees it as a challenge for local teams.
"Kailangan ma-prove sa sarili namin na kaya naming gawin. I think pwedeng manalo or pwedeng mas okay kung makaka-experience nang 'di maganda, observe and laban lang ng laban. Aral lang ng aral," he said.
"Good thing lang na napapasok ng Japanese coaches. Alam natin kung ano 'yung kaya nilang gawin, but it doesn't mean na magpapabaya kami. Ako mas sisipagan ko, mas tatrabahuhin ko na mapaganda 'yung takbo ng team."
Mosuela shares the same sentiment.
"Medyo nagkakaroon kami ng additional idea. 'Yung technology, napapasama. Actually ako on my side, nakita ko na oo nga, ganda 'yun ah. Dun, naa-amaze kami," he said.
"You have to remember, si coach Tai nung una, pero eventually nag-level up din lahat ng coaches. Ganun lang 'yun," Ravena said.
She explained how coaches don't have the opportunity to fly abroad to learn because of the tight schedule. So having Japanese coaches here to compete with them is another form of exposure.
Suzuki, the Ablaze coach who was invited to compete in the Invitational Conference, has in turn invited professional and volleyball teams to train in his facilities.
"I think gusto niya rin ng exchange of knowledge," Ravena shared.
"Sobrang happy ako for everyone kasi dapat naman 'di lang dapat players 'yung gumagaling. Coaches natin, statisticians, everyone around volleyball," she said. "Kailangan tumataas tayo palagi."
"We owe it to the fans. Tayo rin nagle-level up inside the community."