Manila, Philippines – They may live thousands of miles apart, but Japanese coach Nxled Taka Minowa and volleyball player Jaja Santiago are finding different ways to make their long-distance relationship easier.
From getting a dog to constant phone calls, the volleyball couple tries to enjoy life away from each other, with Minowa working as a Premier Volleyball League (PVL) coach in Manila and Santiago, shining as an import in Japan’s V.League, her husband’s home country.
Minowa said Santiago recently gave him a dog they named Ahava, which means love, and the new pet helped the 32-year-old trainer find solace away from his hometown and wife.
“Now I have a dog. Jaja bought me a dog. And I’m very happy to see it. I was hanging out with my dog,” Minowa told Inquirer Sports after leading Nxled to its first winning streak at the second All-Filipino PVL conference held at the FilOil EcoOil Center on Thursday.
Minowa and Jaja met when the former was an assistant coach of Saitama Ageo Medics, Santiago’s first team in the Japanese league.
It’s natural that their conversations often revolve around volleyball, but they also often talk about their cultures – Santiago is playing his sixth season in Japan with a new team, and Minowa is still getting used to Filipino culture as a first-time coach here.
“After [our] practice, and also Jaja’s practice, we always call each other on FaceTime. We always talk. Sometimes, when she’s sleeping, I’m already working, but we always stay in touch. When she always asks a question. I will answer them, but I also have a lot of questions because I don’t know Filipino culture. I always ask her about it,” Minowa said.
Minowa, the coaching staff of the Japanese women’s volleyball team, said Santiago was respectful and easy to connect with – one of the many reasons he fell in love with the Filipino center block.
“As a player, I always respect the coaching staff and teammates. That’s why every band in Japan is having fun. He also learns quickly,” he said.
Home away from home
A month after her stay in Manila, Minowa is already getting used to the Filipino culture. He said that he has already learned how to cook sinigang – a staple of Filipino cuisine.
It also helps that Minowa has family here along with Jaja.
“I already know how to cook sinigang. Sinigang, nilaga and monggo are my favorite food here,” he said. – I have family here too. I don’t feel like a foreigner here because I meet some family who always help me. That’s why I felt that this was actually my homeland.”
Apart from the Filipino culture, the Japanese tactician enjoys competing in the PVL.
“I think you have more potential than Japan. You have powerful strikers and taller players and they are very good. It’s nice to see players in the PVL,” Minowa said.