Far from home, Fujita feels at home in Romania
A short search can make your spine tingle. The distance between the Japanese city of Osaka and Baia Mare, the capital of the Maramureș county in Romania, is a little over 12,000 kilometres.
It would take more than 90 days to complete the trip by walking. Or over a day on a plane with all the stopovers.
But in the search of a true experience, of something new, CS Minaur Baia Mare’s right wing Asuka Fujita, did not back down when she was asked if she was interested to join a Romanian team.
The first-ever Japanese player to sign for a Romanian team, the 25-year-old diminutive right wing made the big step into the unknown and is now reaping the rewards.
Her team is second in the Romanian league and is the favourite in the EHF European League quarter-final against HC Dunarea Braila.
Both matches – this Saturday at 14:00 CET in Braila and next Saturday in Baia Mare – will be streamed live on EHFTV.
Fujita is the true prototype of a Japanese player – fast, technical, and eager to defend her side, no matter the costs. She only scored 10 goals in so far in the European League this season, yet has been one of the reasons why CS Minaur Baia Mare won group C.
“I did not know a lot about Romania, but I got used to life here, despite a lot of differences between my experiences here and in Japan,” Fujita told eurohandball.com.
“I think the landscapes are different, food is totally different, the culture is way different. Everything, in general, is much different here, in Romania, than in Japan.”
Baia Mare’s right wing was one of just three players from Japan’s 2019 World Championship squad who played abroad. Fellow right wing Ayaka Ikehara, who is now at Odense Håndbold and was the only Japanese player in the DELO EHF Champions League, and Besancon’s goalkeeper, Sakura Hauge, were the other two.
Motivated by their home court, Japan were 10th, their best finish in the last 44 years in the competition. The highlight was, however, their 37:20 drubbing of Romania, one of the worst defeats in history for the Romanian side. Fujita scored four times in that game and was eyed by CS Minaur Baia Mare.
“Handball is more popular in Romania than in Japan. A lot more popular. There are differences between the two teams, including height, strength and mentality. Romania are better than Japan in one-on-one challenges, but also shoot harder.”
“The fact that we played in Japan really helped us, boosted our morale. We had a tough game against Romania, but we won it by a comfortable margin. The tournament was great, we were really feeling good and we capped it off with a great win against a tough opponent, one of the best teams in Europe,” said Fujita.
It is so far away, and I miss my family a lot. Also, the food we have there… But if I am able to travel to Japan two times a year, it is perfect for me. I can recharge and I can come back stronger and even more motivated.
Baia Mare have been one of the favourites to win the European League since the beginning of the competition, boasting an experienced side, with key players from Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Ukraine, Brazil or Japan. Three continents are represented in Minaur’s team.
Communication is key in handball and Fujita has duly been helped to settle in by her teammates, including centre back Cristina Laslo, her roommate.
Laslo’s English skills are quite good and Fujita managed to learn bits and pieces, to facilitate her understanding with the other players.
But there will be no time for English lessons this week, as a Romanian derby against HC Dunarea Braila awaits. Yet Fujita is not fazed. In fact, this is not her first European experience, playing for former German champions BV Borussia 09 Dortmund between 2018 and 2020.
“I remember that we played against HC Zalau and SCM Craiova when I was at Dortmund, so I knew a little about Romanian handball. Of course, it will be a tough clash, but I came to Baia Mare to win trophies and this is what I am trying to do,” added the 25-year-old right wing.
With the Olympic Games looming this summer and Japan hosting the tournament once again, Fujita will be looking to hit her top form in the next months, when both Baia Mare and the national team of Japan will have crucial games.
But for now, the right wing is only thinking about her club team. Homesickness might be a symptom during the current health situation, but Minaur’s right wing has the remedy: winning trophies with her club. So far, Baia Mare have impressed both in the domestic league and in Europe, yet the challenge is big.
Apart from Baia Mare, there are still several powerhouses like Herning-Ikast Håndbold and Siófok KC in the competition.
“Since the pandemic started, I have been in Japan only once, last November. We had two beautiful weeks together, I stayed with my family, and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I cannot travel as much as I would want, due to the current health situation,” concluded Fujita.
“It is so far away, and I miss my family a lot. Also, the food we have there… But if I am able to travel to Japan two times a year, it is perfect for me. I can recharge and I can come back stronger and even more motivated.”