Fujie Eguchi, one of Japan’s finest, passes away

Fujie Eguchi in 2015 (Photo: World Table Tennis)

The oldest living world champion, Japan’s Fujie Eguchi passed away on Friday 28th May.

Born on Friday 18th November 1932 in Nagasaki Prefecture, Fujie Eguchi moved to Osaka at the age of seven. She went to Higashisenba High School, where when 13 years old she started to play table tennis, before entering Osaka Pharmaceutical University.

Petite, pen-hold grip using one side of the racket only, alongside the likes of colleagues Tomie Okawa, Kiiko Watanabe and Kimiyo Matsuzaki, she was instrumental in setting a new trend in the sport of table tennis; speed both with movement and technical skills hallmarks of their play.

Prior to her appearance, defensive skills, combined with sporadic attacking strokes were very much the female style, Romania’s Angelica Rozeanu, the supreme model.

Against such play Fujie Eguchi, using predominantly a backhand service technique followed with relentless forehand attacking strokes was most effective; a tactic possible as the speed of the returns in those days, owing the racket surfaces, slower than in the present era. Fast close to the table counter attacking play was for the future.

Fujie Eguchi had time to execute relentless forehand attacking strokes, notably using a short pimpled racket covering with no sponge, as opposed to her colleagues who preferred the sponge covered surface.

In 1954 she won the women’s singles title at the German Open, in 1957 the English Open, before in 1959 regaining her English Open title as well as winning in France. Additionally she emerged successful at the All Japan Championships in both 1954 and 1956.

Outside Buckingham Palace in 1954 prior to the World Championships in Wembley: (left to right) Kiyotaro Hasegawa, Koji Goto, Hideko Goto, Kiiko Watanabe, Ichiro Ogimura, Fujie Eguchi, Yoshika Tanaka (Photo: World Table Tennis)

However, it is at the World Championships where she enjoyed her greatest success; the pinnacle being in 1957 in Stockholm, when by the very narrowest of margins, she secured the women’s singles title at the expense of England’s Ann Haydon. In the final game, Ann Haydon led 19-16; Fujie Eguchi was relentless, played error free to win the next five points (21-14, 24-22, 19-21, 21-23, 21-19). Later Ann Haydon, known by her married name, Ann Jones, turned her attention to tennis; she won both the French Open and Wimbledon.

A total of five appearances at the World Championships, always returning with at least two medals, overall the record read: six gold, five bronze, five silver.

  • 1954 Stockholm – WS bronze, WD bronze (Kiiko Watanabe), XD silver (Yoshio Tomita), WT gold (Hideko Goto, Yoshika Tanaka, Kiiko Watanabe)
  • 1955 Utrecht – WD bronze (Kiiko Watanabe), WT silver (Shizuki Narahara, Yoshika Tanaka, Kiiko Watanabe)
  • 1956 Tokyo – WS bronze, WD silver (Kiiko Watanabe), WT bronze (Tomie Okawa, Yoshiko Tanaka, Kiiko Watanabe)
  • 1957 Stockholm – WS gold, XD gold (Ichiro Ogimura), WT gold (Taeko Namba, Tomie Okawa, Kiiko Watanabe)
  • 1959 Dortmund – WS silver, WD silver (Kimiyo Matsuzaki), XD gold (Ichiro Ogimura), WT gold (Kimiyo Matsuzaki, Taeko Namba, Kazuko Yamaizumi)

In 1958 Fujie Eguchi married Yoshio Tomita, the player with whom she won the mixed doubles in 1954 in Stockholm; in total he won eight medals at the World Championships but could not match his wife. Respectfully, he changed his name to Yoshio Eguchi! They had three children.

Partnering Ichiro Ogimura at the Stockholm 1957 World Championships (Photo: World Table Tennis)

Later she was a member of the organising committee for the 2001 World Championships in Osaka.

More recently, only weeks before her death, Fujie Eguchi was asked her memories of Angelica Rozeanu, in October we celebrate 100 years of her birth. She highlighted the fact that in the women’s team event in Stockholm her win over the Romanian was one of the very best memories of her career.

A memory and a sense of humour, she added: “there is a saying, beautiful women die young!”

Now, spoken by Fujie Eguchi we should heed the phrase, following her retirement from the playing arena, she managed the Maruzen Beauty Parlour and defied the phrase, she was 88 years of age when she died.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, she graced the table tennis arenas of the world in a most attractive and eye-catching manner; Fujie Eguchi rest in peace


Ann Haydon & Fujie Eguchi following 1957 World Championships final (Photo: Table Tennis Legends)