Members of the Naha Masters volleyball team, which has an average age of 75, practice without fail every Thursday. (Sei Ito)

NAHA--There's no age limit for a men's volleyball team here, which consists of players with an average age of 75.

Two are even in their 80s.

Kinsuke Nakazato is the team's oldest player at 83. He evacuated to the Kyushu region during the Battle of Okinawa, and returned to the prefecture after World War II.

He and attacker Choshin Fukuhara, 82, a former firefighter, joined the Naha Masters just after the team started. That was 40 years ago.

No, they can’t jump high and yes, they have less stamina than they would like, but they never miss their once-a-week practice and even compete in games.

The players say what keeps them off the couch and in the game is the knowledge that their current good health isn't to be taken for granted.

They feel they've got to keep going to survive.

Every Thursday, the Masters can be found sweating through practice in a junior high school gym.

One evening in mid-June, female relatives and junior high school students joined the team to play an intrasquad game. The mood in the gym was cheerful as players repeatedly shouted words of support to each other like "Nice cover” and “Don’t worry about it."

Nakazato was in the front row of the nine-member team. The 171.5 centimeter-tall attacker is an ex-elementary school principal and weighs 70 kilograms.

He didn't make any big jumps, but he bashed the ball back to the opponent’s court multiple times, and slapped hands with his teammates with a smile on his face.

He was a young teacher just beginning his career when the team’s first leader invited him to join.

“When you get old, you tend to stay home,” Nakazato said, before presenting his pet theory: “But health won’t come from heaven. It’s something you must build yourself.”

He sticks to a daily routine of waking up at 5 a.m. to cook and do the washing before doing farming chores for two hours. Then when night falls, he goes out for a 30-minute stroll.

After the game's first set, Nakazato switched to practicing his attacking skills, breaking only to knock back quick sips of water.

“Nine players band together to chase one ball. Volleyball's charm is that you support each other even if you mess up. When I can’t come to practice, I feel like I got ripped off,” Nakazato said with a smile.

His teammate Fukuhara had zero experience in the sport when he first joined after accepting a friend's invitation.

“Even if I feel sick or exhausted, I feel excited at the thought of going to practice, and I get better when I come,” he said.

Though Fukuhara said he feels his strength is declining, he also practices playing soft volleyball, a variation of the sport played with a larger rubber volleyball, twice a week.

According to Soichi Ura, 75, head of the team, its 15 members range in age from 65 to 83. There's no age limit to join the squad.

The team participates in tournaments six times a year. The players are no match for other teams at national-level tournaments since their opponents are in their 60s at the oldest. But it's the Naha Masters' motto to enjoy playing the sport just for their health, win or lose.

Susumu Aharen, 79, head of an Okinawa Prefecture-based group promoting volleyball for senior citizens, said that the southernmost prefecture is a leading area for volleyball played by old men.

Only a few volleyball teams in Japan have players with an average age of at least 71.

“I feel refreshed both mentally and physically after practice,” Nakazato said. “Based on how I feel about my body right now, I think I can keep playing for another four to five years.”

Ura said the team's two oldest players have inspired him improve his skills, adding: “Normally, people in their 80s can’t move like them. They're our role models.”