Tokyo, 5 June – The Japanese Women’s national football team are enjoying a golden era. Sitting pretty atop the world since 2011, they went on to narrowly miss out on the 2012 London Olympics gold, but bounced back to win the last edition of the Asian prize in 2014. Nicknamed Nadeshiko Japan, the former a Japanese variety of the carnation and a synonym for reserved resilience in Japanese women, the team have had a few wobbles in their run-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup starting tomorrow. Off the pitch, preparations to consolidate themselves at the top of the game have already gained ground in Japan.
My interest in football and children’s content drew me to this book a few months back, waiting quietly amidst the Doraemon corner of a bookstore. (Take a quick peek inside at: http://sample.shogakukan.co.jp/bv?isbn=9784092538573)
Pulling it out of the pile, straightaway the words on the cover struck me – for girls and boys alike! The order was clear, the target pretty high. Doraemon fans would be quick to realize that Shizuka has some innate sporting ability (when she did a body swap with Nobita and played a blinder in a baseball game), but the book goes beyond that by bringing in a new girl classmate. And guess what, that girl is an expert in football.
The book brings the usual suspects through a journey of learning the basics, from passing, heading, trapping and dribbling littered with rather blunt jokes by the willing cast. Besides the story, the book doubles, or rather it’s primary purpose is, as a quick intro to the rules of the game. It goes further, describing mini-games and drills to do with friends or alone. Moving through awareness of team mates and passing to tackling dribbling in the latter pages, the editors obviously recognize the difficulty and skill involved to maintain reader interest as she/he developed. A Shizuka-chan mini-series runs inside too, where she goes through some exercises to familiarize with the ball. The target can’t be any more clearer, and as a parent that would gladly take his children to a game, the idea certainly sold very quickly.
In my everyday routine, I’ve noticed many children’s football teams in Japan, and all-girl teams are not uncommon. The supervisors of this book, the Japan Football Association, obviously recognizes that for girls to develop their game, they have to play with their friends, and that often means playing among the boys, as did Homare Sawa, Japan’s most capped women’s player.
She’s no longer the captain, but still a highly influential figure on and off the pitch. The Japanese team is simply a joy to watch. They pass, link up and use the occasional dribble and feint to create and find space for team mates to capitalize. Not the most physical team around, their work and organization as a team are excellent. However, their recent string of successes seems to created some pressure, but the media have been very supportive, unlike their often scathing coverage of the men’s team. With such warm support and a book like this to help unearth and nurture new generations, I sure hope we get to enjoy this brand of football at the highest level in years to come!
(Doraemon Fun Sports Guides – Enjoy Soccer)
Shogakukan, Dec. 2013, 850 yen + tax