In Appreciation of the Nadeshiko

July 22nd, 2011By Category: Events

In the Land of the Rising Son, it was the rising daughters who came through and stole—and rescued—our hearts. With kickoff occurring just head of 4 a.m. in Japan, the daughters even began their rise before the sun’s. For any Japanese who insisted on a full night’s sleep, surely they were awake and energized by the onset of extra time. One wonders if the local cellular network faced overload as a flurry of wake-up texts and calls race across the archipelago as the game reached its thrilling denouement.

Call it wa, call it fighting spirit, call it whatever you want—the Nadeshiko displayed the kind of pluck and resolve that all Japanese have shown these past few months.

Twice the stadium shook in Frankfurt as the Americans took the lead, and twice the Japanese clawed their way back. And the loudest roar erupted when Saki Kumagai kicked home the penalty winner.

Heart wrenching and gut turning though the match may have been, it couldn’t have played out any other way for a Japan side that often saved its best efforts for the very end of its victories. In fact, the U.S. could have—and should have—scored at least three goals in the first half and cruised to imminent victory. But it didn’t. Whether it was Japan’s destiny, karmic intervention, or just plain bad luck for the Americans, the score held at the half.

What ensued was a sensational 75 minutes of football packed with four breath-taking goals. Teams trailing in the 80th minute of a World Cup final aren’t supposed to find themselves in extra time. Teams trailing in the 117th minute of a World Cup final aren’t supposed to find themselves in a penalty shootout. But it happened.

And don’t go accusing the Americans of choking. Yes, one might argue they did—but that’s the easy way out. The American’s didn’t blow it; the Japanese won it. The magic the American squad mustered against Brazil changed jerseys Sunday night in Germany. Destiny gave birth to a new child.

As I end the column, it’s time to find meaning in the game. Of course the accomplishment of winning the World Cup stands on its own merit. But as everyone knows, this game meant—and means, and will mean—so, so much more in Japan than anywhere else. Here in the United States, our girls lost and we flicked off the TV and headed to the beach, or our gardens, or the mall. Life goes on the same as if Team USA had won. There would have been nothing seminal or symbolic with a U.S. win. That happened in 1999, when women’s soccer finally achieved a lasting foothold in this country and was thus freed to expand across the globe.

This victory by Japan is infinitely bigger and infinitely more important. It’s about hope—restoring it, bolstering it, and giving it a future. It’s also about more than hope. This victory shows what a collective will and spirit can accomplish. Hopes and dreams only get you so far. The 21 women of the Japanese team and their staff buried their heads and got to work rebuilding their country the best and only way they knew how.

In the end, they notched the first victory in Japan’s long and arduous march back to the world stage.

Photo: Thewomensgame / Wikimedia

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Author of this article

Mark Hersberger

The “View from the West” column takes a light-hearted examination of all things Japanese through the prism of current events, pop culture, movies, books, and any other Japan-centric content Western audiences may come across. Mark Hersberger is an active Japan commentator and author of the mystery novel Tokyo Lives (see 'Website' link).

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