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Making Friends Through Football
Spring and summer vacations are special times for school kids in the cities of Shimizu in Japan and Sungnam in South Korea--and not just because they don't have any school. Those are the times when teams of youngsters from the two cities play football (soccer) against each other to promote friendly ties and to improve the skills of the players.
Both cities are well-known for their love of football. Each year since 1984, a team of young players from Shimizu has been traveling to South Korea for goodwill matches in March, and over summer vacation, a team from Sungnam has been visiting Japan. Through this exchange, the players have learned a lot not only about football but about the country right next door, especially by seeing how their host families live. Organizers say the matches have been very meaningful in promoting friendlier ties between the two countries.
Last March members of Shimizu FC, a boy's football team in Shimizu, visited Sungnam between March 21 and 24 for three matches against two local teams. The games ended in two draws and one loss for Shimizu FC.
One member of the Japanese team said he was amazed at the speed, tenacious play, and powerful kicks of the South Korean players. Another said he was feeling down because he missed a number of scoring chances but was cheered up by several South Korean students who called him a really good player.
During the visit, the Japanese children stayed with South Korean families. "The host family was very kind to me, and a South Korean boy gave me neat presents," one player recalled.
"I made a really good South Korean friend during the visit," another boy said.
"When we grow up, I hope we can both become members of our national teams so we can play against each other again."
The city of Shimizu is located in Shizuoka Prefecture and faces the Pacific Ocean. It has a population of 240,000, one out of every eight of whom is said to be a member of a local football team. It has one professional team, Shimizu S-Pulse.
In 1967, the city created the first junior football league in the country. The league has made a big contribution to raising the skills of young football players in Japan.
Shimizu FC was founded around that time, and its members consist of the best young players from nearby elementary schools. The team has played against local youngsters in many countries around the world, including South Korea, Europe, and Brazil. A number of Shimizu FC players have even gone on to play for Japan's national squad!
Photos: (Top) A South Korean player (left) tries to keep the ball away from a Shimizu FC defender; (middle) players from the two sides get together for a photo; (bottom) an essay written by a Japanese student about his overseas experience. (Shimizu Football Association)