In June 2002, throughout the islands of Japan, all eyes will be on soccer. Around the globe, fans will tune in more than 33 billion times to the World Cup being co-hosted by Japan and Korea. Night and day, soccer will be the main topic on TV and the radio, in newspapers and magazines, and on the Web. There's no doubt it will be an exciting, boisterous, festive time.
But the legacy of the World Cup should not end up being just memories of a noisy festival and a spectacular sporting event.
Japan is among the world's top nations in terms of industry and GNP, and has a long history that has left us many cultural assets. But frankly, in terms of sports, Japan still isn't among the top.
For all of Japan's affluence, our Olympic medals are few and far between. The country has many stadiums, gymnasiums and other sporting facilities ideal for international competitions and national sports meets. But how about for ordinary people, who want to enjoy a game at a sports club in their spare time? How about children, who want to do their own thing in wide-open, grassy spaces? For them, the sporting environment is very poor indeed.
This is because sports in Japan have evolved in two ways--physical education in schools, and games sponsored by companies.
Modern sports were one aspect of western culture introduced to Japan in the second half of the 19th century. The first to adopt western sports were universities, and schools where future teachers were given instruction in the new sports. Sports were practiced mostly as physical education, and this led to the assumption that sports were something you did in school, and that after you left school, you would leave sports behind as well.
After World War II, a growing number of graduates wanted to keep participating in sports. They were attracted to large corporations, which used some of the profits earned during boom times to establish in-house sports clubs. Company teams would compete against each other, and it was soon realized that the best players were an excellent advertisement for their company. Before long, corporate sports programs were training Japan's best athletes.
The sport that attracted more and more attention after the war was professional baseball. Corporate sponsors used it as an advertising and promotional tool, and in the end pro baseball developed into a kind of corporate sport. In this way, sports in Japan developed into an activity to be taught at school or played as a company-related sport, not as something members of a community enjoyed at local sporting facilities, as they did in the West.