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Japanese Team Heads for America's Cup

November 11, 1999

Japan is in the midst of its third challenge toward the America's Cup, the world's largest yacht racing tournament, which took off for the thirtieth time at Auckland, New Zealand, in October 1999. Having been defeated in the semifinal round in both 1992 and 1995, this time the Japanese team is determined to advance its sails to the finals with the help of the latest technologies, carrying with it Japan's pride as a maritime nation.

Silver Cup of Fame
The America's Cup goes back to 1851, when a U.S. schooner named America won a race in Britain, receiving a cup of pure silver to mark the victory. The cup was then taken back to the United States and has been known ever since as the America's Cup.

In the contest the current cup holder hosts a challenge from another team. Including the preliminary rounds, races to determine the cup's destiny go on for nearly five months. The United States won the first 24 contests until the Australian team stripped it of the cup at the twenty-fifth tournament in 1983. The U.S. team regained the cup at the next contest, but at the twenty-ninth event New Zealand came out victorious, bringing the thirtieth contest once again to this side of the Pacific.

Buddhist Deities
The Japanese team, aptly named the Nippon Challenge, is currently taking part in the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Races for the America's Cup, being fought among 15 teams from 10 countries. In 1995 the racing syndicate raised 6 billion yen (57 million U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) from sponsors, but because of Japan's economic slump the funds in 1999 plummeted to only 3.3 billion yen (31 million dollars). Still, the two new yachts unveiled at the launching ceremony in July 1999 are the team's pride, endowed with Japan's latest technological achievements.

The two yachts are sail number JPN 44, nicknamed Asura, and JPN 52, called Idaten. Both measure 24 meters (79 feet) from head to tail and 4.5 meters (15 feet) in maximum width, and their masts are 35 meters (115 feet) tall. Asura--named after a deity known in Buddhism both as a belligerent devil and as a guardian god--is designed for high-power performance under strong winds, while Idaten--the Japanese name for the Buddhist deity Skanda, best known in Japan as a fast runner--is made to glide fast in gentle winds.

A technical team led by professor Hideaki Miyata of the University of Tokyo designed the yachts. They first analyzed three years' worth of data on the winds off the Auckland coast and 55 years' worth of the area's meteorological data, then made full use of such technologies as computer graphics to create the designs. They chose lightweight materials, including carbon fiber, thus shaving several hundred kilograms from previous models, while at the same time doubling the yachts' strength. The most impressive feature of Asura and Idaten, though, is the fiber-optic network reaching all corners of their bodies. The network forms the core of a system that detects damages suffered during the race, enabling crew members to make swift repairs and prevent accidents.

The Japanese team's skipper steering these state-of-the-art yachts is Peter Gilmour, an Australian who ranks number one in match racing (a type of yachting event). He was recruited two years ago and moved to Japan with his family to join the team. The crew led by Gilmour includes former rugby and American football players to counter the larger and stronger physiques of Western crew members.

The second round of the challenger races for the America's Cup is scheduled to last from November 6 to December 1, 1999.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.