I’m not just rooting for the Japanese national women’s soccer team to win the Olympic gold medal on Thursday because it would make up for the discrimination they faced in their seating arrangements on the airplane ride to London (although, that’s a pretty decent motivator). And I’m not just cheering them on because of the adage that you always support the home team, and because Japan is my home at the present time. No, I really want Nadeshiko Japan to defeat the U.S. team because of impact and positive message I hope the victory would have on Japanese women and the society as a whole.
First off, I must confess that I’m not a huge soccer fan or even a big follower of sports, but I do really enjoy watching the different nations compete at the Olympics, and seeing which sports a country excels at and which they don’t. And I think the spirit and national pride that certain victories stir up is important. That’s part of what I enjoy about seeing the Japanese support their athletes at the Games, the way they cheer for each event and hope the athletes do their best.
Last year, when Nadeshiko Japan won the Women’s World Cup in Germany, I saw the way the nation was ecstatic at the victory and the accomplishment of the Japanese team in defeating the Americans. When the players arrived stepped off the airplane in Tokyo, they were the most celebrated people in the country that day, walking into a zoo of photographers and media all trying to get a glimpse or a few words from the world champions or team captain Homare Sawa, who was also crowned the World Women’s Player of the Year.
If Japan defeats the U.S. women’s team in their rematch, and they win Olympic gold, they will be the first team in history to hold both that and the World Cup title at the same time. I think if that happens, the celebration at home will be ten times more grand than last year. And I also hope it will a more positive portrayal of women.
We’ve taken a look before at the limited choices in lifestyle most women in Japan face. There is a strong social pressure for women to marry young, have children, and give up any possibility of a career in order to stay home and raise the family. But the Nadeshiko Japan players have broken that mold entirely. They range in age from their young 20s to well into their 30s, and playing for the national team is their sole dedication. Homare Sawa is 33 years old, and the London Games are her fourth time at the Olympics. She was once engaged to an American man, but decided to end the relationship before they got married, in order to focus on her soccer career.
Unlike the players on the Japanese men’s team, most of the Nadeshiko women have no choice but to work low-paying or even part-time jobs on the side of their sports career, as they make little to no money from following their passions. This is because there are few companies that choose to sponsor the women’s team, whereas the men consistently sign contracts (this is how they were able to fly business class by the way, their sponsors ponied up the cash to get them into upgraded seating, not because of any discrimination on the part of the Japanese Olympic committee).
I think these two factors serve as prime example to the people of Japan, especially its younger women, that there is more to choose from than just the societal “standard,” that you don’t have to give up on your career or your passion. You can continue to work hard at something you love, and while it may be difficult, you can still reach unprecedented success (did I mention that the men’s soccer team has never made it into the quarter finals of the World Cup? Or that making it to the bronze medal deciding match in London this year is the farthest they’ve ever come in the Olympics?). I also hope it will drive home the point to the male-dominated Japanese society that women can just as strong and talented, or in this case, more so, than their male counterparts.