The Oriental Witches are probably the most famous Japanese sports team that you've never heard of. From humble beginnings these women started playing volleyball for their factory team. A few years later, they had a World Championship silver medal and were on an unbeaten European tour.
They captured the heart of the Japanese nation in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and thee entire country had pinned their hearts on them taking home the Olympic gold and sealing the Olympics that re-introduced Japan to the post-war world.
Episode 9 The Oriental Witches - The Greatest Team You_ve Ne...
Tue, 3/2 12:48PM • 57:23
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This week on Japan sports stories we're going to tell you one of the most famous sporting stories in Japan that you've probably never heard of. It's the story of a young farmer's daughter come cotton worker from Yamanashi, and how she and her factory co workers became the sporting icons of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. They embodied the national spirit of the era and their final against the USSR remains one of the most watched events in Japanese TV history. They not only changed the way volleyball was played, but changed women's sports in Japan forever. They're more commonly known as the Oriental witches. And to tell us this story, we are delighted to be joined by Dr. Helen McNaughton. Helen is the chair of the Japan Research Centre at SAS University of London, and she has been researching and publishing about the Oriental witches for a number of years now. Helen, thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
It's great to have you with us. Helen, thank you so much for giving up so much of your Thursday night. Tell us a little bit about your your academic role, what you do nine to five and how you came to be interested in Japan, Japanese studies and indeed the witches of the Orient.
Okay, sure. I wish it was a nine to five job, by the way. But anyway, I'm an academic, it's so asked University of London. So we are a higher education institution that is specialising in the learning, teaching and research of languages, cultures of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including, of course, Japan. So I'm located in the sort of business school, but for some years now, he said, I've been the chair of the Japan Research Centre, which draws together academics and students from across all the various science departments and disciplines who work in various fields of Japanese studies. And we run lots of seminars and activities and events, many of which you have both kindly attended over the years, although I'm in this sort of book. So as business schools so to speak, I am a broader Japanese studies academic, and my personal research interests have been mostly focused on women, gender and employment and work in Japan, but more recently, has led me into research projects on sport in Japan, including the stories and that's proving to be great fun, so I'm really enjoying sports projects at the moment.
Can you tell us a bit about your own sporting background? Have you been a sporty person before the research role?
Well, I fear you know you're going down a level after so many great athletes, athletes that you've had on this podcast. But um, I grew up in New Zealand, so I did play sport to sport is quite central to New Zealand life. Growing up in those days, particularly at school girls, were kind of channelled into netball and boys into rugby. Both of those, of course are still very popular sports there in New Zealand. I didn't enjoy netball. It helps if you're tall and I'm not. I did a bit of cross country running in school. I was in that team but I actually played badminton both at school and for clubs and in fact, I come from a badminton family. My grandparents played my parents met each other at the badminton club. My brother met his wife at the badminton club my cousin's played. So I played mainly socially but a little bit competitively as well from about the age of 910, right up until the end of university age 20. But at that point, after graduation, I left New Zealand and so I like to joke that I left New Zealand before I had to marry anybody from the badminton club, and I haven't played since.
What about the Japan connection? So when did you first gain an interest in Japan and Japanese studies?
I first went to Japan when I was 14 years old, on a school trip. That was in 1982 83. I think it was and this was very unusual. I mean, this was not your average school trip from New Zealand to Japan. But my high school was one of the first ones in New Zealand to start teaching Japanese as an as a language option. We went on a three week school trip, we had three homestays connected to schools in Japan. So in Chiba Goodman, and and Kansai so you can imagine as a 14 year old that was pretty amazing.
And 90 1982 in Japan, you know, we're talking a very few I'm guessing very when I went first went in 1992. There are very few westerns in Kyushu. So 1982 must have been a unique experience.
It was it was really unique, you know, looking back on it, you know, it's a long time ago, unfortunately, and not you know, it's 14, so you take in things very differently to when you go later in life. Subsequently, when I graduated, I immediately went to Japan again. And then I was 2021. And I went on the Mambo show, as it was called then the Ministry of Education fellowship that was in 1988 to 91. I lived there for two and a half years. And then my sort of third main trip is the trip where I discovered the women's volleyball story if you like, so that was a decade later. By this time, it was 1998 1999. And so I was doing a year of fieldwork in all soccer again for my PhD. That was when I first came across the story of the women's volleyball team. But I was, I was like, clear at the time writing a PhD on the history of women's employment in the Japanese textile industry. And I remember I was visiting a textile factory. The company was called unique Chica, which is the previous name was called Nietzsche ball, which is the main company in the story that we're going to tell. And they were showing me around their factory grounds, including their gymnasium. And there was a volleyball game game going on. And they said, Well, our company team won the gold medal in the women's volleyball, it will take you in 1964 Olympics. And I was like, wow, that's, that's a bit of a story. Yeah, I did mention sport and volleyball in my thesis. But the Olympics story was really only one line and that whole thesis because it wasn't about that. But I remember thinking at the time, I really must chase that story up in more detail at some point in the future. So I kind of put it on the back burner. And many years later, when London was building up to hosting the 2012 Olympics, I decided to take that off the back burner, and look into that story more. And that's how I discovered the story of the toy on Amazon, The Witches of the Orient. And so I started to do some research into that story. And including an interview with the captain of that 19 6014 a woman called Cassie, Masai. And we did a interview in May 2012. And that's when I really started to get into this project. And it was an a move away. I mean, it was linked to gender and sport and textiles and everything I'd done, but it was really a foray into a different story in into sports history,
though. Let's take it back just a little bit about women's volleyball in general in Japan, but how did that get started? Was it you know, particularly popular sport in Japan? Or was this kind of a new sport?
Like many what you might call originally non Japanese non Vidor sports volleyball started to be played in the late Meiji early title period. So we're talking 1910s 1920s. So a lot of foreign sports were coming into Japan during that period. And so like many sports volleyball has this parallel but linked history that that it was played both in educational institutions, schools and universities, but also played in industry and in company teams. And so that's what I like to call corporate sports. So in the case of women's volleyball, as I said, the the notable historical link is to the cotton textile industry in Japan, if you can imagine these textile firms had a core workforce of young female employees, they had hundreds of 1000s of young women in their employment. And they invested in various facilities for their workers, including things like dormitory accommodation, schools, education, and sports and recreation activities. Early on this investment was based around early ideas of corporate paternalism, early ideas of what we might now think of as corporate social responsibility sort of investment in the broader well being of workers. And it was a way of keeping these young girls busy and occupied during their non working hours. So they didn't go off into town and get in trouble. But it was also a way of promoting the physical health of workers because they were factory workers. So they were doing shifts, standing in factories and so forth, like volleyball encouraged teamwork and encouraged them to be physically healthy. And volleyball was chosen because it required minimal equipment. It was a team sport, which was very important for teamwork. And it could be played indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather. And factories had grounds for this. They had gymnasiums, they had recreation grounds. But over time, particularly in the post war, it developed into a really big investment beyond mere recreation, it became a very competitive sport. So in 1951, the first Japanese national volleyball championships were held domestically, and there were 50 teams competing in that women's volleyball national championship, and half of them 25 of those teams were corporate teams from the textile industry. The other half were mainly sort of high school educational team. So there's that parallel history of sport being played in education, educational institutions, you know, school teams, and sport being played in company teams,
the girls who are competing from the cook for the corporate teams in those challenges and the girls that are coming from that educational background. Was there any kind of difference in that sort of demographic there?
Yeah, there was quite a social thing going on there actually, because not many people know, I guess, the history of Japanese textile industry. But the pre War history of textile workers and their employment of women has been researched quite a lot. By the 1930s. They were the second largest manufacturer of cotton textiles in the world behind the UK. And they employed a lot of women, but they got criticised like many other countries during the Industrial Revolution times, you know, the employment conditions weren't that brilliant. And so there was a famous book that was written in Japan called jaw called ice, the pitiful history of factory girls. textile companies were very keen to rectify this history and reproduce. Their image in the post war years, there is this interesting social dynamic at play here that you've pointed to. So you've got these jock or factory girls playing for factory teams. And they're very much recruited from rural areas. They're often recruited out of junior high school, which is why they sometimes set up schools so they could have high school education. And then they were playing against high school teams from urban, much more middle class at more elite social classes, if you like, the sport was a way of rebranding the image of the factory girls, but also the companies, the textile companies as well. So it is it is a very interesting social dynamic via sport that's going on at that period in history.
So let's talk a little bit more about the lady of the arkessa MSA. How was she spotted? Was this sort of a random chance? Or did the companies go around and look for particularly talented young people just for their volleyball skills?
Yeah, well, you've hit the nail on the head. So originally, recruiters would go around just recruiting girls into employment, that by 1951, as I said, volleyball was becoming a competitive sport. And so these big textile companies were actually not just recruiting girls for employment on mass, but they were also going around trying to scout talent for their volleyball teams. She was born in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1933. And she was playing volleyball at school. She started playing volleyball in 1946. And in 1951, she was playing for her school team in a tournament and come to area and she was spotted by an Eagle Scout. So they essentially scouted her and they offered her employment. But she was pretty much scouted for her volleyball abilities, which was happening more and more at that time, because of the domestic competition that was increasing.
People from kind of poorer backgrounds, more rural backgrounds, where they encourage their children to enter sports as a kind of social mobility exercise.
I'm not sure of how much of that went on. But certainly when the niche ball rep came to her family home and offered her employment, she recalled an interview that she was absolutely delighted and her family were delighted as well, because this was a big company. And this was a great employment offer and also a sporting offer as well. But mainly it was she said it was like a dream but for her because they had Nico had the number one volleyball team in Japan at that time. The thing with these corporate teams that even it continues today as you become a company employee, and you will not so much for women, you become a job for life, but certainly for men, you you can have a job for life. And so there's that Employment Security, alongside the ability to play, you know, pretty amazing competitive sport and her case and other cases. But at the end of that when you retire, you can still stay with the company and have employment. She joined the company in 1952. And then she moved to the Nietzsche bolkiah near or soccer, which became the famous team she she moved to their main that main factory to join their main team in 1954. And she became their captain. She was captain of that team from 1947 onwards. And that's why she was eventually chosen to be the Japan woman's captain for the Tokyo 1964 Olympics.
And they were in they were incredibly successful team work they did I see 140 straight corporate victory somewhere, but absolutely dominated the national volleyball scene.
Yeah, I think it was something like 195 solid victories or something even more
long after she'd retired by the time they lost the game. They're on a 258 game winning streak.
Yeah, and I think during during her time as Captain, it was something like 185 consecutive winning games. So we're talking about domination on the national volleyball scene in Japan here.
So we're talking more more dominant than any Premiership football team. I just thought I'd get that out there. So come on, suppose the next most significant day in this whole story is 1960. And World Championships in Brazil. Can you tell us a little bit about that, please?
Yeah, so volleyball is a sport was growing in popularity after the Second World War, not only in Japan, of course, but internationally. And so the international volleyball association was established in 1947. And then they established World Championships for men in 1949, and for women in 1951. And then a decade later, in 1959, of course, the International Olympic Committee, IOC decided that men's volleyball was going to be an Olympic sport. So of course in 1964, the World Championships volleyball championships to Japan decided to send for the first time, a male team to to Brazil, whether the volleyball championships were being held. And they also decided to send a female team but really they were testing the men's competition because men's volleyball was going to be in the next Olympics. So they sent a male and a female team but the women's team that's They sent was sort of called the Japan women's national team. But it wasn't it was the sneaky ball Kaiser katene. So basically the Japan volleyball Association didn't have the funds to send two teams or didn't want to allocate funds to two teams. So they paid for the male team to go the men's team to go and they asked Nietzsche for Kaiser care to send their company team to fund sending their company team to the ostensibly as, as the national team to the World Championships. So what happened at that 1960 World Championships in Brazil, the Japan men's team came eight but the women's team just surprised everybody and and came runner up to the Soviets, the snitch for Kaiser QA team, they got to the final of the 1960 world volleyball championships for women. They went up against the Soviet Union team, and they were defeated. But it was just incredible that they had come from North Korea, and and got to the final and women's volleyball champion chips. So after that, after taking the silver or winning second place, whatever you want to call it in Brazil in the following year, and each ball company decided to fund the team again and send them on a European tour in 1961. So they went on this big European tour. They played 24 consecutive games and one, all the games you know, this is this is 1961 by by this point, a few years out from the Olympics. But at this point, women's volleyball wasn't on the agenda for the Olympics, men's volleyball was
incredible. So totally dominated the European circuit. It's a game arrives on the international scene with a bang. Yeah, that point. And then it things got better and better, didn't they? So can you talk about 1962 1962 was
the next world volleyball championships. So again, Japan sent the team but it was the niche of all kinds of QA team. And it was held in Moscow. And again, the snitch core team got to the final up against the Soviet Union's but this time, they beat them. And in a surprise, upset as you can imagine. So this was an incredible moment. And after that victory, you can imagine the media attention that that women's team got in Japan, from 1962 onwards was massive, because in the same year 1962, it was announced by the ICC that women's volleyball would be at Tokyo in 1964 Olympics, you can see two years out that suddenly they've burst onto the scene in the last few years between 1960 to 62. And then suddenly, there's this you know, there's going to be 1964 Olympics. And it's around this. It's a little bit of a mystery, actually. But it's around this time that they get the nickname, The Witches of the Orient.
So this this is probably a great segue into the matsuhashi from either the coach because I understand that the magic that these little witches were performing was direct reference to their technical skill and, and an incredible movement or around volleyball courts. So he was quite a character himself, wasn't he?
That's right. So yeah, I've neglected to say that they were sort of nicknamed witches because of, as you said, the magic or the trickery of their play, the unexpected moves and techniques that they had in the 1962 championships when they beat the Soviets. And these tricks or or magic play was developed by their coach and he was very interesting man. He was called di mat su di Matsu Hirofumi. He joined niche herbal employment in 1941. And he had played volleyball at both high school and university, but he joined in 1941. And then of course, he got called up to the army, Japanese army in World War Two. But then after the war, he came back. So in 1953, he became the manager of the newly created niche for Kaiser katene. And so he went on to coach this team for the next 12 years, he established his reputation as the strongest women's volleyball team in Japan. But then, of course, you know, the strongest volleyball team women's volleyball team in the world. So it was no surprise that he was chosen as the women's Olympic team coach for Tokyo 1964. tyrant or genius? Well, yes, it's a mixed. It's a mixed review, really. He became very famous for his training regimes. He was nicknamed, in the Japanese media only know di Matsu, so demon democracy. So the positive side he did, he devised these very, you know, amazing new techniques for the women's volleyball. And he did it because he had observed their first defeat against the Soviets in 1960. And he was really obsessed that the defeat had been because of the much smaller physicality of the Japanese, women's. And this is not unusual in Japanese sports that still talked about that they were much smaller and physique and the Russians were much bigger. And therefore he became fixated on the idea of this difference in physical stature. And he believed therefore that the only way you To defeat them was through agility and speed and technique and lots of training. And so he devised these moves, which were often likened to having sort of martial arts components. But he devised his signature move was called chi 10. Rishi boop which can be translated as receive and rotate or rotating receive, a player could receive the ball and very quickly rotate immediately into this very defensive position. These kinds of techniques they heralded during the 1962, or I think, a little bit of the European tour as well, but in definitely in 1962, against the Soviets, during his 12 year stint as coach, they won 175 consecutive games. But that's the positive side. But his training also received a lot of criticism, both domestic and and international as well in the build up to the Olympics, he had a very harsh training regime, very exacting on the players all about techniques and practising over and over and over again, and really long hours of training. So you got to remember that these women were not professional athletes, they were company employees, and they were required to work for the company. So they were doing a shift for the company first in the morning till 3pm. And then they would go and do their volleyball training, and kosai. An interview said that initially, in the early days, their volleyball training would be from 3pm to 10pm, which is long enough, right? Seven hours of volleyball training, but as they got closer and closer to the Olympics, particularly from 1960 onwards, and in the buildup, they would train from 3pm to you know, two or three in the morning. You know, there was a lot of criticism of his really harsh training. But after the 64 games, he was a national hero. He's He's controversial him in kosai, with a slight dynamic duo. They became massive celebrities, he did leave a legacy for Japanese sports.
I was watching the recap of the 1964 final today, on my way home. His reaction to that victory. subdued is not the worst I've seen of any coach anywhere, any circumstances. Yeah, there's no euphoria at all incredible sort of stoic.
Yeah, yeah, it's very hard to find a photo of him ever smiling. He didn't express any emotion there. Like you say, there was no sort of obvious euphoria or happiness on his face. They ended up chucking him up in the air a bit, but you know, even then, there was a lot of talk about that he was obviously impacted by his wartime experiences as a soldier and, and he later in his life, he reflected that his training regime had indeed been very harsh. He said that volleyball was not just about physical techniques alone, it required this fighting spirit. So a little bit controversial, a little bit militaristic, but that's how he, he felt. I mean, remember, we're talking about the 60s here. So they approached things slightly, slightly different than it would have been
searching techniques are a little bit different.
Yes. Just to give an idea of quite how revolutionary This was receiving rotate, was eventually banned across high schools in junior high schools, because breaking their collarbone and snapping their their spines. It was a difficult technique to master incredibly difficult so that would be behind some of the long training hours as well. It's fair to say that these long hours were because volleyball and the company were these women's entire lives. It wasn't like they then went home after volleyball, they go back to their corporate dormitories. Yeah. And they'd Wait, you know, wake up amongst their colleagues, and then they go back to work the next day, there was no yeah,
it wasn't much of a social life going on. Those textile companies employed hundreds of 1000s of women. These elite sports players were a minority in that sense, but they were company employees like everybody else.
Was there ever any jealousy directed towards them? Do you think?
I don't think so. But I remember cuz I said something in interview that she used to feel guilty because the girls who living in the dormitory were responsible for doing their own cleaning of the dormitory and folding up of the futons and sort of general housework and you know, that's quite a Japanese thing, isn't it to clean your office space and all collectively clean up after games and because she was working a shift and then doing such long hours and training her dormitory, fellow dormitory to call them?
machine roommates would do her share of the cleaning, whatever. So she always felt incredibly guilty.
Definitely more kind of we have great respect for you and your abilities and athlete rather than you get to wake up a bit later.
Yeah, I think people were very proud of of their teams, you know of their corporate teams.
We are absolutely itching to get 1964 but before we asked,
we haven't got there yet have we
talk about October the 23rd. Can you just give us a little bit of Sort of perspective on the significance of Japan, hosting the 1964 Olympic Games and kind of expectations and by not only of each bar on the on the volleyball team and but also from the Japanese government. Yeah. So
I mean, from the volleyball team's perspective, it was the the pressure was just immense. They won the World Championships in 1962. In the same year that Tokyo IOC says that women's volleyball is going to be at the Tokyo Olympics two years later. So you can imagine they came under massive media scrutiny and media attention that, you know, the media basically said, Oh, great, now Victor, we're gonna we're definitely going to get a gold medal at Tokyo 1964. Now, and actually, this team was not young by this point in Moscow, in 1962, kosai was already 29 years old. She and some of the other teammates wanted to retire in 1962, after the World Championships, and you can't blame them that at that point, they were going out on a high rise thing. And she was she was the oldest but she was 29. And she told the media upon return from Moscow that she was going to retire. But the media was just so fixated on this winning team, this winning niche ball Kaiser katene, that there was so much media pressure, and she and her teammates got 5000 letters from across Japan, urging them to stay together and become the Olympic team. So I think I think it was really difficult. The combination of those personal letters and the media intensity was really difficult for them to retire. So they got together early in 1963, after the New Year holiday and they decided together with di Matsu that they were going to de casa I said, that was a really difficult she wrote a book as well. So I used her book and and the interview I did with her, but she said that was a really difficult decision, she knew she was going to be 31. By the time of the 1964 Olympics, she knew that the two years of training was going to be immense. And that the media, the media, were already fixated on the gold medal two years out. So it was pretty intense for that team.
Our athletes had a taste of that in London, 2012 Super Saturday, Jessica is CL mo Faraj and Greg Rutherford in athletic ektra each one of those athletes in your own expectations, you know, that's one thing, but actually, and I think maybe more so in a country like Japan, where is this such homogeneity and such a sense of sort of group and collective thinking, to sort of meet the expectations of all I'm not sure what the population of Japan was at that point in time, but it's like 100 and 70 million now. You know, that must have been incredible to be to be training to win, you know, a medal for you with that weight of pressure.
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean, they really felt that, you know, she talks a lot about that in a book. She talked about it in in the interview, and I think we should get to the final now. But I think on the day before the final one of the other players in the team was interviewed, and she said something like, if we lose tomorrow, I think we might have to leave the country. The pressure to win the gold was so intense for that team. So should we talk about the final we should talk about the Olympics. Let's
see, for the evening of October the 23rd 1964, let's say
the Olympics, the Olympics was taking place, obviously, it was popular, the opening ceremony had been watched by over 70% of the Japanese viewing public, I should say that it was very symbolic for Japan to get the Tokyo 1964 Olympics. It was there. It was sort of this international acceptance that they were back on the international stage after after wartime defeat. But it was also a chance for them to showcase the fact that not only were they back that they were foreigners in technology, they were showcasing a lot of their product cameras, TVs film, Seiko watches, you know a lot there was a lot of technology firsts at this at the Olympics. But it was also the chance internally or domestically in Japan to rebuild the spirit of being Japanese to get everybody behind the sporting event and rebuild national pride. So there was great interest in it as there is when you're hosting an Olympics, and of course, everybody was watching the Olympics on their brand new televisions, colour televisions, black and white Telly had been around for a while but everybody, a lot of people bought colour television specifically for the Olympics. So the final, the women's volleyball final was on the 23rd of October in the evening. And this was the day before the closing ceremony. The Olympics had progressed it was you know, the Japanese public were getting more and more united behind the Olympics. There was lots of middle victories Japan did well in that Olympics. They came third and the middle table behind the USA in the USSR. I think it was to say that expectation on the women's volleyball final was mounting by that point as an understatement and being mounted for two years and it just continued to build up during that Olympics. And so on that day of the final day before the closing ceremony on the afternoon of the 23rd of October, there was expectation that a Japanese Judo competitor would win gold as well, but He lost to a Dutch competitor. And so this just increased the pressure on the women's volleyball that evening to win to win gold. So by late afternoon on that day, just people in taxis and everybody were just disappearing off the streets of Japan, even the telephone switchboard and it almost ground to a halt that everybody was racing to get near a TV to watch this final of the women's volleyball. It's estimated that 85% of the viewing public watch that watch that game. In fact, it's It's often said that it has an unbeaten record in terms of viewing stats. So the final started at 7pm in the evening. So the Japanese and the Soviet teams arrived on court, there was an obvious difference in physicality, the Soviets were at least a good 10 centimetres taller than than the Japanese team. It went very well for the Japanese team. So the Japanese team won the first two sets very decisively, it was 15 1115 eight. And then in the third set, they were leading quite decisively as well, 13 six, and then we don't know what happened, maybe the pressure of winning, winning golden and looking like it was in the bag, but they started to lose points consecutively. And that score went from 13, six to 1413 Daihatsu the coach requested a timeout to talk to his players. And then play resumed. And when play resumed the Japanese serve the ball. And there was an over the net foul from the Soviet player. And there we get the list of 15 point and Olympic history. And so as you said, Now, you can watch this on YouTube, you know, you just see the audience, I think there were 4000 spectators and inside the hall, they just lift up and you know, and the team are just sort of shocked that then they're you know, they're full of emotion and, and diamond suit is the only the only one not expressing emotion and across Japan, you know, everybody went ballistic. So thank God for the team because you know, the pressure to win that gold medal had been going on for some time. And it symbolised the end of a really successful Olympics came to be known later as the happy Olympics, it was really successful for Japan on so many levels. And I think that final victory by the women's volleyball team just sort of epitomised that whole success of Tokyo 1964,
you know, almost hard to sum that up. But do it at the end is we're supposed as hosts, but it's sort of impossible. When a story like that is it comes off almost like a fairy tale.
It does sound like a fairy tale. But I think for those girls, that was those women that their training regime that was not a very
concise on, what was her immediate reaction after that game, but what she did you tell you what she felt
relief, obviously. And she felt. So her immediate reaction was, I'm so glad that we have met the public expectation of this gold medal. But then, of course, the second one was the sort of very personal thought of, you know, what, what happens next. So her immediate thought was not of herself really. But of meeting that desire by the Japanese public for that gold medal, you know, that there was a concern that these women would never get married, because they were too old. By now, if they were, they were 31. For God's sake, you know, they were never going to be able to get married after this. So and she herself was I remember she said something like, she looked up in the stadium, and she saw a classmate or friend who had come along to watch or something and had an eight year old daughter with her and she's done. So she sort of she gave an interview, I think the day after that. And she said, I want to from tomorrow, I want to, you know, turn to my personal future and think about that. And she did end up getting married. And there's quite a story to that as well. But she, she made an absolute career out of volleyball. When I interviewed her to being 48 years since that victory, and she said she thought she was the luckiest player on Earth. But she'd had such an amazing career. So yeah, she didn't simply become a housewife.
What about the impact on women's sports in Japan after this? Did it cause any kind of change in the way women were looked at as athletes?
Yeah, absolutely. So as I said volleyball was already a popular sport. For young women in Japan, the popularity of volleyball played in schools and high schools and in these corporate teams. And as you can imagine, after that witches victory and the gold medal, the popularity just grew immensely for young woman you know, it became a popular sport for women to play even more popular than it already was for girls in high school, etc. And the witches Story Of course, became a popular story to be fictionalised as well, it was loosely told and manga and anime and TV drama. today. I think there is a very strong legacy today and to two main ways. So first is that volleyball is still in the top three of most places. popular sports played by girls in high schools junior high school and senior high school. And also it's the only sport in Japan where women today outnumber men in terms of number of registered players. And this is all because of the legacy of 1964. So for me, the most significant legacy is the spread of the sport to women of all ages in Japan. So volleyball had already been a very popular sport for young women. But after 1964 it became it also became an acceptable and accessible sport for women of all ages for older women and for married women. And cus I said to me an interview that prior to the Olympics, she said that it was, she said, it was unthinkable that a Japanese housewife or Japanese older married woman, their job was to concentrate on housework and look after children. And it was unthinkable that they would engage in sports or have a hobby or maybe even a job outside of the home. But after the Olympics, women of all ages got inspired to take up the sport. And, and her role in that story is not insignificant. I mean, her and her teammates continued to play competitively, not at that same level, but they continued to play competitively and they were very instrumental in helping establish what what is called my my son sports. So my my son, buddy, mamasan mother's volleyball clubs. So they established helped establish volleyball clubs all over Japan, that older married women or mothers, this is why volleyball is still got the most registered players in Japan. For women, it spread to other sports too. So it became acceptable for women to take up not just volleyball, but lots of other sports and these mamasan clubs sprang up throughout the 1970s. So mamasan sports is a thing in Japan alongside education, sports and corporate sports, there is mamasan sports in Japan today, mother's sports, it's not restricted. You don't have to be a mother now to play medicine, sports, but it generally means sort of sports clubs in play, you know, teams for older women and some of them are really competitive and some are obviously very social. So it really had that legacy of, of helping sport spread to older women. Women that before 1964 hadn't really been encouraged to, you know, play sport that much.
What an incredible legacy for the younger from Yamanashi. Hello, amazing. Lead not only the needs of our team, but the Japanese, you know, Olympic team and to and to win the gold medal really is an absolutely incredible story and, and to influence generations of women who followed across
Yeah, she really did because she as I said, she continued to play and she helped was very instrumental in setting up the mother son leagues and clubs. She was coach of various teams over the years. She became vice chair of the Japan volleyball Association later on in 2003. But she went to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, she was head off the all of Japan's women's sports teams for that for that games. So you know, she made a sporting career and life out of out of her success. I interviewed her in May 2012. Unfortunately, I only interviewed I interviewed her by phone, because I wanted to capture that story in 2012. And I wanted to release the first article in 2012, to coincide with the London 2012 Olympics. She was, she was 79 at the time when I interviewed and she was just amazing, leaking key and dynamic and talking about everything. And she was just incredible. And I'm so and she said next time you come to Japan, let's meet up and you know, I was looking forward to actually meeting her. But she unexpectedly died the following year, in October 2013. And I hadn't gone to Japan in that time to meet her. I was so grateful for the opportunity to interview her in 2012. I'm glad I got that project out of the off the back burner and just decided to do it at that point in time. Because otherwise, I would have missed that. You know, if I'd waited any longer, I would have missed that opportunity to interview.
Well, had I not met you at size, I would have been blissfully ignorant of that hurt and an enjoyable story. And thank you so much for sharing it with us today on the podcast.
Yeah, you're welcome. Thank you for inviting me.
going way back to the start. You talked about how men played a lot of rugby and how they were corporate teams around rugby. Is that similar to how the female structure was for volleyball or is it completely different?
Yes, it has. It has a lot of parallels. And this is as I said, My most recent project is on looking at the history of rugby from that dimension that I said of corporate sports. So it has a similar history and that rugby was played in educational institutions, institutions, particularly universities like kale, but in the postwar years, we saw the growth of the sport As well as in universities and in corporate teams. So this time it was in heavy manufacturing industries like iron and steel car manufacturing, electronics, etc. Because these, these industries had predominantly male workforces very dissimilar to volleyball. So the old Japan company championship which was pinched it was established in 1948. And it's the precursor to the current top league rugby competition in Japan that was established in 2003. So there are 16 rugby teams in the top League, and all of them are owned by Japanese corporations. So you can see that strength of rugby, and corporate sports. But there's the other parallel with the witches story is that, as you know, come I see was one of the host cities for Rugby World Cup. It got a lot of media commentary building up to the Rugby World Cup because it was the only purpose built Stadium, the commercial recovery Memorial Stadium, and they bid for it to be a host because they wanted to use it as a way to recover from the 2011 Tohoku disaster. They used rugby because they had a very long history of rugby in that town. And that city is it's a rugby playing city because of the iron and steel industry, their current team that can actually see waves there's not, it's not in the top League, but the forerunner team, which was called Nippon steel come he had it also had a very interesting nickname. So they were the Keaton or Tetsujin. So the Iron Men of the north and they dominated the company championship, they want it nine times between including seven consecutive wins in 1978 84. So it's not quite as good as the witches, but we have, we have these Witches of the Orient, dominating 1960s women's volleyball. And we have the Iron Men of the North, dominating men's rugby in Japan a little bit later on. So I'm trying to do that project at the moment. And another thing I think I picked up during the real world Rugby World Cup was that the brave blossom style of play was often portrayed in the media domestically and internationally as being very free flowing, very electric, very fast paced and compensating for this smaller physicality. And I think, for me, that was very reminiscent of the media comments about the witches back in the 1960s. So I think this is a this is a new project that can go places. I mean, I started that project just because I wanted to go the Rugby World Cup and combine two passions, rugby in Japan, it's turning into something else as well. So it's good.
It's really interesting, because when I was training in Japan, quite often you talk to the Japanese coaches and athletes and say, Why do you run 1200 kilometres a month as unusually high mark, you know, training volume, marathon running standard, and they'd say, well, we don't have any speed, we need to compensate for that lack of speed. Training harder than any anybody else. And in many ways, it's one of the reasons I went over there to sort of try and make myself tougher. But it definitely seems to be theme running through. Yeah, that perception of lack of strength compared to the Western Western opponents. But in all cases that Japan are absolute delight to watch tech they
are, yeah, really an absolute lie. I mean, that team made history, didn't they? And it was just, it was just fantastic to watch them. That victory in the 2015 World Cup, or particularly their play in the 2019 World Cup is just incredible.
Absolutely. I had hoped we wouldn't mention how many times they won after our last episode.
Well, at least we're not going to talk about the All Blacks in England and the semi final. Let's not talk about that story.
We've all got scars that need healing.
We all got scars. Yeah. Fabulous.
I mean, one thing we have to ask is how do you think this kind of Olympic Paralympic postponement is going to affect the mood leading up to 2020? Because as you said, 64 had this huge build up to it and it was, you know, part of the Japanese national conscience? Do you think it's gonna be dampened by this postponement? Or do you think Japan will still get behind it in the same way they did back in 64?
I don't think you know, it'll be as spectacular as 64 for, you know, for obvious reasons, but I mean, I think it's difficult to say, isn't it? The minute you say something about the Japanese 20 year 2020 something happens the next day and you have to retract it, but I mean, I feel for the Tokyo Japanese Tokyo organising committee that they've had to postpone this. I mean, I wrote a very brief piece early in lockdown on how this is such a logistical nightmare in terms of rescheduling and reorganising everything and and of course, it's been a massive investment so far to get ready for the Olympics and Paralympics. So if it doesn't go ahead, it's a massive economic loss, but I hope of course, then it goes ahead, but we don't know Do we? We don't. It's probably it looks likely to go ahead, but probably in some kind of downsized or downscaled version, possibly even, you know, downscaled in terms of what athletes can come from countries that may be at that point in time. Still Having high waves of the pandemic or, I mean, it's really depends on the state of the pandemic globally, not just in Japan, of course, which is relatively lower cases, you know, the state of travel restrictions, the possibility of a vaccine or health passports by that time and the quarantine measures, but so I think it looks likely to go ahead and some form but it's certainly I think, is not going to be the event that Japan had hoped for in terms of like the Rugby World Cup was in terms of economic impact and media attention in tourism, part of Japan's hosting of these sports mega events is to boost tourism and promote Japan. So it's certainly not gonna do that, I wouldn't have thought unless we really get out of this pandemic, quickly. But on the other hand, I think Japan was trying for a while to brand Tokyo 2020 as the recovery Olympics or Paralympics. So like the commodity story, there was this whole very integral to both beds to host this, the recovery from the 2011, Baku disaster was quite integral in both those bids. And I think the kamaishi branding was very successful, but it was, it was sort of becoming less successful for Tokyo. But I think if that if Tokyo, 2020 can go ahead next year, and they can pull it off and it can be amazing, then maybe it will be the recovery Olympics, after all, from from the pandemic. So, you know, it could be a positive story, but we just we just don't know at this stage. Do
we? With your sports lovers head on? Are you hoping that on the final evening of the 20 Olympics of form was daughter from pulls out the final point and secure Japan's gold medal? Wouldn't that be just wonderful.
I was supposed to go to Penn this summer to go see the rugby tour and hopefully go to watch the Rugby Sevens Olympics, which of course now is an Olympic event. And I was really, really hoping that Japan men's team would get a medal would get on the middle table because they came forth in Rio 2016. And so I was really you know, crossing my fingers for that which would have been enough for me for my project in terms of a victory but what so we have to wait and see now next year what happens we're hoping to go I'm hoping I'm hoping I feel a bit trapped now in the UK by lockdown I've, I can't go to Japan, I can't go to New Zealand and I usually do that once a year. And I really want to go next year for the Olympics. And I really want to go to New Zealand for the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2021. So I'm just you know, I'm starting to feel a little bit trapped.
But we know we know the feeling I think the Japan connection the fight Yeah, like like everybody around the world for all sorts of reasons. And this year particularly challenging, but I think the unpicks Paralympics offer a a glimmer of hope for us all. I think so. Yeah. Fingers crossed if things work out. Well.
Fantastic. We time it is. And as we've just been discussing how we all feel trapped in this one place. We've now got to the part where we have to talk about a recommendation. Yeah. I'm sure by now you sort of know how the podcast works you always ask our guests for three recommendations about Japan. And so the first one we're on the topic is a recommendation of one place in Japan that you think all of our listeners should go to
Hmm, this was tricky for me to come up with one thing for this. So I for travel, I would I recommend the extremities of Japan's I loved Hokkaido I loved going to the UK mazzetti the Snow Festival when I went I also went over to Chris cachito and saw that city the cranes, the dancing cranes and winter I think Hokkaido is lovely in winter This is the key Man City but I've also I also love rocky now at the other end. So I've been there three times I think and I've done I've done a bit of island hopping and camping on the beach. So I think I would encourage people to go to the extremities of Japan
wonderful and if there's one activity cultural or or sporting or anything really that you would recommend people try when they make their trip to Japan, what would that be,
I would encourage encourage them in this course you're going to ask me about a food recommendation. So now I think I would encourage them to go to Izakaya and go to little tiny little Japanese restaurants so I love is a carrier I love getting a lot of selection of little Japanese plates and washed down with Japanese beer and in fact I've developed I've taken a Japanese habit and of food habit and I've turned it into a very naughty ritual during lockdown so I've been making sure I go for a long walk so I've taken out running again all and I'm not just saying this because you're on that I'm aiming for Parker on when it comes back. So I've been lucky enough to be locked down near Bushy Park and that I've got this tradition where before we go out for a run we I put two pint glasses in the freezer and when we come back I put us He's super dry into a frozen pint glass and drink it and that's what happens in his like hires and I love that getting a frozen beer. I don't think that's particularly cultural activity but it's fun.
I think music is very cultural. When I was living there it was always a place I could go and have a an actual conversation with someone that yeah revolve around me not being Japanese or kind of the basic questions of you know, where are you from? How long you stay in Japan for what you do here is the only I think it's a really good culture experience for everyone to have Yeah,
you can meet lots of different people and you can you know, everybody's just there to have a nice time relax after work and the ones near stations have the best come out of the station you go to the Izakaya and then you go home that great
Okay, over to Mike for his his favourite question.
I like this has become my question now. So I'm aware that now we're almost 10 episodes in we might be running out of food but Helen Can you name us one food you think everybody should try when they're in Japan?
Well, I have been I have been listening to all of the series on my on my Bushy Park John's and I was very disappointed that economy hockey was mentioned twice already so so I'm not going to be able to use that one. But I think sticking with this, you know, I like everyday food. That's why I like is okay, I prefer that to you know, posh sushi or sashimi and so I love you know, I like all the little dishes like yours are in Qatar gay and I get dashi dog food, but I think probably I'm gonna have to go with Yaki toddy. When we were in Kobe, last year for the England vs. USA rugby match, we found one of those classic places, it was a yucky tortilla. And it was seized about six people. And they only had yakitori on the menu. And it was just fantastic. So you sit there and have you don't really know what part of the chicken you're eating, but that's fine. And you know, you wash it down with beer and it's brilliant. So I'm going to go with yakitori
Can you just explain yakitori for the listeners might not know.
So chicken on a stick pieces of chicken chopped up, put on a stick and various marinates. And if you go to a proper yakitori I don't think there's any part of the chicken that really goes to waste, as I said that you can get there's all different types. I don't understand all of them, but you order them what to say and you you will be eating all types of chicken but it will all taste quite different.
A cheeky recommendation for chicken cartilage as I was unsure when they first suggested it but actually that is possibly one of my favourite bits of yakitori
and Knuckles and stuff quite crunchy. But yeah. Not for the chicken obviously.
Okay, and finally, final question. One phrase, word condoleeza that you think I that sort of sums up your experience in Japan, your feelings about Japan, maybe something that sums up the Pono module? Some Japanese that you could teach us this evening?
Okay, well, I actually again, I found it very difficult to choose one. So I've got two words, actually, I've got one very everyday common word. And I've got one quite rare Japanese word. So my, my everyday one is the verb gumbo. So you know, to persevere to possess to do your best. And I like this word. Because, you know, you say it every day, don't you in Japanese, like you go back there to somebody come back to do your best. And then that you respond, somebody must say I'll do my best. But it's also used in sports. So if you're cheering on your favourite athlete or favourite team, you can yell out combat a gumba. You know, and that's, that's what you go out. But I think it also has significance for commodity, for example, and for other disasters. So, gumbo, Danny horn has been used as the sort of phrase for recovery of Japan. So I feel I feel it's very significant for the commodity story and very significant now, as we, you know, we're looking forward to the Olympics. It's been used after national disasters particularly Tohoku, but come on, you know, hang in there, Japan. And hopefully, we'll get to Tokyo 2020. And my, my rare word is through work, which was a word I came across in 2018, when I was putting together an event to celebrate the Southwest Japan Research Centre 40 years ago. I don't know if you guys came to that. But we were established in 1978. So we turned 40 and 2018. And I and I, and I held this sort of celebration, any excuse for a party, right? And so I came across this word for work, which means can be translated as to follow the right course after 40. So it seems very apt to brand our events and our fundraising initiative that I set up as the for waku. And subsequently, I discovered that it's also the term used for all these rugby clubs in Japan. So for what clubs or clubs for rugby clubs for older players, presumably those over over the age of 40. So that's a nice thing. connection and it's a word that I've been thinking about lots during lockdown, actually, I mean, sadly I'm well over 14 myself, but it's together with gumbo, I think for waku, both of them have sort of been encouraging me to, you know, keep going to make to get out the other side of this lockdown to get out the other side of pandemic and together with a very a Maori phrase as well, Kia kaha, which means stay strong, which has been used in New Zealand after the mosque shootings in 2019, and is used now during the pandemic. So I think the combination of that gumbo for workqueue and Kia kaha is kind of keeping me going during these these difficult times. And like you say, hopefully, there's
hope ahead. That's absolutely wonderful. Helen, thank you so much for sharing everything. Tonight, you've been an absolutely amazing guest. It's been a total joy sitting here. As I said, I'd forgotten we were recording. At one point I was listening to tell the story, sharing so much of your perspective, your knowledge or your research and a real overriding passion for Japan and sport, which is ultimately what we set out to share with our listeners. So thank you so much.
Well, thank you.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Japan sports stories. If you enjoyed that, please help us spread the word. This podcast is a labour of love from no and I and we want to make sure as many people as possible hear the stories that our amazing guests have to tell. You can support the podcast by following us on Twitter at Jay s stories of leaving us review on iTunes or just sharing the episode with as many people as possible. I'd like to thank Helen for giving us so much of her time and being a wonderful guest on this podcast. We learned so much about a story that really deserves to be told more. The Japan Research Centre run regular free online events and have a great back catalogue available on YouTube covering all aspects of Japan next week, it's sold across the Pacific as former team USA and current team Japan fencer Koto sts tells us about qualifying for the Olympics, the time COVID what it's like to represent two countries and the importance of Star Wars.