Women’s youth soccer team from Tohoku plays 3 friendly matches in Brazil, in an appeal for support for children who lost parents in Japan’s March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami
On March 2, a women’s youth soccer team from the Tohoku region of Japan played a friendly match with the women’s youth team of Centro Olimpico, a powerful professional soccer team in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The match took place in connection with Ashinaga’s efforts to support children who lost parents in the Great East Japan Earthquake. The agile Japanese team used skillful ball control to defeat the Sao Paulo team, 3－0.
The charity match featured a women’s under-17 team from the Tohoku region; team members consisted mainly of members of the Tokiwagi Gakuen High School women’s soccer team, which won Japan’s National High School Women’s Soccer Tournament in 2011. The team visited Brazil in conjunction with the one-year anniversary of the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and one of the visit’s goals was to raise funds for the construction of “Tohoku Rainbow House,” a facility which will provide emotional and psychological care to children who lost parents to the tsunami. The team also played two other charity matches with local women’s youth teams while in Sao Paulo.
At a ceremony prior to the first game, Shodo Sasaki, a high school student who lost his mother in the tsunami, spoke about the purpose of the charity matches, the need for Tohoku Rainbow House, and present conditions surrounding children who lost parents in the tsunami last year. Both spectators and members of the Brazilian team vigorously applauded his remarks.
Kazukai Obu, Consul General of Japan in Sao Paulo, attended the match with his wife and offered words of encouragement to the players of both teams. The match was widely reported, not only by Japanese media, but also by AFP, Brazil Education Channel, and Globo, the largest TV station in Brazil.
Ashinaga hopes that the charity match between the young players from opposite sides of the globe will grow into a broad circle of support in Brazil and South America, and that children who lost parents to the tsunami will find healing at the Tohoku Rainbow House, so that they can recover as soon as possible and take steps toward achieving their dreams.
In his speech before the match, Shodo Sasaki said, “This match will be played in support of the construction of Tohoku Rainbow House, which will provide psychological care to children who lost parents in the tsunami. I myself lost my mother and grandmother, but there are many children much younger than I am, who also lost parents and who need emotional support even more urgently. That’s why we need a Rainbow House. Please give us your support.”
Shodo discovered the body of his mother 10 days after the tsunami, where it was lying with others at a local gymnasium. His father had also been caught up in the tsunami, along with his mother and grandmother, but miraculously survived. Shodo now lives in a temporary housing unit. He is studying hard to pass the entrance examination for the national university in his area, and hopes to become an engineer in the future. Saying he wanted to do anything he could to support children in Tohoku, he eagerly participated in the Ashinaga Brazil project.
Some members of the women’s youth team that played in Brazil also lost homes and family members due to the tsunami, and some were forced to change schools after evacuating from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was seriously damaged by the tsunami. One of the team members comes from a high school team which had only four players survive the disaster.
The final charity match was played against the Juventus women’s youth team on Sunday, March 4. The game was watched at the Juventus home stadium by over 500 Japanese and Brazilian spectators, including Consul General Obu and his wife, and was covered by some 11 news organizations, including Globo and other local media outlets, AP, Reuters, and Japanese Brazilian organizations. Those who attended the match were given Ashinaga pamphlets, as well as a collection of orphan’s letters entitled “Daddy’s Face,” compiled by Ashinaga and translated into Portuguese. Standing in the center of the pitch, Shodo Sasaki made a strong appeal for donations to support construction of Tohoku Rainbow House. He received warm applause from spectators, and the appeal was seen on many TV stations both inside and outside Brazil.
The Juventus team scored a goal in the first half of the match, but Hikaru Kojima of JFA Academy Fukushima answered with a goal from a set play in the second half, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw. For its three games in Brazil, the Japanese team recorded one win, one loss, and one draw. Overall, the Japanese team did a great job of dealing with skilled opponents that included some members playing for professional teams.
After the final contest, spectators gave a long round of applause in praise of the players of both teams, who had spent an enormous amount of energy to ensure that those attending the match would not forget that children of the players’ own generation, as well as those even younger, had lost parents in the tsunami.
While in Brazil, the women’s team from Tohoku visited a local high school for some cultural exchange activities. The group also traveled to Santos Port, where a Japanese ship, the Kasado-maru, had arrived with the first group of Japanese immigrants to Brazil one hundred years ago. At the port, delegation members learned about the history of Japanese migration to Brazil. The group returned to Japan on March 8.
Ashinaga is deeply grateful for all the support that made the Brazil soccer project possible, including cooperation by the Japan Football Association, sponsorship by Qatar Airways, which supplied discounted round trip air tickets, and backing from the Japan Country Club in Sao Paulo, which provided accommodations.