Cricket getting popular in the land of Samurai

Rising beyond traditional sports, Japan is gaining a meteoric popularity, inspiring a new generation of athletes

By Anam Khan

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Gopal Jasapara (second left) and Shyam Bhatia (fourth right) with players and the coaching staff of the Japan Under 19 team. — Photos by Rituraj Borkakoty
Gopal Jasapara (second left) and Shyam Bhatia (fourth right) with players and the coaching staff of the Japan Under 19 team. — Photos by Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 11:18 AM

In recent years, Japan has emerged as a powerhouse not only in technological innovation but also in the world of sports, signaling a transformative shift in its global presence. The Land of the Rising Sun, known for its rich cultural heritage and technological prowess, is now making significant strides in the sports industry, capturing the attention and admiration of enthusiasts worldwide.

Tokyo 2020 — A Game-Changer: The catalyst for Japan's surge in the sports realm was the hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics, albeit delayed to 2021 due to the global pandemic.

Tokyo showcased not only its organisational prowess but also its commitment to creating an unparalleled experience for athletes and spectators alike. The event highlighted Japan's ability to seamlessly blend tradition and modernity, offering a glimpse into its multifaceted capabilities.

Sports Tech and Innovation Hub: Japan's foray into sports technology has been a key driver of its expanding influence. The country has positioned itself as a hub for sports innovation, fostering the development of cutting-edge technologies that enhance athlete performance and fan engagement. From advanced training facilities to the incorporation of virtual reality in sports analysis, Japan is pioneering a new era in sports tech.

Football's Rising Sun: While baseball has traditionally been Japan's most beloved sport, football (soccer) has witnessed a meteoric rise in popularity. The Japanese football league, J.League, has become a breeding ground for talent, producing players who are making waves in top European clubs. The success of Japanese players in prestigious leagues not only elevates the country's standing in global football but also inspires a new generation of athletes.

Tennis Triumphs and Golf Glory: Japan's prowess in individual sports has shone brightly in tennis and golf. With multiple Grand Slam winners and top-ranking golfers, Japan has become a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.

The success of Japanese tennis stars and golf prodigies has not only fueled national pride but has also attracted global attention, contributing to the country's rising influence in these sports.

Cultural Fusion in the Olympics: The integration of traditional Japanese culture into sports presentation has been a standout feature. From the mesmerizing opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, which showcased the country's artistic and technological brilliance, to the inclusion of traditional martial arts like karate, Japan seamlessly blended its rich heritage with the modern spectacle of global sports.

Beyond Medals: Soft Power and Diplomacy: Japan's sports diplomacy has become a powerful tool for global engagement. The success of Japanese athletes and the country's hosting of major sporting events have elevated its soft power, fostering positive international relations. Sports have provided a common ground for cultural exchange, creating bridges between Japan and nations around the world.

Japan Captain Koji Hardgrave Abe (left) and off-spinner Shotaro Hiratsuka at the G Force Cricket Academy ground in Dubai.
Japan Captain Koji Hardgrave Abe (left) and off-spinner Shotaro Hiratsuka at the G Force Cricket Academy ground in Dubai.

In conclusion, Japan's widening presence in the sports industry is a testament to its ability to adapt, innovate, and excel on the global stage. As the nation continues to break barriers in sports technology, foster talent across diverse disciplines, and leverage the unifying power of sports diplomacy, it solidifies its position not just as a technological giant but also as a dynamic force in the world of sports. Japan's journey from the traditional to the cutting edge in the sports arena reflects its commitment to pushing boundaries and leaving an indelible mark on the global sporting landscape.

Japan's Cricket Aspirations Soar in Dubai's Warm Embrace

Japan's under-19 cricket team, having qualified for the Under-19 Asia Cup in Dubai, found more than just a warm climate awaiting them in the city. Greeted by freezing temperatures in Tokyo, the young cricket enthusiasts boarded a flight to Dubai for a cricketing experience that surpassed expectations.

Headed by captain Koji Hardgrave Abe, the Japanese team benefited from the generosity of G Force Cricket Academy's head coach, Gopal Jasapara, and cricket enthusiast Shyam Bhatia, who offered their training facilities for free. The team, rarely having the opportunity to practice on proper cricket facilities in Japan, quickly hit the ground running at the G Force Cricket Academy in Al Jaddaf, Dubai.

Ardene Ruhode, the head coach of the under-19 Japan team and a former Zimbabwean first-class cricketer, expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome. He highlighted that the exposure to quality facilities, a rarity in Japan, is a significant boost for the aspiring cricketers.

The team, including players with mixed heritage, reflects the global nature of cricket. Six members of the team have mixed backgrounds, contributing to a diverse and competitive team culture. Abe noted that the Asia Cup, where they are grouped with Test-playing teams Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and hosts UAE, provides a valuable learning experience.

Despite cricket's challenges in gaining widespread attention in Japan, the team's presence in the Asia Cup is seen as a significant step forward. Ruhode expressed optimism about the future of cricket in Japan, citing the growing interest among Japanese kids. As the team looks forward to competing with established cricketing nations, the Asia Cup marks a crucial milestone in Japan's cricketing journey, with hopes for continued success.

— anam@khaleejtimes.com


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