Please note that the Japanese names in these posts are written in Japanese order, i.e. Family Name followed by Given Name

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fifty Years of Competitive Women's Football in Japan

The history of women playing association football (or variants thereof) in Japan extends back to the early twentieth century but the generally accepted first instance of an organised, competitive match took place fifty years ago today. The following is a very brief discussion of how this match came about.

Physical Education for Girls in Early Modern Japan

Japan's Ministry of Education was established in 1871, and from the following year elementary education of eight years was required for all children. However, traditional values and household realities initially meant that girls were still largely expected to work in the home or on the farm, and high fees made attendance even more unlikely. In 1890 the attendance rate for girls was about 30 per cent and this was about half that for boys but the situation improved and the official attendance rate for girls climbed over the years and reached 97 per cent in 1910. During this period, education beyond an elementary level for girls was not considered to be necessary by the government and so private schools for girls sprang up around the country. Among those founding such schools were a number of Christian missionaries who came from overseas bringing with them western ideas and educational practices.

At the turn of the century physical education for girls was comprised largely of dance and callisthenics, and activities were restricted by the nature of the clothes worn by the girls, as can be seen in the image below, taken from the first issue of women's magazine Fujin Gahou, which promoted the education of girls and women.

Fujin Gahou, 1905 (facsimile printed in 2015)

Association football was not a widespread sport at this time, either among men or women, although ball games such as the one demonstrated below (the photograph was taken in 1912), where the girls kicked the ball from one individual to another, are well recorded.

A Societal History of Bloomers, 2005
The mission schools became more widespread throughout the early twentieth century and gained a tremendous reputation. Girls around the country were becoming more determined to gain an education and schools found themselves in the position of having to turn away girls, with the fees in their hands, from their gates. Donations from Christian groups overseas increased the wealth of the schools, who were gradually able to expand and accept more pupils.

In 1921 the American principal of Fukuoka Jo Gakuin, Elizabeth Lee, introduced sailor-suit uniforms to allow the girls more freedom of movement in physical education with the further benefit that the girls themselves could make these cheaper uniforms. (St Agnes' School had introduced a one-piece uniform a year earlier). The new western style outfits caused a sensation among girls in Fukuoka who flocked to the school in even greater numbers. Many years later, when founding their own football club, they named it (in Spanish) after the famous anchor device found on their uniforms.

New outfits for girls became more prevalent, with sailor suits and bloomers becoming a common sight. In 1926 Sasaki Hitoshi, a major figure in women's physical education, published Girls' Team Sports, in which he described a wide variety of games for girls, which included variants of association football, which hitherto had been recorded on very few occasions, the most famous being photographs of games being played at Kagawa Prefectural Marugame Girls' High School.

The games described were for the purpose of physical education rather than strict competition so Sasaki did not give details of precise rules, and does not provide us with photographs of association football being played. The book does give us some images of girls playing tag rugby which show the changes both in the nature of physical education and in the garments worn from just a few years earlier.

Girls' Team Sports, 1926
Girls' Team Sports, 1926
Girls' Team Sports, 1926

Girls Become Ambitious

Despite these developments there was no great increase in the number of girls playing association football and the team sports which did see more participation were those which could be played in a small area, such as basketball and volleyball, and it was in volleyball that Japanese women won their first gold medal in a team event at the Olympics, in Tokyo in 1964. That Olympic Games led to an enormous growth in interest in many sports around the country, including football, in which Japan reached the quarter-final stage. The first men's national league, the Japan Soccer League, was founded a year later and at the 1968 Olympic Games Japan finished third, with Kamamoto Kunishige finishing as the tournament's top scorer.

It was during these years that women's football began to see organisation and competition. In 1956 Hotta Tetsuji began an after-school football school for elementary schoolboys and the girls, who initially took little interest in the sport, began to take part in 1959. On 1 February 1964 the girls of Koryo Junior High School in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture succumbed despite their best efforts to a boys' team from nearby Kwansei Gakuin Junior High School.

Reading about this event, a student in her first year at Kobe Yamate Girls' Senior High School wrote a letter (dated 2 August 1965, and presumably addressed to the JFA, who published it) in which she demanded that girls and women should be given the same opportunities to play football that boys and men enjoyed. In response, the principal of the Hyogo Football Friends' Association's Kobe Boys Soccer School, Tamai Misao, opened a section in the school for girls' teams.

In 1966, and at roughly the same time football teams were founded at two of Kobe's schools, Fukuzumi Elementary School and the private Christian girls' school, Kobe College (which incorporates a junior high school, senior high school and university). The younger girls had formed their team when frustrated that the boys would not allow them to join in. The formation of the team at Kobe College came as a surprise to everyone, as the school was seen as strict and heavily focussed on academic success. Like the Christian mission schools discussed earlier, Kobe College had been founded with a small number of students taking lessons in just a few rooms but due to both the growing demand among girls for education and significant donations from the United States had found themselves gradually adding more and more facilities. In 1933 the school moved to its present location, a twenty-six-acre site in Okadayama, Nishinomiya City and one of its defining features can be seen in the photograph below - its extensive lawns. One day, when admiring these grassy areas, one of the school's teachers of mathematics, Tsuda Shohachiro, made the remark that with such wonderful lawns, the school really should play football on them. Although it was considered almost to be a joke on his part, this is exactly what happened and Tsuda himself took responsibility for training the girls.

Kobe College's players on the cover of Asahi Graph, 1966

Fukuzumi Elementary School girls training, Asahi Graph, 1966

Interest in the Kobe College girls' team was enormous, and women's magazine Fujin Koron
also featured the players in a four-page article in early 1967.

Noting that there were now two girls teams in Kobe, the founder of the aforementioned Hyogo Football Friends' Association's Kobe Boys Soccer School, Dr Kato Masanobu, decided to arrange a match between the two to be held at Oji Stadium on 19 March 1967 as part of the first Kobe Soccer Carnival. It lasted twenty-five minutes, and was refereed by Murakoshi Yoko, Japan's first female referee, and she was assisted by two classmates from Ashiya High School. The younger girls won by a goal to nil.

Soccer Magazine, 1967

Subsequent Developments

In Kobe and its hinterland football began to spread, especially in elementary schools. Kobe College's main rivals at this time was Obayashi Sacred Heart School of Takarazuka City, another private Christian girls' school. On 5 January 1971 the Hyogo Football Friends' Association reformed to become Kobe FC, Japan's first incorporated football club. Although they recuited girls into their soccer school throughout the early 1970s it was not until 1976 that they formed a team, Kobe FC Ladies.

In Shimizu, Hotta Tetsuji had founded a league for the girls of Shimizu City's schools in 1969 and the first non-school club team, FC Jinnan, was founded by Itami Chihiro in Tokyo in mid-1972. Itami was one of the leading proponents of women's football and organised several competitions. Most of the football being played in the capital was in schools, such as Kudan High School, Nihonbashi Jogakkan High School and Japan Women's University High School. Another important origin of teams at this time was at elementary school pupils' soccer schools, where the mothers of the children often decided that rather than simply watch that they would form their own teams - this scenario was repeated all over Japan.

The Fukuzumi Elementary School team did not continue once its senior members moved on to junior high school but Kobe College did continue to play, and on 12 June 1975 they hosted the opening weekend of the first Kansai League season (indeed, they hosted every match). The remaining competitors were Nishiyama High School, the Osaka University of Commerce, Itami White Stars, Takakura Junior High School and Obayashi Sacred Heart School. Nishiyama High School won the league title.

On the opening day of the Kansai League season in 1975, hosts Kobe College beat mothers' team Itami White Stars 5-1. Ueda Keiko (third from left) was one of the leading Kobe College
players in the mid-1970s. (Eleven, 1975).

In the east the teams which existed in the early 1970s had little more than indoor mini soccer to occupy themselves but eventually on 8 June 1975, six teams came together to form the new Keihin League (Keihin means Tokyo and Yokohama): FC Jinnan, Wild 11 Ladies, Yokohama Soccer Club Ladies, Kudan High School, Let Us and Kurotaki Kifujin Soccer Club. A year later Mitsubishi Heavy Industries founded the Chicken League for teams in Tokyo and so the Keihin League became the Yokohama Invitational League. FC Jinnan were the winners of the only Keihin League season. In 1981 the Chicken League was replaced by the Tokyo League, which was run under the auspices of the Tokyo FA.

Outside of the three main centres of Kobe, Shimizu and Tokyo, Hokkaido had seen women's football since 1969 but its women's federation was not founded until 1980. In Tohoku in the 1980s football was dominated by schools, by Chiba Gakuen High School in Aomori, and Miyagi's Ishinomaki Girls' Commercial High School, Miyagi Hirose High School and Seiwa Gakuen High School, though there was no league in which these teams could play.

In western Japan, women's football was most prominent in Fukuoka (from 1979), Hiroshima (its first league season took place in 1979) and Ehime, where the famous Uraya Nurses team was founded in the mid-1970s, and following their emergence several other teams sprung up in the prefecture.

Left: The programme for the first East-West All-Star Game, held on 22 February 1976,
which the Keihin League representative side won by a goal to nil.

Right: The programme for the first national championship match, held on 21 March 1976, which was won by Kansai League champions Nishiyama High School, who beat Keihin League champions FC Jinnan by two goals to nil. Nishiyama won again in 1977 and retained the title in 1978 with a draw, again they played FC Jinnan in the final. Jinnan beat Kobe FC Ladies in the fourth championship final for their first national title. Official JFA-sponsored competition began in 1979 following the foundation of the Japan Women's Football Federation.

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