A Visit to Nadeshiko’s Hometown Around Japan Episode 1. Ehime FC Ladies
With a population of 510,000 people, the largest in the Shikoku region, the city of Matsuyama in Ehime Prefecture is the home of Ehime FC Ladies, a team in the Nadeshiko League Division 1.
Rich in nature, the city is known for its friendly and warm-hearted residents, as well as various sites related to Japanese literature. Matsuyama-born poet Masaoka Shiki wrote a famous haiku known to everyone in Matsuyama. Let’s visit those who love Ehime FC Ladies in this old castle town.
In this series, we visit the hometown of each of the 12 teams playing in the Nadeshiko League Division 1, recounting interesting stories about players and their supporters. As you read, you will notice the significance of this amateur league, and why players are so strongly supported by people in the community.
Bathing passport? or VIP entry? ‘Kumenoyu’ heals the players
Our first visit is Higashi Dogo Onsenkyo, a hot spring resort that warms up the players’ everyday life. ‘Kumenoyu’ is a bathing facility with a homelike atmosphere. With more than 300 thousand visitors over the year, its unique, viscous spring quality attracts many who want to have beautiful skin. This onsen issues a bathing passport for the players, a service to help them recover from matches and training. (Currently they are not allowed to bathe because of the Coronavirus pandemic.)
“No kidding, they come every day,” said manager Kennichi Miyoshi, as he explained how the players feel about the bath. “When I see their faces, I can understand how they like it,” he smiled. “They look happy, and often tell me they have lots of fun in the same tub, talking about soccer or girl stuff.”
Matsuyama is abundant with hot springs and bathing facilities. Mr. Miyoshi is very proud that the players chose Kumenoyu. He says their smiles are soothing. “They’re always smiling, which makes you wonder if they win every game!”
Each player is asked to show a bathing passport at the entrance. Coming virtually every day however, the players have gotten to know the reception staff and are almost like friends. “Actually, there’s no need for the passport. They just show up, we open the door and say, ‘Come in!’”
Ehime FC Ladies has produced a number of players to the national team ‘Nadeshiko Japan.’ The team is now in its second year with the Nadeshiko League Division 1. “I hope they stay in Division 1 for a long time and do well. Of course, we expect more members to be called upon to Nadeshiko Japan,” said Mr. Miyoshi. “If we have one or more national players in the team, our customers will be happy to see them here.”
15 team members do their best job, both at work and at play!
Benefit One Inc.
Our next stop is the operation center of Benefit One Inc., a corporate sponsor which provides the team with uniforms and training suits. With more than 500 members working in shifts, the company has 15 players who work desk-jobs on welfare services such as medical check-ups.
Nami Nomoto is the leader of the Medical Checkups Processing Group, where the 15 team members work. “They really have a tough life, working in the daytime and practicing at night. What’s more, they play matches on the weekends,” said Ms. Nomoto. As their boss, she added, “so I want to support them by watching their home games. I always try to cheer for them when they leave office for training.”
Nomoto attributes the sense of unity in her group to the members. As both fans and non-fans go to watch the team together, “that makes you want to be more supportive.”
The interior of Matsuyama Operation Center is decorated with orange, the team’s color. As you walk past the canteen entrance on the top floor, you will catch the display area that covers the team’s profile. “If information is posted in the workplace, you are always aware of it,” said Kota Yoshida, a senior manager of Management Planning Group. “The match results are updated every Monday, so I look out for them. I feel as if I were their uncle or neighbor.”
Even at away games, there were supporters wearing the team uniform. I met two of them: one is Masako Kuze, Managing Executive Officer, and the other is Akiko Kodera from Corporate Planning Office, both working in Tokyo. Ms. Kuze decided to hire the team members while she was the head of the Matsuyama Operation Center. Having moved to Tokyo in May 2021, her new routine is to watch their away matches in the areas around Tokyo.
“In 2018, I was asked if there was any room for the players to work,” said Ms. Kuze, as she recalled her first contact with Ehime FC Ladies. “I didn’t have a special interest in soccer, I just wanted to work with athletes. So, I decided to accept three graduates.” As former volleyball player for 10 years, she simply wanted to support amateur players in the company. Now, with half of the team members working in Benefit One, “I feel like I own the club myself.”
Ms. Kodera, now a true supporter, has been watching their games at the venues since her company became a corporate sponsor. Once a caretaker for her university’s soccer club, it was natural for her to become a soccer fan.
Benefit One has its own in-house communication tool which enables the employees to cheer players directly. “That makes you more enthusiastic, and drives you to go watch them!” she smiled. The company is sure to have built a bridge between the team in Matsuyama and the workers in Tokyo.
The operation center created an even more powerful tool this year. They have set up the ‘Ehime FC Committee,’ where employees can suggest ideas to expand their support.
At a send-off, after-season party held in January, letters of thanks were given to the players who were leaving the company. Wishing a better future to each, the letters were prepared by Ms. Yoshino, who came up with the idea around the end of last year. “I didn’t expect such an elaborate piece of work,” said Ms. Nomoto. “I was really amazed. The members were very pleased with it,” she added.
According to the company, many of the workers at Matsuyama Operation Center are from Ehime Prefecture, where people treasure ‘Omotenashi,’ a Japanese saying for “wholehearted hospitality.” The locals create such a heartwarming atmosphere in the office that team members can work with great comfort.
Bento boxes produced in collaboration with players!
Seven Star Co., Ltd
Koji Sugita, Manager, Corporate Planning Department
Seiji Udaka, Store Manager, Minamiedo Branch
Next, we happened to see the launch of a new collaboration product between Ehime FC Ladies and the supermarket Seven Star, called “Collabo Bento.” As it was late afternoon, the store was crowded with customers. Two choices were offered, “Energy Bento for Victory” and “Smile Lunchbox”, both of which sold very well.
“Once familiar with their job,” said Koji Sugita, a manager of Corporate Planning Department of Seven Star Co., Ltd., “the members asked me if they can do something for the company.” Seven Star is a corporate sponsor for the team’s uniform. “So, I proposed making a bento box together,” he said. “The members participated in study meetings with suppliers. They want people to enjoy the meals they created, watch their games, and cheer for them.”
Upon starting this project, Mr. Sugita considered the nature of their work. For players that have spent a great deal of time in stocking, he felt a change would be necessary. The team members on the other hand, felt they needed to show their gratitude to the company.
Seiji Udaka, the store manager of Minamiedo Branch, had played soccer until he graduated university. He is an encouraging boss for Ayaka Osajima, who works at the same store.
“We always get a postcard from an elderly woman after each game, saying ‘Go Ehime FC Ladies!’” he said, “and that makes me try my best.”
The team’s booth displayed at the Minamiedo Branch showcases Udaka’s commitment.
Wherever the workplace is, there are always people who support the players. That allows the players, quite naturally, to get along with their company and its workers, clients, and customers. Everyone we met from the three companies was very happy to talk about the players he or she works with.
As I stepped into the back room of Minamiedo Branch, I heard rather spirited conversation between Ms. Osajima and Mr. Udaka.
“Manager! Can we shoot the video again? We showed the bento in the opposite direction!” “What? One more time?” “Yes! Please!”
Supporters help the players shine. With its long, distinguished history, we discovered that heart-warming atmosphere is still unchanged in this castle town.
This time we visited people in Matsuyama, the hometown of Ehime FC Ladies. Our next destination is Takatsuki in Osaka Prefecture.
Text by Kazuhiro Ishii