A Visit to Nadeshiko’s Hometown Around Japan Episode 4. Nittaidai Fields Yokohama
Stretched along the Tokyu Denen-Toshi Line, the northern part of Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture is known as a quiet residential area. In Aoba-ku, a calm but rather plain bedroom town where elegant houses can be seen on gentle hills, the Kenshidai campus of Nippon Sports Science University stands out, surrounded by greenery. We visited three groups of people who support Nittaidai Fields Yokohama in Aoba-ku, Yokohama.
11 players designated as one-day postmasters! Ideas unique to the post office to cheer on the team
Koichi Murano, Postmaster, Aobadai Station Front Post Office
Nittaidai Fields Yokohama is the only team organized by a university soccer club playing in the Nadeshiko League Division 1. Although the team is presented as a local community-based club in northern Yokohama, their image as a team of university students remains strong in people’s minds.
On the second floor of Aobadai Station Front Post Office, the postmaster Koichi Murano confessed that he had lacked knowledge about the team to a certain point. “I thought the team was only a university club, but after learning they’re actually a club team for our community, I felt like supporting them.”
Murano has been working on various activities to support the community. One of his commitments is the ‘Aobadai Honeybee Project’, which aims to develop honey products by greening the roof of Aobadai Post Office and keeping bees. For him, ‘the sense of community’ mattered most. Knowing the team plays an important role, his long-time concerns about the community’s lack of symbols have gone.
Shortly after Murano started watching their games at the stadium, the team won the championship title for Division 2 of the Plenus Nadeshiko League in 2017. Wanting to do something for the community, Murano proposed asking the eleven players to take on the role of ‘one-day postmaster.’ “I thought the lineup of as many as eleven postmasters would be just amazing,” he said.
Nittaidai Fields Yokohama itself actively works with the community. Collaborating with a department store Aobadai Tokyu Square, they attend a local event “Let’s Do Radio Exercise Together!” during summer break. (The event was cancelled for 2020 and 2021 because of the Coronavirus pandemic.)
The post office led by Murano is also active in this. “We ask the 10 post offices in Aobadai area to help distribute flyers,” said Murano. Thanks to his effort, the exercise event now attracts as many as 300 people.
Taking advantage of his job, Murano provides unique activities that appeal to locals. One good example is a soccer school, jointly operated by his post office and elementary schools. Children who attend enjoy playing soccer under the guidance of team players. After the lesson, they are guided to send a thank-you letter to their coaches. Murano’s post office holds a ‘writing school’ to teach how to write those letters. This ‘double’ school is highly welcome by parents and school organizers.
What drives local post offices to support the team so enthusiastically?
“Because it’s good for the community,” Murano said. “Supporting the community is our priority, and I think everyone feels the same, though we may not all go to the away games,” he laughed.
Murano is so enchanted by the team, he is now one of the devoted fans seen at away games.
Delivering local food by planting and harvesting rice, and making pickled plums with players
Hitomi Koike, COMA-DELI
The person who first introduced the team to the postmaster Murano was Hitomi Koike, born and raised in Aobadai. With love for her hometown and a desire to get involved in the community, Koike now runs COMA-DELI and provides local food by selling bento boxes in a food truck and through catering services.
Koike’s relationship with the club started while she was running her business at the team’s game site. She wanted to produce something associated with the team and asked that they work with her in making bento boxes and sweets. Supported by farmers, Koike now sells rice balls made from rice she planted and harvested with the players. She even makes miso with them.
Like Murano, Koike hopes that the team will become a symbol of Aobadai as ‘a team of the community.’ At the same time, she wants the members to discover the charms of the Aobadai area, and the benefits of relationships with local people.
“I think people realize the importance and wonders of local communities only as we get older,” Koike said. “While you are playing at university, you never see what’s good about the community. But I’m working, because I hope in the future they will recall fond memories of the time they spent here.”
It seems that Koike’s love for the community naturally guided her to the team.
“For me, the food truck business is fun and rewarding. Since I met the team, I’ve become more enthusiastic about letting people know about them.”
Official fanclub BLUES helps foster ‘the home team of the town’
Yumiko Kashiwagi, Secretary General
Yuka Yamada, Deputy Secretary General
BLUES, the Nittaidai Fields Yokohama’s official fanclub, is an organization mainly operated by the players themselves. The club’s Secretary General Yumiko Kashiwagi and Deputy Secretary General Yuka Yamada, with a help of local volunteers, have been supporting players to realize their ideas for activities. The BLUES also have the role of informing locals, in addition to fans and supporters, what is happening within the community, such as Murano’s efforts and COMA-DELI’s updates.
Kashiwagi has been working to connect people in the community, mainly through Pro Bono activities organized by local media ‘Spice Up Henshu-bu.’ While Yamada, an ex-kindergarten teacher, takes a leadership role in managing ‘Enjoy! Mama Life’, a series of seminars planned by residents in Aoba-ku.
One day, when enthusiastic and local volunteers gathered at a community study meeting, a guest made a very impressive presentation. That person, the team’s manager, urged that his team should become “the home team of the town.” Soon after the meeting, Kashiwagi rushed to watch the team’s practice. Enchanted, she poured through her network and organized a group to create ads, such as posters and official game-day programs. What’s more, she proposed the team start a website so the community can get to know about their activities both on and off the field. Working closely and having discussions with the club, players, and local volunteers, a new system was established and put into operation: BLUES.
Yamada undertakes the plan ‘Fureai Soccer Taikenkai” (a meeting to experience soccer) by using the Parent-Teacher Association network. “I’m amazed at Kashiwagi-san’s unique perspectives,” Yamada said. In response to Yamada’s comment, Kashiwagi replied, “I used to support Yokohama F. Marinos, and the services and collaborative events they offered had many good aspects. I remember those and apply them to my own creations.” She added, “The J League’s game-day programs are good examples to follow.” Kashiwagi’s experience as a soccer fan, as well as her skills and networking have contributed into a steady increase of BLUES activities.
BLUES works not only for fans and supporters, but for players. Kashiwagi has something to tell some 60 members in the team. “So many players are not on the top team. I want to give everyone a place to shine,” she said. “With players, I have developed merchandise, planned events, and worked on how to write e-mails or SNS messages. I really want them to find their lives enjoyable and rewarding, outside of just playing soccer,” she added, insisting that she hopes to let them know “they have their own worth.”
While joining BLUES, Yamada has found new horizons – she started learning to become a sports chiropractor! Before long, she will certainly support players in this new way.
How does Kashiwagi feel about the team? “I hope the team will be a landmark in Aoba-ku, a source of pride for locals, because we have no such thing here,” she said.
Aoba-ku has a population of about 310,000, much larger than the 190,000 of Kofu, the hometown of Ventforet Kofu of the J League. According to this number, as well as the stories told by those who we met, the dream of the team becoming a symbol of the community seems quite realistic.
This time we visited Aoba-ku, Yokohama, the hometown of Nittaidai Fields Yokohama.
Text by Kazuhiro Ishii