A Visit to Nadeshiko’s Hometown Around Japan Episode 5. NHK Spring Yokohama FC Seagulls
Yokohama city in Kanagawa Prefecture, is the hometown for the three J league clubs – Yokohama FC, Yokohama F. Marinos, and Yokohama Sports and Culture Club (Y.S.C.C.). Most recently, it hosted soccer matches for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics at International Stadium, where Canada’s women’s national team won gold. In this story, we will explore the city of Yokohama, the hometown for NHK Spring – Japanese name ‘Nippatsu’ – Yokohama FC Seagulls.
The two names of ‘Nippatsu’ are loved by people in Yokohama
Hiroaki Saito, Public Relations Group, General Affairs Department, NHK Spring Co., Ltd.
Upon hearing the name ‘Nippatsu,’ what would come to people’s mind? A women’s soccer team or a stadium? Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Kyugi-jo, with its English name NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Football Stadium, is the home of five soccer teams: NHK Spring Yokohama FC Seagulls, Yokohama FC, Yokohama F. Marinos, Y.S.C.C., and Nittaidai Fields Yokohama. ‘Nippatsu’ is also a nickname for Nihon Hatsujo Kabushiki Kaisha or NHK Spring Co., Ltd. The world’s top spring manufacturer, its headquarters are located in Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama.
Yokohama FC Seagulls was established in 2013, after Yokohama FC Sports Club and the top female team of Yokosuka Seagulls Sports Club formed a partnership. In 2016, the team signed a sponsorship agreement with NHK Spring and changed its Japanese name to ‘Nippatsu’ Yokohama FC Seagulls.
The company’s long involvement in soccer started in 2008, when it obtained the naming rights for soccer grounds in Mitsuzawa. Hiroaki Saito of the Public Relations Group in the General Affairs Department, has been engaged in the sport since working on the naming rights agreement between the company and the city of Yokohama. “I hope to keep our stadium beloved by companies and fans alike. And if different stakeholders, including the municipal government, can cooperate to support sports, soccer in particular, we can energize the whole city,” he said.
Nippatsu is a B2B manufacturer, mainly supplying products to auto makers rather than general consumers. As a result, its name was not familiar to the public, until it started being used on the stadium and team. Since then, the company’s name value has dramatically improved, making it more appealing to job hunting students and investors.
“We were informed by Yokohama FC Seagulls about the team’s naming rights in December 2015. We made a proposal and submitted it to our president, and he decided to take on the rights immediately,” Saito said. “The president was happy to support a local team with roots to the community,” he added. Two days after the decision, the team won the title for the 2015 Promotion/Relegation Series of the Plenus Nadeshiko League Division 2. “I received a call from the club that the team would be promoted from the Challenge League to the Nadeshiko League. It was a memorable ending to the year.”
Saito insisted, “the soccer industry has been fostering its relationship with local communities, it’s highly valued.” “As I hear fans chanting our name during games, I feel the company’s support has really taken shape. After all these years, we have built a good relationship with the team, its fans and supporters, as well as the city of Yokohama,” he added.
Crowned with the name ‘Nippatsu,’ Yokohama FC Seagulls is fighting in the Nadeshiko League this year. On February 17, 2021, NHK Spring announced the renewal of its five-year contract on the naming rights for the stadium. The patronage of the citizens of Yokohama to the company seems to continue.
Creating future with the top amateur team in Totsuka-ku
Hideo Yokokawa, President, Yokohama Future Healthcare System
In Totsuka-ku, Yokohama, where NHK Spring Yokohama FC Seagulls is based in, 26 players work for the medical corporation Yokohama Mirai Healthcare System. A top partner for the team, the company provides local communities, mainly in Totsuka-ku, with medical services through operating hospitals, 24 nursing homes, and a nursing school. In addition to the 26 soccer team members, it also employs players from the female rugby team, YOKOHAMA TKM.
Takako Gonno has been working since she joined the team in 2020. She told us that her career in the hospital would be helpful in the future. “I hope to help promote women’s soccer when I go back home to Ishikawa someday,” said Gonno, who is doing her best at work and play.
Hideo Yokokawa, the company’s chairman, played rugby for six years while he was in high school and university. He later served as manager for the rugby club at Showa University.
Yokokawa explained his company’s recruiting policy, which highlights sportsmanship. “People committed to sports tend to be highly considerate of others, that’s why we are keen on hiring athletes,” he said.
The company has been active in social contributions through various programs featuring women’s soccer, including a soccer classroom with NHK Spring Yokohama FC Seagulls!” and the “Pink Ribbon Match” sponsored by Totsuka Kyoritsu Medical Group.
What aspect of this women’s sport is most appealing to Yokokawa?
“First of all, it’s enjoyable. As it is broadcasted on TV, everybody knows it and likes it.”
“Patients and visitors are surprised to hear our clinics have Nadeshiko League players. It is good for a medical institution like us to gain trust by supporting women’s soccer, which is particularly loved by people in Yokohama. We can contribute to society through sports.”
Upon the birth of ‘WE League,’ the first professional soccer league for women in Japan, the environment surrounding female players is changing on a great scale. How does Yokokawa hope to keep his relationship with the team?
“Right now, it’s best to have them as ‘the top team of the amateur league’,” he said. “To be honest, I want them to stay in the Nadeshiko League, instead of joining the WE League. That would make us feel more supportive because our community can keep that connection to the team.”
Leading the largest medical corporation in Totsuka-ku, Yokokawa wishes to build a better future for the community together with his home team.
Who drives the bus? President of official partner steers to transport players
Kazuya Kanamori, President, Takematsu Shoji Co., Ltd.
You can hardly believe your ears when you hear the president of an official partner drives a bus to transport players. But, it’s true. Why did this happen?
Kazuya Kanamori, the president of Takematsu Shoji Co., Ltd., told us why he became such an enthusiastic devotee of the team. “First, I visited Yokohama FC in the J League for sales talk, but they offered me the sponsorship for Nippatsu instead,” he laughed.
Kanamori first contacted Yokohama FC because the club had received ISO14001 certification, the international standard for environmental management system. Takematsu Shoji, an industrial waste disposal company, seeks to contribute to forming a sound material-cycle society. Kanamori finds his business an ‘idea-oriented’ one. One example of their contribution is ‘upcycling’, a way to process waste materials by turning them into something new and increasing its value. The company also holds events featuring upcycling projects with Nippatsu players.
The company produces various ‘upcycled’ items based on its employees’ ideas, then sells these products to fans and supporters of the team. They have also donated part of their profits to help support medical staff fighting against COVID-19, as well as those working to prevent spreading.
“Yokohama FC has a power we don’t have, a cohesive power that makes fans and supporters buy their merchandise. If our business is widely accepted with the help of the team, the city of Yokohama can get a boost in realizing a sound material-cycle society,” he said. “People would see Yokohama FC in a different way, as an eco-friendly team.”
From 2014 till 2019, Kanamori devoted himself to transport players to their away games on his days off.
“At that time, players would share their cars to get to their practice games. So, I told them, ‘I can drive the bus to take you there, because I’m going to watch your games anyway,’” he said. “Maybe I was hoping to be a part of the team,” he added with a shy smile. Even though Kanamori thought it was no big deal, the players must have been puzzled to see the president of their official partner at the driver’s seat.
“I didn’t want them to feel pressure, so I kept silent during the drive. But gradually we became familiar with each other, and after years, I found myself feeling like their father.”
Meanwhile, the team won the chance to be promoted to the Nadeshiko League Division 2. After the match, the players in the pitch were eager to call Kanamori, and he was tossed into the air in celebration! How did he feel about that?
“I’d never had such an experience before, I was so moved. I couldn’t stop crying, because I knew how much they had struggled. I thanked them for giving me a chance to share in their joy with them.”
As Nippatsu currently plays in the Division 1, we asked Kanamori this last question: Did you expect this to happen when you first called on Yokohama FC?
“If Nippatsu didn’t exist, we would never have gotten close to women’s soccer, nor to the club,” he said.
Kanamori has a lot of impressive stories like the ones above. They are compiled into company reports by workers in the Ecocle Division, including Miyuu Yamamoto. Initiated by the president, a circle of support for the team keeps expanding with his employees.
This time, we visited people in Yokohama, the hometown of NHK Spring Yokohama FC Seagulls.
Text by Kazuhiro Ishii