A Visit to Nadeshiko’s Hometown Around Japan Episode 7. Orca Kamogawa FC
Kamogawa City in Chiba Prefecture is a seaside resort located in the southern part of the Boso Peninsula. The beach, a known surfing mecca, is lined with villas, hotels, yacht harbors and cafes. Most bustling is an area around the aquarium, Kamogawa Sea World, and Kameda General Hospital where many players of Orca Kamogawa FC work. This time, we took a deep dive into team’s story, while feeling the sea breeze from the beach.
A team most beloved by killer whales in Japan!
Kenji Nakahashi, Sales and Marketing Manager, Kamogawa Sea World
There is something strange about the team’s group photo – a huge water tank and a jumping killer whale stands behind the sharp-looking players in blue uniforms. The photo was taken at Kamogawa Sea World in Chiba, an aquarium celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021, and the only place to watch a killer whale show in Japan.
Every year, the team’s group photo session is scheduled on February 11th, the founding day of the city. The aquarium designates this date as “Kamogawa Citizen’s Day,” an admission-free day for the citizens of Kamogawa. In front of a crowd, a series of ceremonies are conducted: greetings from the team’s manager and newcomers, and annual passports for the facility are awarded to the players. The team then aligns on the bench at Ocean Stadium for the shooting.
“People often say, ‘the photo must be photoshopped,’ but it’s a genuine photo,” said Kenji Nakahashi, the sales and marketing manager of the aquarium.
“We’ve never missed getting a perfect shot. After jumping, the whale touches the water and makes a huge splash over the players, so we must seize the chance,” he said. “We can’t try more than twice in the February cold. Everybody can’t help but scream as they are washed over by the large amount of water.”
To get a perfect shot in a single shooting, they need extremely careful preparations. Not only do humans get ready, but the animal, too. The staff have a rehearsal for the whale to let it know where to jump. It is amazing that the shot is made possible through close cooperation among the club, the staff, and the whale.
Another attraction loved by locals on that day is the ‘tail burst,’ a splashy present from the whale.
“By flapping its tail, the whale dashes water onto the players for about one minute. That generates a lot of excitement because it’s freezing cold outside in February,” said Nakahashi. “It’s an encouraging message from the whale to the team,” he laughed.
In 2021, the team refrained from joining the event on “Kamogawa Citizen’s Day” due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Nakahashi confessed that the aquarium had received a lot of inquiries. “People look forward to this annual event with the team.” Hopefully, they can join the event again once the Coronavirus situation has calmed down.
Fostering the team and piloting energy to the town
Yoko Higuchi, Chairman of Orca Friends, the Orca Kamogawa FC Supporters’ Association
One of the best 100 beaches in Japan, Maebara Yokosuka Beach has a long crescent-shape shore and the people of Kamogawa are proud of its beauty. The promenade along the beach leading to the Kamogawa Sea World is a good running route for the team. At a seaside café, we met the dashing Yoko Higuchi, who runs an inn in the city and is also the chairman of ‘Orca Friends,’ the team’s supporters’ association.
Orca Friends was founded in 2014, the same year as team’s establishment. At its inaugural meeting held at Kameda University of Health Science, Higuchi was appointed as chairman.
“This association is completely driven by the members’ volunteer spirit,” she said, as it is not supported by a company or other institution. Locals wanting to support the team and vitalize the city gathered and set up the organization. Starting from scratch, their awkward beginnings made for a lot of fun memories.
“Once, the team was to have a match outside the city, I called their office and asked, ‘Will you have a bus to take fans and supporters to the site?’ and they said ‘No,’” said Higuchi. “I guess the person I talked was Ayako Kitamoto, the team’s manager at that time, now general manager. The team was so small, she ran the operation almost entirely by herself. I think it was my first time to talk with her,” she laughed.
The association is putting most effort into the “Orca Yokocho,” a street of food stands at their home games. There are about 10 stands, and it has grown to become a specialty of Kamogawa.
“We only have food stands now, but it would be more fun to have our local specialties, like vegetables or rice. If things go well, we would like to bring this event to our away games as well,” she said. To prevent the Coronavirus infections, the event is currently held under certain restrictions. However, this won’t prevent them from pursuing their dreams.
“I hope Orca will grow more to become a source of energy for the city. After victories, we see a lot of elderly people in blue uniforms saying, ‘We won!’ while leaving the stadium,” she said. “We have such a nice feeling, the town and the team as one. If you kept your distance from the team, this would not happen.”
Orca Friends donates part of its membership fees to support the club, while its members look forward to watching young players develop in the team’s youth academy.
Higuchi is proud of her association because “everybody is willing to support and have fun.” “I’m baffled by my deep attachment to the town” she laughed.
Ready for championship through image training
Nobuaki Fujishiro, assistant chief of police station, Kamogawa Police Station, Chiba
Whenever Orca’s home-game dates gets closer, a man appears at the counter of ‘Blauer Kreis,’ the team’s official fan shop. Nobuaki Fujishiro always buys a ticket, never missing a game. We visited him working as the assistant chief of police station at Kamogawa Police Station, a five-minute walk from the shop.
Fujishiro’s favorite player is Chiaki Minamiyama.
“Once Orca was behind, she scored a goal on a last-chance opportunity. We were really excited. Later that day, I happened to see her shopping with her teammates downtown. They are locals, just like us,” he said. “You often see their posters in local shops, so I would say, virtually everyone here is supporting them.”
When the club was started in 2014, Fujishiro was working at the same police station. He finds the city is now more invigorated than seven years ago.
Because of the team’s overwhelming popularity, they have been asked to cooperate with the city’s national road safety campaign. For this purpose, some players are designated as “one-day chief” of the Kamogawa Police Station.
“If players call for road safety and accident prevention, it’s much more effective. Their blue uniforms have a huge impact, compared to the police,” he laughed.
In 2016, a section 3 playoff series for the Plenus Challenge League was held at Kamogawa Track Stadium. At full capacity with Orca’s 1,116 fans and supporters, the stadium saw the team win the title, exciting the town. If the team wins the title for the Nadeshiko League Division 1 this year, it will bring immense joy to the locals, including Fujishiro. When I asked him what he would do if that happened, he made an instant and realistic answer as a assistant chief of police station.
“We will certainly have a parade to celebrate, won’t we? If so, we must be busy controlling traffic and ensuring security,” he said.
Fujishiro may already have the route for a parade and a detailed plan in his mind. In my mind, too, I could see the players marching powerfully through the waves of people in blue shirts.
Kamogawa has community-wide support for the club. The blue shirts go well with the town of blue oceans.
This time, we visited people in Kamogawa, the hometown of Orca Kamogawa FC.
Text by Kazuhiro Ishii