PRESS RELEASE 08.10.2003


Golden era of Japan

Japan enjoyed their golden era in the 1960's and 1970's. The head coach of the women's national team in the 60's was Hirofumi Daimatsu, who was a charismatic character with his army-style discipline and hard training.

They shocked the then European-dominated women's field, when they advanced to the final of the 1960 World Championship in Brazil to collect the silver medal. It was their first attempt at the World Championship, since Japan had enjoyed the traditional nine-man Volleyball game and was rather reluctant to develop the six-man version.

Despite being beaten by the Soviet Union in the final, it did not discourage the young team, but on the contrary brought an inspirational fire to them. Soon afterwards they were determined to gain revenge and were eager for any chance to meet the world champion.

Daimatsu was not only the head coach of the national team, but also the head coach of a company club, Nichibo-Kaizuka, which was one of the biggest textile companies in Japan. Almost all national team players belonged to that particular club, lessening the difficulty of training together. His hard-work approach to training was praised as a role model of team sports and his practical instructions and father-like-figure became very popular among various generations in Japan.

His favorite remark to the players was, "you just got to follow me". The Daimatsu Family became more and more popular year by year building up towards the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964.

Following the defeat to the Soviet Union in Brazil, Daimatsu realized that it was essential for Japan to improve its defense, so he tried to brush up on their unique digging technique named "rolling digging" by which a player extends one leg towards the ball to dig and after digging, she rolled her body smoothly into the moving direction by kneeing on the floor in a rolling motion, standing up again, to enable her to prepare for the next necessary action.

Two years later in 1962, at the next World Championship in the Soviet Union, Japan gained their revenge and beat the hosts to become the first Asian team to collect a gold medal, giving impetus to European Volleyball officials making up the nickname of "Oriental Witches" for the Japanese women.

In 1964 at the Tokyo Olympic Games, they again came up against their arch rival the Soviet Union in the final. Public interest ballooned to record TV ratings of 66.8%, which after 39 years, still remains the highest ever watched sports event in Japan. Backed by huge local support and under the strong leadership of their captain Masae Kasai, Japan steamrolled the Soviet Union 3-0, much to the delight of the whole country.

After the Tokyo Olympic Games the International Volleyball Federation amended a technical rule which allowed the players to block in the over-net position. This particular rule change affected the physically-small Japanese players on defense. On the contrary, the Soviet Union improved their defense comprehensively. The Soviet Union regained their traditional power by claiming the gold medal at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, the World Championship gold medal in 1970 in Bulgaria and another Olympic title in 1972 in Munich.

Japan were the unlucky losers in both Olympic Games finals in 1968 and 1972 but the defeats saw them counter the Soviet Union's new play by building an attack-accentuated team by leaving out defense-minded players. Their head coach was then Mr. Shigeo Yamada, who was also a head coach of a popular company club, Hitachi. While Mr. Daimatsu was often characterized as a military sergeant figure, Mr. Yamada was a smart and cool tactician.

Mr. Yamada was lucky to be able to have a tall and powerful outside attacker in Takako Shirai at his disposal. She was physically strong and a powerful spiker, which Japan seldom produced and is still struggling to find. Her height and power was superior to any other spiker of other teams. She was unstoppable even by the impressive blocking of the Soviet Union.

Echiko Maeda, Japan's middle blocker was also not only gifted but sufficiently tall to block and produce effective attacking in various comprehensive combination plays with their setter, Noriko Matsuda.

Shirai and her company broke through the iron curtain of the Soviet Union at the Montreal Olympics in 1976 to win their second gold medal in twelve years for Japan.