It has been four years since the head coach, Shoichi Yanagimoto, started coaching the Japanese women’s national team. Four years ago, Yanagimoto picked young promising players i.e. Megumi Kurihara, Kana Oyama and Saori Kimura and the squad took the World Cup 2003 by storm. Building on a momentum which began at the World Cup 2003, Japan qualified for the Olympics in Athens at the OQT in 2004. Japan’s squad eventually put an end to its absence from the Olympics. The team finished 5th in the Olympics in Athens.
After the Olympics in 2004, Yanagimoto’s squad has had its ups and downs; however, the team gradually improved. In 2005, due to injuries, Yanagimoto was unable to pick the best players. Nevertheless, despite the concerns of everyone involved, he superbly turned the situation around, and made a fantastic team with small players.
In 2006, at the World Championship Japan, as hosts, was under enormous pressure. Despite a loss to Chinese Taipei at the curtain raiser, Yamagimoto rebuilt his team from the following day and they was able to realize their potential. Finishing 5th in the Championship, Japan missed an opportunity to win a medal; however, the come-from-behind victory over Serbia and Montenegro (3-2), which won the bronze medal, gave Japan hope and confidence.
The start of the 2007 season signaled a bright future. Most players who were considered best in the previous Premier League were gathered in the first camp in the middle of May.
Although some experienced players i.e. Kaoru Sugayama and Kana Oyama were left out of the squad due to injury, the team skipper, Yoshie Takeshita, and co-skipper, Miyuki Takahashi, pulled the team together. The most significant thing for the team is that the most reliable spiker, Megumi Kurihara, has made a comeback to the national side after been absent since the Olympic Games in 2004.
In September, 2007, at the 14th Asian Women’s Championship in Thailand, Japan beat China for the first time in 24 years. That was a sensational moment for Japan to have realized a long-cherished dream. What is more, throughout the Asian Championship, Japanese players gained a lot of confidence in their volleyball and a momentum towards the World Cup 2007.
This year, all the squad’s preparations are planned with qualification for the Olympics at the World Cup 2007 in Beijing in mind. Recognizing that most of the participating teams in the World Cup are very hard to beat, Japan will bravely fight to qualify for the Olympics next year.
Although there are many volleyball coaches in the world, there are not many like Shoichi Yanagimoto, the present head coach of the Japanese women’s squad, who has been involved in various aspects of volleyball throughout his career.
Yanagimoto was born in Osaka in 1951 and was a promising setter even in high school and he won two national high school titles. He decided to pursue a career as a volleyball player with the New Nippon Steel team, one of the major companies in Japan, and was selected for Japan’s national squad. He achieved remarkable success – 1st at the Asian Games in Iran in 1974, 3rd at the World Championship in Mexico in 1974 and 4th in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976. Furthermore, for four seasons from 1980 to 1984 Yanagimoto played two roles at New Nippon Steel - as head coach and as the key setter - and he led his squad to a glorious victory in the Japan League, the then premier League in Japan, and Yanagimoto himself was voted Best Coach in 1982.
In 1985, Yanagimoto was invited to Thailand to coach the Thai men’s national squad. Despite a lack of time and difficulty in communicating with his players, Yanigimoto was passionate about coaching. He guided the team to first place at the SEA Games. He sometimes recalls this time in Thailand and is convinced that his experiences there has broadened his horizons.
In the following year, 1986, Yanagimoto was asked to be involved in the founding of a new team, Nisshin Steel, and to coach them. So he resumed his career in Japan and Nisshin Steel soon got prompted to the first division, the V. League. As a result, Yanagimoto’s reputation as a coach was enhanced.
1997 was the turning point in his volleyball career when he took over TOYOBO Orchis, a women’s company team in the V. League, and the team won the V-League twice in five seasons. However, in 2002, despite being one of the top teams, the owners decided to follow the example of Hitachi, Odakyu and UNITIKA and close down their volleyball team as a cost-cutting measure due to the long-lasting economic depression.
In spring 2003, Yanagimoto was appointed as head coach of the Japanese senior women’s national squad by the JVA. Within 8 months his squad had made a remarkable improvement and finished 5th at the women’s World Cup in November. At the OQT in the following year, Japan finished 1st and eventually qualified for the Olympics. Since the Olympics in 2004, however, all has not been smooth sailing for his squad. When key players were left out of the squad due to injury, Yanagimoto always tried to maintain consistency by making the most of his remaining players’ ability. He can demonstrate his abilities in the face of adversity.
The final goal of 2007 is, needless to say, qualification for the Beijing Olympics next year. Yanagimoto has made a careful plan for 2007. Immediately after the national volleyball competition in May, the national team got together and they have been training together since then. At the World Grand Prix 2007, Yanagimoto and his team were not satisfied with the result – actually Japan did not qualify for the final round in China. However, their hard training and their efforts after the World Grand Prix bore fruit and finally Japan defeated China (3-0) at the Asian Championship for the first time in 24 years.
We believe that Yanagimoto’s squad is improving all the time and that he will show us his new strategy at the World Cup 2007.