Healing Gift For A Hurting Country

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - July 27, 2011
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Japan players celebrate with the trophy after winning the final match over the United States at the Women’s Soccer World Cupin Frankfurt, Germany, July 17

You didn’t have to love the sport of soccer to appreciate the wonderful story that unfolded at the 2011 World Cup. It was the stuff movies are made of, only this was very real and extremely heartwarming.

On paper, it was David vs. Goliath; the heavily favored Americans, looking for their third World Cup title, taking on the emotionally driven Japanese, who were playing for a grieving country. To add to the apparent mismatch, consider Japan was winless against the U.S. in 25 previous meetings and was searching for that elusive first World Cup crown.

I had just returned from the earthquake and tsunami-torn country less than 24 hours before kickoff. For the second time in four months, I saw the resilience of the Japanese people following the March 11 natural and nuclear disaster.

I also witnessed the joy on the streets when Japan beat Germany and Sweden to advance to the final.

A World Cup victory would give the country an incredible spiritual boost.

It was, in many people’s eyes, the team of destiny.

Well, destiny prevailed and it could not have come on a more appropriate day.

Before leaving Japan, my friend Ryoji Soranaka, who grew up in Aiea and now owns a restaurant in Akasaka, said he and his family were looking forward to a three-day weekend, something about Marine Day.

I had no idea what he was talking about, so I Googled it.

Turns out Marine Day or Umi no hi, is Japan’s newest national holiday. Since 2003, it has been celebrated on the third Monday in July. In 2011, that day was July 18, the same day of the World Cup finale.

Here’s what makes it such an appropriate day.

Japanese fans celebrate in Tokyo’s Shibuya district after Japan beat the United States in their final match at the Women’s Soccer World Cup

Marine Day was established to express gratitude for our gifts from the sea.

It was a way to honor the ocean’s importance in the lives of Japanese people and a chance to pray for the prosperity of Japan as a maritime nation. Many families often take advantage of the summer holiday by spending a day at the beach or enjoying cultural activities relating to the sea.

July 18 was the first Marine Day since the horrific disaster in northeastern Japan, a day the ocean erupted and leveled neighborhoods and communities. The earthquake and tsunami left nearly 23,000 people dead or missing.

Many survivors are still living in shelters.

But for just one day, the Japanese were able to escape from their pain and focus on something positive. Fans packed bars, restaurants and homes all across the country to watch the women of Japan take on the giants from America.

This one wasn’t supposed be close, but someone forgot to tell Japan.

Every time the U.S. scored, Japan answered. They were resilient, responding to adversity and challenges.

Why wouldn’t they?

In the end, Japan stunned the world becoming the first Asian nation to win the Women’s World Cup, beating the U.S. 3-1 in a shoot-out after a 2-2 draw.

As the women hoisted the cup over their heads, gold confetti showered them. For a brief moment, it looked like it was raining gold origami cranes.

I found myself tearing up and clapping from my living room. My son and I were watching a nation heal right before eyes.

Then it hit me.

The landmark victory came on a day that certainly brought mixed emotions. This was a day to celebrate the oceanthe same ocean that delivered so much pain March 11. Instead an entire country watched a miracle on their national holiday.

Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan called the victory the “greatest gift” to the nation. Others called it destiny.

But what it really was an example of what can happen with hard work, hope, perseverance and resiliency.

It’s what the Japanese have always been about.

The rest of world just saw it firsthand.

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