Wow, yesterday was a riveting day here in Honolulu. We awoke to the Women’s World Cup Soccer madness. Breakfast and brunch establishments were packed and overflowing… and, buffets were spilling over in people’s homes. Hawaii is a state with many different ethnicities blended together and one of the largest populations is Japanese. Over 25% of Hawaii’s population has “Japanese blood” so the excitement here was palpable and the hope for a great match was shared by all. Who to root for was a tough decision but most of us found ourselves rooting for goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori as she was pressed early and often – the ball was always around her but never seemed to get past her.
Of course we cheered as Abby marched and placed her kicks perfectly and felt enormously proud that the US women had made it so far. And since this was no bitter pairing with a terrible rivalry and history… wishing the Japanese women well was easy to do. The match was exciting to the end. The US team pressured early and often, testing the goalie again and again. But in overtime, the patient Japanese followed their captain, Hamare Sawa and tried some pressing of their own. It ended in thrilling victory for the Japanese women and Japan as a whole. A true testament to never giving up was played out on television. One of the US teammates summed it up well – if it had to be someone else winning, it’s good its the Japanese. Our Cinderella story was “out-cinderella’d” in overtime by the Japanese.
The national coverage was intense here but nothing compared to the coverage across Japan – the whole nation was watching, then celebrating. We lived in Seoul for many years and Korean people literally stay up all night to watch an important soccer match (men’s or women’s). I mean the whole country – no exaggerating – EVERYONE. People go into work late and schools open an hour later; the closest equivalent we have is the Superbowl. Japan is very similar to Korea in this regard; they are immensely proud of their athletes and track them globally. If there is a Japanese player on the Red Sox (think Matsuzaka), his performance is highlighted in the Japanese press constantly and the nation follows his every success (and mourn his failures). It is hard to explain the national pride and interest in the best players/athletes and teams in Japan, but it is very real. So this was a REALLY big deal for Japan. The entire nation is the fan base for the soccer team named Nadeshiko, which means beautiful flower when translated.
While we are congratulating Japan on her success, I thought I would share some of my favorite things about Japan:
Ninjas and samurai – this is a nations shaped by warriors and clashes. The ninjas were the “paid for hire” assassins that were dressed in the trademark head to toe black, with only their eyes visible. Their favorite way to fight was to ambush, using rooftops, spies and any other means at their disposal. The Samurai warriors were born of the military noble class and lived by a code of honor and integrity. They dressed in kimonos and armor and fought face to face with honor. Both warriors were fierce and feared and played a great role in shaping modern Japan. Some of the best stories contain these characters – either an exciting hero or a despised villain.
The Food – Sushi is a low fat meal made fresh by the best trained chefs – but more importantly, it is delicious. Typically, sushi has raw fish but it can also cooked fish, shellfish or other ingredients. It is usually enjoyed with sticky rice and dipped in a little soy sauce with wasabi. Sushi is everywhere now but the best and most artistic sushi is still served in Japan. They also have the best noodle shops if you are in the mood for a heavier meal and a very different experience. I have a craving just thinking about these dishes.
Kyoto and Tokyo – did you eve notice they have the exact same letters justdifferently arranged? I love the architecture, history and beauty of Kyoto(called “city f 1,000 temples). There are people riding bikes, visiting some of thebreathtaking temples (which are still active), strolling along the river, and relivingstories of the ninjas that fought there in years past. It is a chic walk back in timedelicately preserved and full of friendly people, great food and gardens. Tokyo iscrammed with energy and activity, with all the neighborhoods having separateand distinct identities. It has to one of the hippest places on the planet but you aregreeted with sophistication and kindness when you enter any establishment.
Buddhist temples and Japanese gardens – there are literally thousands ofbeautiful gardens and temples that really show the soul of Japan. If you ask a Japanese person their religion, most will say Shintoism or Buddhism. Most basetheir moral code on Confusianism which can be described as the social common idea. Here is a link that shows some of the most remarkable and famous shrines andtemples - www.taleofgenji.org/japanese_temples.html.
Enthusiastic teenagers – Japan has some of the most trendy, wired and colorfulteenagers anywhere. They are colorful and experimental in their styles and have the
ability to make any new device, idea or “thing” go viral as they are so current andelectronically advanced. They are also open, curious and attractive.
Women secretly with a backbone – women in Japan are often thought to be verydemur and soft spoken. But do not confuse this with have no spine or strength. Women have very strong family relationships and networks of friends. They reallyrun what goes on in the home (including the finances) and the family and social agenda. They are wonderful friends that will do anything to help you and will notbudge when it comes to the well being of their child/ren. And they are very funny when you know them well.
The art of the beautiful package – whether they are bringing a housewarmingtoken gift, a birthday gift or a small thanks for something, no one knows how to put artistry into packaging like the Japanese. Every item you purchase is wrappedbeautifully and presented with such care it still amazes me and if it comes from someone who considers you special, they have inevitably poured time and passioninto its presentation.
Japanese princes and princesses – they have them but they are not out in thespotlight all the time. They bring their sophistication and heritage to important events (not usually “pop” oriented) and conduct special ceremonies like Shintoceremonies. They are demur, tasteful and keep a low profile and are a source of deep national pride. And, it is always nice to have a princess we can adore from afar!
And the #1 thing I admire about the Japanese - their grace and poise underpressure and in tragedy. This past year has seen Japan push on as the tragedies mounted. The earthquake and devastating tsunami starting March 11 really shookthe nation and its people.
So when the Japanese wake up after their celebrations, know that we are raising aglass to your success — and wishing a continued recovery across your country.
In the end, it was a two-sided Cinderella story but only one Cinderella gets to win. The unlikely get noticed and go on to impress and inspire others. Congratulations USA for your poise and accomplishment… and a big congratulations to Japan foryour stunning victory. You are the new Cinderella.
Eileen Wacker, a Harvard Business School graduate, lived and worked in seven different countries, including the United States. Wacker now resides in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and four children, one of whom is a daughter adopted from China. She is the author of the Mom’s Choice Award Winning Fujimini Adventure Series.