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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (June 19, 2002)

World Cup Legacy For Japan

J. Sean Curtin (Professor, Japanese Red Cross University)

This comment originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Fourm" ( on June 18, 2002: posted here with the author's permission.

I spent Tuesday afternoon with a large crowd of excited Japanese university students watching Turkey kill their World Cup dream. A few hours later, I watched the same students scream with joy as Korea equalized against Italy. When Korea scored the winning goal, pandemonium broke out. If it is one thing I have learnt from this roller coaster experience it is this: the World Cup is not a matter of national life and death, it is much more important than that. Japanese students ecstatically celebrating Korean victory is just one of the many good things that has come out of the co-hosting of the World Cup.

While Japanese success in getting into the last sixteen of the World Cup has undoubtedly had a positive effect on the economy, what is much more difficult to quantify is the immense psychological uplift this success has had on national self-pride and the feeling of belonging to the wider international community. These last two phenomena will most likely be the lasting legacy of the tournament.

The economic impact of the World Cup is easily seen in improved consumer sentiment, which can be measured in terms of the rising sales volume of soccer-related goods and increased spending in the entertainment sector. There is also the additional boost from foreign tourists who are pumping a lot of extra cash into the economy.

Moving away from the tangible economic figures into the more elusive realm of the Japanese national psyche is where the most significant effects are probably to be found. The largest impact appears to have been on the young who have suddenly found a new sense of faith in their country. The loss against Turkey has done little to dampen this feeling and the Korean victory has uplifted spirits. As someone who teaches at three different Japanese universities, I have been completely overwhelmed by the levels of student joy and enthusiasm over World Cup success. I cannot recall a time when young people have been so proud and confident about Japan. This is a tremendous boost for young Japanese, who survey after survey reveal are extremely pessimistic about the prospects for their own country. At long last they have a reason to feel a little confident.

Unprecedented levels of youth unemployment have made the young feel gloomy about the future. The media often gives the impression that success is a thing of the past for Japan. Yet, in less than a decade the nation has transformed itself from a soccer nobody into a soccer superstar. This incredible accomplishment gives young people hope and a blueprint for the future. It tells them that Japan can reinvent itself and be successful. This psychological boost should overflow into improved national self-confidence or what economists like to call the feel good factor.

On the international front, the World Cup tournament has made Japan feel much more a part of the world community than any other previous major international event. The genuine rejoicing for Korea is proof of this. Soccer is the only true global sport and Japanese young people can now feel that their country belongs to the larger world community and this is certain to improve the Japanese mindset in the future.

Who says soccer is just a game?

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