Backstories

National Soccer Center Reopens in Fukushima

    Japan's national soccer training facility, known as J-Village, opened its doors on July 28th after sitting idle for more than seven years. The center, in Fukushima Prefecture, suspended operations after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown. Instead of receiving the cream of Japan's soccer players, it became a base for decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

    Kick off New Future

    Attendees at the reopening ceremony remembered the victims of the March 2011 disaster. Junior high school students played an exhibition match.

    The stadium clock was stuck at 2:46 PM -- the moment the massive quake struck 7 years before. There have been no matches since then; no practice sessions, either. But that all changed when the whistle blew on a new era.

    New national team coach Hajime Moriyasu called the reopening of J-Village great news for everyone involved in the game.

    He says the national squad will also be able to come to J-Village and, he hopes, inspire players across the country.

    A Long Road

    Shusaku Sagi works for the company that manages the facility. He grew up here and played for a local youth team at J-Village. He was inspired to see the national team training.

    "I used to come here and sweat with my teammates five or six times a week," he says. "This place nurtured me both as a soccer player and as a person."

    But then the 2011 nuclear disaster hit. J-Village, straddling the towns of Naraha and Hirono, is only about 20 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and was an ideal base for decommissioning work.

    The grounds were used as a parking lot, a dumping ground and a space for temporary housing for workers. Sagi thought the place he loved would be gone forever.

    But when Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, it was clear teams would need a place to train.

    That's when plans were hatched to bring J-Village back from the brink. Sagi was part of the team throughout it all.

    A New Era for J-Village

    Sagi knows there are still concerns about radiation, so he publishes up-to-date readings on the J-Village website to show that levels are now the same as in other places.

    He says seeing sport here again is special: "Just watching children playing soccer gives me strength, and I hope J-Village's return will help push reconstruction forward. The new J-Village starts today."

    Sagi says J-Village played a huge role in his past, which is one big reason why he's committed to being part of its future.