Hockey Town, Japan
17-year-old Miyu Hasegawa lives in Okuizumo, Shimane Prefecture, a quiet town in the mountains of western Japan. It has a population of 12,000. At first glance, it seems like any other community in the area. But Okuizomo is set apart by an unusual passion. The people in this town love field hockey.
In 1982, Shimane Prefecture hosted the National Athletic Meet. Okuizumo was chosen as the site for the field hockey and a state-of-the-art field was constructed for the event. This sparked the town's love for the sport.
Miyu started playing when she was just six years old. She is currently a member of Japan's national under 18 team. There are only 13 schools in Okuizumo, but they have 8 field hockey teams between them. And the town has produced four female Olympians in the sport.
With this history and passion as the starting point, Okuizumo is now trying to be selected as a training base for a visiting team ahead of Tokyo 2020. The town has already devoted half a year's tax revenues to remodeling the municipal sports ground to meet Olympic standards.
Okuizumo officials say hosting a national team would energize the local economy. And it would give Miyu, her teammates, and all the hockey-mad residents the chance to watch world class athletes every day.
Okuizumo has set its sights on India, one of the top teams in global competition. Field hockey became popular in the country under British rule. The men and women's teams are currently the top ranked in Asia.
In order to stand out, Okuizumo is doing its best to make itself welcoming to India. The town's board of education has launched an Indian studies program at its elementary schools. Enna Gurung was hired by the town and visits the schools several times a month, teaching the students about Indian culture.
Last December, Okuizumo hosted India's top high school players. The hope was the hospitality and training facilities the town had to offer would convince Indian officials this was the place for their team to prepare for the Olympics.
"It's just amazing," said Kamaljeet Kaur, the coach of the high school group. She had just been taken on a tour of the hockey field and facilities in Okuizumo. "If they [the Indian national team] come and practice in these conditions, it would help to enhance their performance to the Olympic level at Tokyo."
"Attracting the Indian national team would help us promote local field hockey," says Takamitsu Motoyama of the Okuizumo Athletic Association.
Exchange will Pay
Some Okuizumo families welcomed the Indian students into their homes. Khushi Patel and Sifat Jamal Ansari visited Miyu's family. They watched Miyu's mother prepare dinner using locally grown shiitake mushrooms. The meal was filled with Okuizumo specialties.
The Indian students faced off against the Okuizumo high school team, which Miyu plays for. The scrimmage gave the teams a chance to measure their skills against each other, and everyone had a good time.
"I feel closer to them now," Miyu said. "I really want the Indian national team to come to Okuizumo and help our town be a part of the Tokyo games."
The Indian national team is expected to select its training site in just a few months' time. Okuizumo officials and residents will be hoping the recent exchange will help the team reach a favorable decision.