Goal Click
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Bukatsu, Captain Tsubasa, and snow in Hokkaido

The next destination for Goal Click takes us to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Our photographer Ryu Voelkel captured scenes from Japanese High School football in extreme weather conditions. Ryu spoke to Goal Click about the popularity of bukatsu school sports clubs and the future of Japanese football.

Bukatsu, Captain Tsubasa, and snow in Hokkaido

The next destination for Goal Click takes us to Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Our photographer Ryu Voelkel captured scenes from Japanese High School football in extreme weather conditions. Ryu spoke to Goal Click about the popularity of bukatsu school sports clubs and the future of Japanese football.

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Who is in the photos?

The photos feature kids from Asahikawa Jitsugyo High School, Asahikawa Higashi High School, and Traum Football Club. They are all between 12-18 years old.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

I wanted to shoot bukatsu, the Japanese after-school sports clubs.  Also I wanted to shoot football in the snow. The standard of High School football in Japan is high.  Since High School sports are much more popular than club sports, the schools put a lot of resources into it.

Why did you choose to take photos of this team and in these conditions?

I was heavily influenced by a Japanese comic book called “Captain Tsubasa” (focused on a footballer called Tsubasa Oozora). One of the characters hails from Hokkaido, where Asahikawa city is located.

It’s not easy at all to play in these conditions.  If the snow is deep, it’s like playing on a beach.  When the snow is packed it’s quite slippery, even if they have football boots on. These scenes are typical for schools where it snows a lot, but schools with money will be able to train inside the gymnasium. Though I think most of the kids prefer to play outside compared to playing indoors.

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Is there a specific person you took photos of that has a good personal story?

The most interesting person was the coach of Asahikawa Jitsugyo High School. The coach has some really interesting ideas.  He wants different regions of Japan to have different styles of football.  So one region will be good at dribbling the ball.  Another region will be possession based. And another one will rely on counter attacks.  When we combine these different styles, he envisions different players will have become more specialised in certain skills.  At the moment, all Japanese players play the same, but if you look at other countries, there are always specialists in each position.  He wants to recreate that in Japan.

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What role does football play in Japan and Japanese society?

Football is now as popular as baseball, even though the professional league is only 24 years old. It’s important to have after school activities and kids who are good at football can get scholarships to universities.  It also teaches kids to work together as a team. Unlike baseball, I also believe football is not suited for the mentality of the Japanese people. Football is about trickery.  Japanese people are taught to be honest and to abide by the rules. I don’t think that meshes well with football.

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What is the future for Japanese football?

Grim.  The Japanese Football Association (JFA) needs to be completely overhauled.  They only are interested in protecting their power and not pushing football forward – they are not willing to invest in the future even though football makes copious amount of money for the JFA.

We need to make a 15-20 year plan. The media does not write anything against the JFA due to the fear of not getting access to national team events and national team matches. In reality, even though the Japanese national team is more popular than the club teams, football in Japan is becoming less popular due to people having other outlets for entertainment. There is also a lack of a superstar in the national team, and football is just not so fashionable anymore.

How did people respond to being photographed?

Very well.  They were shy at first, but minutes later they all wanted to be photographed.

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