In many ways Japan is currently a focal point for women’s football with the senior national team still enjoying the inevitable afterglow that comes with a world title, while the nation is readying itself to host the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in August. With the tournament venues announced last Saturday, momentum for Japan 2012 is increasing exponentially following today's commencement of a legacy programme.

The three-day “Live Your Goals” Girls Festival commenced in Sakai, a city in Osaka Prefecture, with a host of junior high school teams participating in a variety of on- and off-field activities. The opening day was a victim of the recent bout of spring storms to hit Japan, with the field events moved indoors. However, over the coming days participants will enjoy small-sided games, football clinics, social activities and the chance to meet national team players. The students will then watch Japan, known colloquially as the Nadeshiko after a Japanese pink flower, tackle Brazil in the concluding match to the inaugural Women’s Kirin Challenge Cup; a tournament also featuring world number one side USA.

Similar festivals are set to take place across the nation during the lead-up to the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, mainly around the five host venues – Hiroshima, Kobe, Miyagi, Saitama and Tokyo.

Stars of tomorrow
Japan has achieved remarkable success in recent years, famously of course, triumphing at Germany 2011 and, in the process, becoming the first Asian nation to win a senior FIFA tournament. There have also been significant other achievements, including a top-four finish at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, and reaching the 2010 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final. Despite this, participation numbers remain relatively low, especially compared to other successful nations in the women’s game, such as USA and Germany.

Part of the legacy programme’s aim is to encourage female participation and promote women’s football throughout the nation. The ongoing roll-out of the programme over the coming months will also provide an opportunity to further publicise the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.

The legacy programme intertwines perfectly with the Japan Football Association’s Nadeshiko Vision. This development plan was built around the joint aims of procuring football’s place as a key sport for Japanese women, lifting the national team to a position amongst the world’s best and developing players to the highest of global standards. Aside from seeking to achieve future on-field excellence, the stated aim of the programme is also to reflect “the favourable characteristics and beauty of Japanese women,” with traits such as enthusiasm, graciousness and inner fortitude.

Today’s event in Sakai also saw the unveiling of the 3rd JFA Academy (2nd for girls), which is an elite training programme for U-15 players. The coming years will reveal if the next generation of Homare Sawas or Mana Iwabuchis were unearthed with the help of the Japan 2012 legacy programme.