The victory of the Japanese women’s soccer team at the FIFA World Cup tournament in Germany smashed a lot of preconceptions, most of them having to do with Japan’s international sports profile. However, a more specific truism bit the dust Sunday afternoon in Frankfurt when Japan came out on top, and that’s the notion that the more money you spend on a sport, the better your chances. About 1.5 million girls and women play soccer in America in some sort of organized fashion. There’s a popular professional league. Women’s soccer is a huge business. In Japan, about 45,000 girls and women play soccer. The women’s semi-pro and pro leagues are barely solvent, and there are no organized teams in Japan for elementary school girls. In fact, one of the more interesting factoids to come out of the news about the victory is that many of the members of the Japan national team started playing soccer as children on boys teams.
As pointed out in an article in the tabloid Nikkan Gendai published before the championship victory, Nadeshiko Japan was winning in spite of their meager remuneration. Very few of the members have pro contracts. Two members, Aya Samejima and Karina Maruyama, earned the most at one time playing soccer, about ¥5 million a year each, but that’s because they originally played for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. team — in Fukushima, as a matter of fact — and were thus company employees. After the disaster of March 11, Tepco’s soccer team activities were suspended, but by that point Maruyama has already left. She went to the U.S. and played for while but ended up returning to play for JEF Chiba. Gendai says her salary there is “very small.” Samejima stayed with Tepco until March and then moved to the USA, where her salary was better, the equivalent of about ¥300,000 a month. Team captain Homare Sawa earned about ¥3.6 million a year playing for the Nihon TV team, which among women soccer players is considered “good.” NTV dissolved its team not long ago, and Sawa now “makes less” playing for a team in Kobe.