Tokiwagi Gakuen High School’s players practice twice every day on a dirt field outside of Sendai, Japan. They don’t practice on dirt because they have no grass—they do it because Head Coach Abe believes the ball is harder to control on dirt, even though they have access to quality grass fields.
Tokiwagi boasts arguably the best high school girls’ soccer program in Japan. In fact, four alums played big roles for the Japanese Women’s National Team in the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Aya Sameshima, Saki Kumagai, Nana Ichise and Rikako Kobayashi are former Tokiwagi stars players who contributed in this year’s World Cup.
If you ask current Tokiwagi players about their soccer aspirations, their answers are strikingly similar.
“I want to play on the national team,” said Aya Ha, a Tokiwagi player.
Aya and her teammates join Tokiwagi’s squad because of that dream. Tokiwagi provides girls an opportunity to not only improve their soccer skills, but to be able to play at the highest professional level one day. Current Tokiwagi members walk in the footsteps of elite Japan women’s soccer players.
The Japanese Women’s National Team is traditionally one of the world’s top teams. Despite not making it far in the 2019 FIFA World Cup, the team made impressive runs in past tournaments—including winning the 2011 World Cup after defeating the U.S. in a penalty shootout. Tokiwagi alums Sameshima and Kumagai were immense components of that World Cup championship team.
Tokiwagi’s strong soccer tradition sends the program to Minnesota almost every summer to compete in Target USA CUP.
The tournament provides international playing experience for Tokiwagi’s younger girls. This year’s team at Target USA CUP is comprised of high school sophomores playing in the U19 bracket. Despite playing up in age level every year, Tokiwagi has a record of multiple U19 championships in both the Weekend and Week tournaments.
The team says playing in Target USA CUP is beneficial because the team gets to see different soccer playing types.
“It’s cool to play against teams from all around the world and overcome their different playing styles.” said Kana Nishikawa, Tokiwagi’s goalkeeper. “Japanese style is about passing and possession.”
USA CUP isn’t Kana’s first time playing against international competition. She was selected to the U16 Girls Japanese National Team earlier this year and competed in international friendlies in June.
Practicing against strong competition has allowed Kana to improve herself daily. Just like her teammate Aya, Kana hopes to trade her green Tokiwagi jersey in for a Japanese Women’s National Team jersey one day.
Most people see Tokiwagi’s successful alumni on the international stage with millions watching, but little do they know that success stemmed from a dirt soccer field that sits outside of Sendai, Japan.