Bewitched: How seeds of Japan&x27s 1964 gold in women&x27s volleyball were sewn over a decade

    Fifty-seven years later, it remains the most-watched sporting event in Japanese television history.

    on october 23, 1964, a nation tuned in to witness japan beat the soviet union in straight sets for the women’s volleyball gold medal at the tokyo ’64 olympic games at the komazawa olympic park.

    Reading: 1964 women’s olympic volleyball team

    people used to go home early from work. the streets emptied. everyone was glued to the set.

    according to public broadcaster nhk, the audience ratings at one point in the match exceeded a staggering 80% of the population.

    Oriental Witches, as they would always be known in Japan, cast a spell on a country that remains unbroken to this day.

    daimatsu’s 12

    The creation of the dozen women who stood on the podium that October night began in 1954 in a factory in Osaka.

    That year, textile giant Nichibo created a women’s volleyball team at its kaizuka plant, hiring a former Japanese Army company commander named Daimatsu Hirobumi to run the ship.

    A tireless drill sergeant, Daimatsu made Nichibo instant winners, sweeping the major national corporate titles in 1958.

    Nichibo had an incredible six-year career under Daimatsu since 1959, amassing 175 consecutive wins.

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    In 1960, Daimatsu turned his sights abroad as national coach, leading Japan, with many of his Nichibo troops, to the FIVB World Championship in Brazil.

    Japan lost only one match in the tournament, to the Soviets in the final round, finishing as runners-up.

    back to the ussr in moscow

    Determined to get revenge, Daimatsu pushed his team further than ever.

    the workload was legendary. they practiced more than 10 hours a day, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. all this, after their daily jobs.

    but the hard work paid off.

    During a European tour in 1961, Japan won 24 straight to secure their triumph at the 1962 World Cup, in Moscow of all places.

    japan faced the ussr again in their last match in a matchup of the undefeated, prevailing 3-1 for the country’s first major world title in a team sports competition.

    For a nation that needed proof that it had clawed its way through the post-war rubble and was back on par with the rest of the world, the 1962 hit came in handy.

    Daimatsu said: “To beat the Soviets, we had to practice 1.5 times more than the Soviets. Mental discipline is at the heart of amateur sportsmanship. The world title is a byproduct of that.


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    “we don’t need heroes in volleyball. if the six spokes of the wheel are aligned behind the spiritual force, that’s enough. the important thing is the spirit, the fight”, – coach daimatsu

    game over for Japanese women

    players from the world championship team became the bulk of the team by tokyo 1964, where women’s volleyball joined the Olympic programme, notably kasai masae, who served as captain- coach.

    Under the watch of then Imperial Princess Michiko, Japan lived up to their gold medal expectations for the Games’ first host in Tokyo with dominance, dropping just one set in their five matches.

    Who could have imagined a game podium finish to a decade-long process that began in a small-town factory in western Japan?

    kasai, before he passed away in 2013, said that while daimatsu was really demanding, there was also love.

    “He was tough, no doubt. But there was also kindness to Coach Daimatsu. That’s why everyone respected him,” he said.

    “We are what we are thanks to his teachings. We learned a lot through all the hard training.”

    The softer side of Daimatsu, who died in 1978, leaked out in a post-game report he wrote:

    “It was hard. Trying. I couldn’t hold back the tears when I saw the athletes with the gold medals.”

    “I have nothing but respect and admiration for the fight they showed. I wonder if we will ever see someone with their spirit again.”

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