Japanese Media Ideologies Behind The National Football Teams

Representing Japan and Portraying Archetypes of Men and Women?

Yunuen Mandujano, PhD Candidate, Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez [About | Email]

Volume 14, Issue 1 (Discussion Paper 2 in 2014). First published in ejcjs on 31 March 2014.


The present discussion paper explores media representations of contemporary Japanese national football teams in order to analyse the connection between gender and national identity ideologies in the cultural field of sports, frequently neglected by academia. After contextualising the relatively recent popularity of football in Japan, the author offers a reading of the dominant discourses embedded in the media narratives and representations of these teams regarding Japanese identity and gender. The paper utilises interpretive textual analysis of media content produced between June 2010 and July 2013. The findings support the idea that media use football as a field openly to show and promote historically-stained national symbols, sentiments and discourses; also, media encourage the ideological location of Japaneseness in men, while condemning success and strength as undesirable traits of Japanese femininity.

Keywords: sports, gender, national identity, Japanese media.


Nowadays, sports—particularly those that are practiced worldwide and are highly mediated—play a substantial role in the cultural production of ideologies at local, national and international levels (Whannel, 2005a). As Raymond Boyle and Richard Haynes (2009) say: “Mediated sport is saturated with ideas, values, images and discourses which at times reflect, construct, naturalise, legitimise, challenge and even reconstitute attitudes which permeate wider society” (p. 107).

Regardless of endless ‘promotional’anti-discrimination campaigns at different levels, most major media sports—such as football—are intrinsically organised according to gender and national categories, making the inherent ideas on those issues two of the most prominent and powerful found at the very core of the media sports narratives and practices, certainly facilitating their naturalisation in society.

In Japan, for a long time, baseball had been the main media sport affecting those ideologies, while football remained in a peripheral position (Manzenreiter & Horne, 2002). However, by the second decade of the twenty-first century, the situation had changed. In the context of external and internal political and economic pressures, institutional efforts to promote this sport and the need to reinforce national identity, football and its national stars have become a significant terrain for the negotiation of a nationalistic discourse within Japanese society closely intertwining it with a dominant gender ideology.

Soccer becoming part of popular culture in Japan

The history of football in Japan began in 1873, but the sport did not gain relevance until the late decades of the twentieth century, when the professional male J. League was inaugurated; some Japanese players began to enjoy a relative success outside the country; and Japan was selected to host the 2002 FIFA World Cup along South Korea (Japan Football Association, 2012b; Shimizu, 2002). During this stage, media promoted the sport as global and post-modern, contrasting this with baseball’s ‘local’ image (Horne & Bleakley, 2002b). As Jonathan Watts (1998) says, the J. League, as a new product being introduced, affected cultural development through consumption; soccer—as it began to be called by the media—opened a new cultural arena where new role models were to appear that represented ‘a new Japanese identity’ mixing traditional elements with new ways of socialisation and self-expression. The popularity of football grew particularly among young generations, perhaps facilitated by its featuring in popular manga and anime that contained expressions of the Japanese soccer hopes.1 It is also this generation to which the current Japanese soccer idols belong (Hasebe, 2011; Uchida, 2011; Yoshida, 2012).

In 2002, the co-hosting by Japan of the FIFA World Cup along with South Korea gave a boost to the standing of football among the general Japanese audience. The campaign for the bidding was not easy and the event was not initially intended to be held jointly with South Korea; however, at the last moment, both committees decided to join forces to obtain the event for Asia, something that was received with mixed emotions by the elites and population of both countries (Butler, 2002; Sugden & Tomlinson, 2002). Nevertheless, as Roche (2000) notes, to be successful, this type of ‘mega-event’ depends on social contracts among organisers, media, local citizens, politicians, sponsors and advertisers. Thus, already immersed in the monumental effort of hosting such a massive affair, Japanese governmental, commercial and media circles—for their political and economic interests—had to make efforts to persuade people of the importance of football for the country. To encourage such social contract and give a good international impression, the organisers seem to have relied on a discourse inspired in the sport diplomacy: football began to be promoted as an intermediary between Japan and Korea finally to rebuild relations and procure a further cultural exchange, and, also, as an opportunity to show the world Japanese qualities, talents and assets.2

By this new stage, the audience for the J. League had declined, but for the national male team it was still very high, even compared to other popular sports (Shimizu, 2002). The high rating obtained by the television coverage of the 2002 World Cup—promoted by a mixed media discourse of harmony and nationalism—reflects the positive reaction that the national team produced among the Japanese people.3 By acting as a “public display of national achievements, and as a showcase of individual and collective excellence” (Manzenreiter & Horne, 2002, p. 2), the event seemed to have awakened Japanese awareness of football as the best field on which to contend their imageries of national-international power relations.

A genuine interest in the men’s national team and its stars seem to have propagated through the World Cups of 2006 and 2010. In this tendency, the influence of another social sector that was strategically targeted by media and sponsor corporations is clear: women. According to the Japanese rating reports (in the Kanto region) for the matches of the national team in both events, it is evident that difference between the female and the male sector exists, but the share of women of all ages that followed the national team in its televised games was significant (Table 1).

Table 1: Rating for Japan national team's matches in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups (by gender and age range)
Gender and age range 2006 2010
Boys and girls 4-12 years old10.211.1
Boys and girls 13-19 years old25.025.4
Men 20-34 years old30.233.7
Women 20-34 years old26.325.2
Men 35-49 years old34.438.9
Women 35-49 years old31.330.1
Men 50 years and older27.430.5
Women 50 years and older23.022.3

Table by the author with data from Video Research (2010b).

Wolfram Manzenreiter and John Horne (2002) argue that Japanese male players were intentionally turned by promoters “into a commodity for a young and wealthy female audience [that was] in the position to define dominant concepts of masculinity and to impose role models on their male contemporaries” (p. 22). This actually can be seen as a result or extension of the solid male idol culture that has gained relevance in Japan since the 1990s; by this, women, as consumers, have been assertively showing their own tastes in the construction of contemporary male ideals (Darling-Wolf, 2004b; Galbraith & Karlin, 2012; Mandujano Salazar, 2009).

Thus, during the first decade of the twenty-first century, the men’s national football team consolidated itself as a media power in Japan. By 2011, not only the male representation, but also the female national team strengthened their media presence and popularity. This can be related to three main situations: the triumph of the men’s national team in the Asian Cup in January of that year, the active media response of the team after the disaster that followed the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, and the winning of the Women’s FIFA World Cup of 2011 by Japan’s female team.

The Asian Cup was won by the male team after defeating South Korea in the semifinals and Australia in the final game; those two matches reached the 4th and 5th places among the television programs with the highest rating of 2011 and were the most viewed sport-related programs of the year (Video Research, 2012). Almost immediately after the natural and subsequent nuclear disasters of March, the players, most of them who were playing for European teams at that time, began sending messages and doing charity activities—outside and inside Japan—to help the affected people, something that was broadly covered by Japanese media. Then, in July, the women’s national team conquered the world title, an achievement that was so warmly received by the Japanese people that they received the People’s Honour Award (Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, 2011).

After the last men’s and women’s world cups, Japanese media and sponsor corporations have been keenly promoting national soccer stars among general society using strategies and a symbolic construction very close to those of male idols—for men—and female comedians—for women. By 2013, the five major commercial television corporations had developed regular shows dedicated exclusively to football, with content covering mainly the lives and developments of Japanese internationals—most of them stars of the national team—the national male and female leagues and, marginally, non-Japanese related international football news.4 These programs are a hybrid between sports and variety shows: they present Japanese players in a very personal and affable way.

The quantity of soccer magazines that have appeared in the last years is also outstanding.5 Following Japanese practice, the publications are specialised: some are about international football in general, some cover just the J. League, others are exclusively about the players of the national team, there is one about female football, and another about male Japanese players in the same format as idol magazinesfor female fans.

Beyond the involvement of sponsors through supporting media productions related to football and the teams themselves, there are specific advertising campaigns in which companies use the image of specific players—the most popular of the national team. From beverages to English learning programs, many products and services are now endorsed by Japanese football players, making them images continuously present in the daily lives of people, just like any other popular tarento (Japanese celebrity).

Openly and proudly waving the national flag

Horne and Manzenreiter (2006) argue that “[d]ifferent states use sport for different non-sport ends—economic development and social development, nation building and signaling (‘branding the nation’) and to assist in economic and political liberalisation” (p. 15), and that these aims will depend on the situation that the state and its people are facing. They also remark that even in the contemporary sports arena that appears to be highly ‘globalised’, the state is the one that creates the framework within which operate the partnerships among the agents involved in the production of the sport. It is also the state that provides many of the needed resources for such production to be possible, retaining an important power in the production of ideologies inserted in the process. These ideological uses can be perceived in the seemingly widespread campaign to promote the Japanese national football team and its star players.

In the modern international arena, the three most representative symbols of a country’s identity and sovereignty have been the national flag, the national anthem and the national emblem. As Hobsbawm (2000a) said: “they command instantaneous respect and loyalty [and…] reflect the entire background, thought and culture of a nation” (p. 11). However, in this sense, Japan stood in limbo for more than five decades—since the defeat in the Pacific War—without having an official national flag or anthem. The Hinomaru flag and the song Kimigayo have been the cause of internal turbulence for their association with the military past of the country. Although used in different situations, they were only formally designated as national on August 9, 1999, when the Law Concerning the National Flag and National Anthem was enacted by the Diet. Nevertheless, many individuals and groups have resisted their use, particularly in schools where these symbols have begun to be specifically promoted as part of a campaign to nurture the respect and love for Japan that is considered as a neo-nationalist trend (Hongo, 2007; Itoh, 2001; Rosenbluth, et al., 2007).

Amid this context where the use of the national symbols in civic events and public places is immersed in controversy, international football settings have been promoted as a less problematic ground for people, media and other elite groups to make an active, evident and prideful use of them, butdisguising the nationalist insinuations. Soccer gives a chance to people to go to the stadiums and proudly wave the Hinomaru and sing Kimigayo along with the players because the situation calls for that demonstration of national support; at the same time, sponsors, government and media can endorse the expression of those sentiments under the assumption that they are not evoking a dangerous nationalistic passion, but only encouraging an enthusiastic manifestation of the sense of belonging and a healthy fighting spirit in the context of a sport battle, framed in and contended by the ‘fair play’ philosophy of football—although, in practice, it has been the detonator of nationalist and racist sentiments around the world.

Although Michael Billig (1995) notes that sports actually provide symbolic models of war and Shimizu Satoshi (2002) argues that, in the case of the Japanese football team’s participation in the FIFA World Cup of 1998, the media played an active role in reproducing nationalist attitudes, Manzenreiter and Horne (2002) warn about taking the other extreme and overestimating the nation-related hostility present behind football followers. Thus, it is necessary to examine the current football-related media content in the contemporary context of Japan to evaluate the dominant messages inserted in them, as well as the referencesto the nation in those messages, and assess their potential to become dangerously nationalistic.

In order to do this, I will examine the television program COOL JAPAN FOOTBALL (Fuji TV). In this, the campaign of Cool Japan aimed at the promotion of the soft power of the country via the cultural diplomacy is explicitly referred to in the title, while the content of the show revolves around the debate of the elements of Japanese football that are worthy of national pride and international recognition—players who are successful outside Japan, athletic characteristics that distinguish Japanese players from others, structural and technical features that have been developed as part of a Japanese-style football, etc.

In the video that opens the show the symbolism and the presence of national elements are very eloquent: the sequence mixes the faces of the stars of the national female and male teams, images of Japanese soccer fans waving many Hinomaru flags and banners with the name of Japan, scenes of the national teams scoring goals or winning the ball against other teams’ players whose faces are not visible, and images of a family of widely popular kabuki actors in traditional attire and performing kabuki movements while a song meaningfully called War6 sounds in the background. The lyrics of the song condemn war; the part used in this introductory video recites: “War, what it is good for? Absolutely nothing. War, what it is good for? War has shattered many young men’s dreams. Lord, there’s just got to be a better way. War, good God, what it is good for?” These words, mixed with the described images, evoke the idea that soccer may be the ‘better way’ the song asks for, an alternative to war that instead of ‘shattering men’s dreams’ could create new ones. However, just as Manzenreiter and Horne (2002) say, the meta-language behind media sports is “capable of expressing two contradictory messages: unity and difference… the ideology of international peace and harmony… [and] prejudicial stereotypes, particularly if national pride and the display of achievement are at stake” (p. 18). In this way, the one-minute video expresses that anti-war message relating it to soccer, but at the same time the imagery is that of a battle, of national warriors winning against the world; even the word used in Japanese to refer to a sporting match is sen, which is exactly the same term for ‘battle’ and ‘war’.

On the other hand, the inclusion of the Nakamura family is also very significant because the three kabuki actors that appear are broadly popular, not only among fans of the Japanese traditional theatre. Nakamura Kanzaburo, the father—who died in January of 2013—was a promoter of updating kabuki to make it part of contemporary Japanese culture and take it to broader audiences not only in Japan, but also overseas.7 Because of this, he and his sons have been involved in regular media productions—besides kabuki and the traditional Japanese arts—and are closely related to popular tarento. In this sense, their participation in the opening of this program that promotes Japanese football as one of the elements of a cool national culture reinforces the intertextuality of the many campaigns that are taking place to promote Japanese culture and pride at different levels.

The format of the show is also representative of the ways in which media are building a representation that is intended to fortify national sentiment in relation to international recognition. This program presents interviews with international football stars—players, coaches, executives—commenting about the admirable features of Japanese soccer; then, the anchors proudly converse about that acknowledgement and the possibilities of Japan to become a big name in the world of football. Members of the national team are also interviewed about what they consider to be strengths of the Japanese in the sport and what they think should be improved. In these discussions it is noteworthy that they generalise in terms of ethnicity, assuming the homogeneity of Japanese and linking cultural and physical attributes to a notion of ‘race’:“The Japanese are very skilled with the ball when there is no pressure;” “the Japanese have the ability to be good lateral defenders even in Europe;” “the high speed of the Japanese is of top level;” “the diligence of the Japanese is a strong point.”8 This tendency to speak of the merits or flaws of Japanese players as if they were inherited in the Japanese biological and psychological constitution is perceptible in the general discourse of the media and the players.

Gender representation in the Samurai Blue and Nadeshiko Japan teams

Another distinguishable feature of the media content related to the national football teams, particularly during the last years, is the mix of national identity/pride discourses with a strong reference to gender, mostly to a model of Japanese masculinity. Among the many categories for national representations in Japanese football,9 the major teams are the ones that have distinctive names which remarkably use traditional references to Japanese femininity and masculinity symbolism: Nadeshiko Japanfor the women’s representation andSamurai Blueformally used since 2009 (Sponichi, 2009)—for the men’s team.

Looking at the components of the names, the second part is expressed in English and, thus, it is written with katakana or romaji; these words have an evident connotation for local and foreign audiences: ‘Japan’—because it is a national team—and ‘Blue’—for the colour of the main uniform. The use of English terms Japanised by their expression in katakana or along with Japanese words is common; however, in these cases, the inclusion of English terms in the names that are to be used among the national audience reinforces the sense of the teams being representatives of the country in the international arena.

On the other hand, the first words in the names have a thicker meaning, linking to elements of idealised gender representations. To begin with, even if they are both native words, ‘samurai’is widely known outside Japan, but nadeshiko is not; this could be one reason why their preferred written form in media differs: the first is commonly written with romaji or katakana10 while the second is written with hiragana. These words can be expected to be more widely suggestive to Japanese than to foreigners who may associate ‘samurai’ with legendary warriors—an appropriate image for a team in the sports ‘battlefield’—but would hardly catch the deeper gender connotations that both words have unless they are familiarised with Japanese culture and history.

Nadeshiko is the abbreviation of Yamato nadeshiko, a term that the Kenkyūsha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary (Kabushikigaisha Kenkyusha, 2004) defines as “a Japanese woman (with all the traditional graces); an ideal Japanese woman.” Through the years, it has been used in many novels, manga, anime, dramas, movies, and so on, to refer to someone who embodies the features considered traditionally ideal for Japanese women, such as modesty, gentleness, gracefulness and a strong spirit. Sometimes it has also been used to highlight the gap between such ideal femininity and some of the contemporary Japanese women who are considered to be self-centred and excessively assertive—in other words, overly Westernised (see Ashikari, 2003; Darling-Wolf, 2004a).

On the other hand, ‘samurai’ is the term referring to the members of the warrior class that dominated and governed de facto the Japanese Empire between the twelfth and the nineteenth centuries. They were men and women, but the men were the leaders of the society and women, perhaps even more than in any other of the social sectors of those times, were mostly limited to the administration of the household. Tonomura (1990) says that a samurai woman was subjected to a “sexual asymmetry that implied progressive subordination to, and protection by, the powerful male, his ideology, and his institutions” (p. 623); it was in this class that the patriarchal principles began the later country-wide structure of gender domination. In contemporary Japan, samuraihave survived as a symbol of male dominance and of the Japanese powerful warriors who are worth of inspiring pride, contrary to the mixed feelings to which the twentieth century military forces are related.

Although the names imply ideal figures of Japanese femininity and masculine warriorship and leadership, the media representations of the teams follow different patterns. In the case of the Samurai Blue, there is a consistency in the images portrayed of the players and the symbolism of the name; this promotion has been so successful that some of the stars of the team have become media idols. However, the female team is represented as embodying the opposite of what is heavily promoted everywhere else—by the same media, corporations and state—as Japanese femininity; it appears as if, in order to make acceptable the success of these Japanese women in a field that is considered dominated by men, the media are taking from them their femininity.

One example is an episode of the television program New Junk Sports (Fuji TV)11 that presented seven members of Nadeshiko Japan—recently crowned world champions and recognised with the People’s Honour Award. The show had the format of a variety program, but focused on athletes; this means that it was not about sports, but about athletes having the role of tarento: they were there not to talk about their accomplishments in the sports field, but to give entertaining information about themselves as people through urabanashi (“back stories”) and honne ni semaru (“telling the truth”) questions. The show was led by a male comedian accompanied by a female announcer. It is important to say that female announcers in Japanese media are presented as models of ‘classic’ femininity: not too outstanding as idols, actresses or professional models, but more like an up-to-date Yamato nadeshiko representing the qualities that are considered desirable in women—modesty, gracefulness, gentleness, and in a supporter role to men. Six of the players appeared dressed in attires that were comparable to those seen in male tarento—jeans, blazers, t-shirts, flat boots and sport shoes—and only one was wearing clothes similar to those shown in female fashion magazines—shorts, high boots, and afluffy blouse; in general, their image contrasted with that of the announcer who was wearing typical female attire and hairstyle (Image 1).

Figure 1. Screen captions of the episode of the show New Junk Sports (Fuji TV) aired on November 12, 2011, showing the invited members of Nadeshiko Japan (left) and the announcer (right).

Mandujano, Figure 1

During the talk, the players accused the one dressed in female clothes of trying too hard to be kawaii. Then, most of the topics revolved around less than feminine episodes of the players. One said about another one: “she is the ‘Kimutaku’ of Nadeshiko.” Kimutaku is the nickname of the top male idol of the 1990s , who was considered the male ‘sex symbol’ of Japan for many years (see Darling-Wolf, 2004b). After that, the female announcer asked the player: “aren’t you also told that you are otokomae (handsome, manly)?” She responded with an episode that she experienced while traveling: the security people in one airport had mistaken her for a man. Another player shared her own eexperiences of someone assuming she was her sister’s husband. Finally, another female athlete commented that she had gone drinking with the star of Nadeshiko who, in order to catch the last train, had “run way too fast, impossible for a normal girl.”

This negation of representations of the female football players as normal Japanese women is perceived all over the media and backed by the same Japan Football Association: the formal uniform that members wear when they travel or when they present for official events or conferences is masculinised. As the Image 2 shows, the attires are much closer to those of the male anchors than to the female newscaster whose formal clothes are, nonetheless, feminine: skirt, blouse, and high heels.

Figure 2. Screen caption of the episode of News Zero (NTV) aired on September 12, 2011. The members of Nadeshiko Japan—left—in front of the four anchors of the program.

Mandujano, Figure 2

I am not arguing that clothes are determinant for the construction of gender identities, neither trying to defend that women must wear what the fashion industry and media sell, or perpetuate the link between certain pieces or colours of clothing and femininity. My point here is to illustrate that, in a country where thousands of fashion magazines are sold every day and the media in general are constantly trying to dictate to women what to wear and how to present themselves to embody particular types of womanhood (see Assman, 2003; Darling-Wolf, 2004a; Tanaka K., 1998), it is very meaningful that these athletes, who represent their nation in the sports arena under a name that evokes an ideal of national femininity, are shown in the media as the opposite to what the same media endorse as feminine.12 This contradictory symbolism embedded in the media representations of Nadeshiko Japan restricts their influence in society as role models; the images of these national representatives circulate representing successful and strong athletes, but also odd women, almost as if there were a negative relation among those features: success and strength with womanhood. More relevant, this situation is endorsing the idea that the nation is not to be represented by women.

On the other hand, the Samurai Blue players are portrayed as very Japanese men—either as a variation to the traditional salaryman archetype13 or as a close form to the male idol contemporary model of masculinity. These two tendencies in the images of the Samurai Blue are particularly noticeable after the 2010 World Cup, which marked a generational change in the team, bringing to the frontline new national stars.

The Samurai Blue has been nurtured by a group of players who are consistently summoned to be part of the team. About half of them are married with children and keep a relatively low profile outside the football related activities or campaigns. These national representatives are depicted as hardworking men, devoted to their teams and families, and willing to ‘fight’ for the honour of their country in the soccer field. They are shown as relatively standard Japanese men, behaving and having values close to any salaryman. The sports programs interview them before and after the matches and Japanese football fans write about their performances in soccer blogs,14 but they are hardly ever presented in general-content media or part of commercial or social campaigns unless they involve the whole team. Nevertheless, their public images are consistent with the symbolism of the samurai and fairly traditional Japanese manhood.

Then, there are some other members of the national team who have been able to appeal to more general audiences by being incorporated into the tarento system, widening their media activities and appearing constantly in fashion magazines, music and variety shows, news programs, charity events, etc. Typically, these are the ones who remain single, play for European teams, are part of the starting team in most matches in Japan, have a similar image to that of male idols, and have a personality that attracts public interest. These players, besides their representation as Japanese contemporary ‘warriors’, have been particularly supported by media, sponsor corporations and other entities to build an image of Japanese ikemen: handsome, stylish, worldly men who are attractive to women and respected by men. In order to support this construction, the media show women saying that these players are the ideal son, the ideal son-in-law, or the ideal husband, and male tarento praising them for their achievements, popularity, and manly attractiveness.

These features that can be related to an updated image of Japanese masculinity are mixed with more traditionally-Japanese personality traits. Even if their current lives are obviously different to those of the average Japanese people, they are constantly shown living such a different life abroad in a way that protects and reinforces their Japaneseness. They are presented as being highly dedicated and stoic regarding their job, following a vertical structure closer to that of a family among the fellow players—having a relation close to that of oniisan (older brother) and otōto (younger brother)—expressing their respect for their parents and their desire to have a traditional family—some have explicitly said to be interested only in Japanese women. Their public images are highly protected, keeping their names away from scandalous news and involving them in socially conscious projects. They are also persistently shown stating the pride and love they feel for Japan, that they understand their roles as ambassadors of Japanese society and culture overseas and talking about what they considered to be the features of the Japanese spirit.

These same players have been endorsed by elites as leaders of social aims, particularly since the 2011 earthquake. For instance, the captain of the Samurai Blue—Hasebe Makoto—has been working with Unicef Japan to help restore the affected area, as well as endorsing campaigns that are directed to poor countries in Africa; also, the so-called ‘number one ikemen’ of the Samurai Blue—Uchida Atsuto—one day after the quake, while his team in Germany was enjoying media attention after winning a match, showed to the cameras his shirt with a message written in both Japanese and German, which read: “To all Japanese people, I pray for the survival of as many lives as possible. Let’s keep on living together” (Image 3); this image was everywhere in the Japanese media the next day and is still referred to as having had a positive effect to elevate the moods of people and the sense of national union at such a critical time.

Figure 3. March 12, 2011. Uchida Atsuto (Schalke 04 / Germany) sending a message to Japanese people. (Photo: AFLO, retrieved from http://number.bunshun.jp/articles/-/97284)

Mandujano, Figure 3


It is evident that the discourses of nationhood and Japanesenessalong with those of the attractiveness of traditional masculinity—and, consequently, the support for the traditional gender roles—are being endorsed together in Japanese media through popular culture phenomena such as the football players. The affective bonds that they inspire in broad audiences have made them suitable for the attachment of discourses on national identity and gender. But also, the national reputation of these stars regarding the international context is one of the most obvious elements aimed at the elevation of national pride. Particularly after the Great Earthquake of 2011, the references to their Japanese qualities and their achievements and defeats in the world context have been used to emphasise the unique Japanese traits.

Even if these ideological elements on national identity, national pride, and a masked traditional masculinity are clearly embedded in the representations of these media idols, the fact that they are the ones who carry the message arguably makes it appear as something natural for Japanese audiences—and, thus, produce a higher potential of naturalisation of the messages. Also, because the support of people is the reason behind their media power, it appears as if Japanese society has selected them as ambassadors, concealing the faces of the bureaucratic, media and economic leaders—as well as their aims in such ideological constructions—and indicating a potential hegemonic stage on the role of men as the centre of the nation and the relevance of the reinforcement of traditionally praised attitudes and values regarding gender and ethnic differentiation.


Ashikari, M., 2003. “The memory of the women’s white faces: Japaneseness and the ideal image of women,” Japan Forum, 15(1), pp. 55-79.

Barthes, R., 1991. Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press.

Billig, M., 1995. Banal nationalism. London: SAGE Publications.

Boyle, R. & Haynes, R., 2009. Power Play: Sport, the Media and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Burgess, C., 2012. “Maintaining Identities: Discourses of Homogeneity in a Rapidly Globalizing Japan,” Available at: http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/articles/Burgess.html

Butler, O., 2002. Getting the Games: Japan, South Korea and the co-hosted World Cup. In: Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup. New York: Routledge, pp. 43-55.

Dai-ichi Life, 2013. Daiichiseimei 2012 nen natsuyasumi kodomo minisakubun konkuru anketo “Otona ni nattara naritai mono” [2012 Daichi Life Children’s summer survey & short-essay contest “What I want to become”], Tokyo: Dai-ichi Life.

Darling-Wolf, F., 2004a. “Sites of Attractiveness: Japanese Women and Westernized Representations of Feminine Beauty,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(4), pp. 325-345.

———2004b. “SMAP, Sex, and Masculinity: Constructing the perfect female fantasy in Japanese Popular Music,” Popular Music and Society, 27(3), pp. 357-370.

Galbraith, P. W. & Karlin, J., 2012. “Introduction: The Mirror of Idols and Celebrity,” In: Idols and Celebrity in Japanese Media Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-34.

Hasebe, M., 2011. Kokoro wo totonoeru [Prepare the spirit]. Tokyo: Gentosha.

Hobsbawm, E., 2000a. ”Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” In: The invention of tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-14.

Holden, T. J. M., 2003. “Japan’s Mediated ‘Global’ Identities,” Available at: http://www.intcul.tohoku.ac.jp/~holden/MediatedSociety/Readings/2003_04/Mediated_Globalities.htm [Accessed 5 May 2013].

Hongo, J., 2007. “Hinomaru, ‘Kimigayo’ express conflicts both past and future,” Available at: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2007/07/17/news/hinomaru-kimigayo-express-conflicts-both-past-and-future/ [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Horne, J. & Bleakley, D., 2002b. “The development of football in Japan,” In: Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup. New York: Routledge, pp. 89-105.

Horne, J. & Manzenreiter, W., 2006. “An introduction to the sociology of sports mega-events,” The Sociological Review, 54(S2), pp. 1-24.

Horne, J., Tomlinson, A. & Whannel, G., 2005. Understanding sport: an introduction to the sociological and cultural analysis of sport. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Itoh, M., 2001. “Japan’s Neo-Nationalism: The Role of the Hinomaro and Kimigayo Legislation,” Available at: http://www.jpri.org/publications/workingpapers/wp79.html [Accessed 2 May 2013].

Japan Football Association, 2011. History of JFA, Available at: http://www.jfa.or.jp/eng/history/index.html [Accessed 30 July 2013].

———2012a. 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea Japan 10th Anniversary, Available at: http://www.jfa.or.jp/2002-forever/ [Accessed 14 April 2013].

———2012b. Japan Football Association Profile English Edition., Available at: http://www.jfa.or.jp/jfa/images/profile_eng.pdf [Accessed 20 April 2013].

Jhally, S., 1989. “Cultural Studies and the Sports/Media Complex,” In: Media, sports and society. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, pp. 70-93.

Kabushikigaisha Kenkyusha, 2004. Tokyo: Kabushikigaisha Kenkyusha.

Mandujano Salazar, Y. Y., 2009. El mercado de idol varones en Japón (1999-2008): Caracterización de la oferta a través del estudio de un caso representativo [Master Thesis], México: El Colegio de México.

Manzenreiter, W. & Horne, J., 2002. “Global governance in world sport and the 2002 World CupKorea/Japan,” In: Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup. New York: Routledge, pp. 1-26.

Murray, S., 2011. “Sports-Diplomacy: a hybrid of two halves,” Available at: http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/culturaldiplomacynews/content/articles/participantpapers/2011-symposium/Sports-Diplomacy-a-hybrid-of-two-halves--Dr-Stuart-Murray.pdf [Accessed 1 April 2013].

Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, 2011. Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet Press Release, Available at: http://www.kantei.go.jp/jp/tyoukanpress/201108/2_a.html [Accessed 30 April 2013].

Roche, M., 2000. Mega-Events and Modernity: Olympics and Expos in the Growth of Global Culture. London: Routledge.

Rosenbluth, F., Saito, J. & Zinn, A., 2007. “Japan’s New Nationalism: The International and Domestic Politics of an Assertive Foreign Policy,” Available at: http://eastasianstudies.research.yale.edu/japanworld/rosenbluth.pdf [Accessed 1 March 2013].

Rowe, D., 1999. Sport, Culture and the Media: The Unholy Trinity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Shimizu, S., 2002. “Japanese soccer fans: following the local and the national team,” In: Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup. New York: Routledge, pp. 133-146.

Shochiku, 2010. “What’s Kabuki,” Available at: http://www.kabuki-bito.jp/eng/contents/whats/ [Accessed 30 April 2013].

Sponichi, 2009. Okada Japan shin aisho happyo! [The announcement ofthe new pet name for Okada Japan!], Available at: http://web.archive.org/web/20091023131939/http:/www.sponichi.co.jp/soccer/news/2009/10/20/01.html

Sugden, J. & Tomlinson, A., 2002. “International power struggles in the governance of world football: the 2002 and 2006 World Cup bidding wars,” In: Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup. New York: Routledge, pp. 56-70.

Takahashi, Y., 2003. Captain Tsubasa 3109 nichi zenkiroku [Captain Tsubasa 3109 days complete data]. Tokyo: Shueisha.

Tonomura, H., 1990. “Women and inheritance in Japan’s Early Warrior Society,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 32(3), pp. 592-623.

TV Tokyo, 2013. Captain Tsubasa, Available at: http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/anime/cap_tsuba/ [Accessed 21 August 2013].

Uchida, A., 2011. Boku wa jibun ga mita koto shika shinjinai [I only believe what I see]. Tokyo: Gentosha.

Video Research, 2010a. 2009 nen no terebi shichōritsu to kōkoku no dōkō. Kantō chiku [2009 Tendencies of television ratings and advertisement. Area of Kanto], Tokyo: Video Research Ltd.

———2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, Tokyo: Video Research Ltd.

———2011. Ima sara desuga, kōrei no 2010 nen no terebi wo furikaette. Terebi chōsa hakuchō 2010 yori [Until this moment, the usual ‘Reviewing the television during the year 2010’. From the report of television research 2010], Tokyo: Video Research Ltd.

———2012. 2011 nen no terebi wo furikaette. Terebi, CM no dōkō Reviewing the television during the year 2011 [Tendencies of television and commercials], Tokyo: Video Research Ltd.

Vogel, E., 1971. Japan’s New Middle Class: The Salary Man and His Family in a Tokyo Suburb. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Watts, J., 1998. “Soccer shinhatsubai: What are Japanese consumers making of the J.League?” In: The worlds of Japanese popular culture: Gender, shifting boundaries and global culture. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, pp. 181-201.

Wenner, L., 1989. “Media, Sports, and Society: The Research Agenda,” In: Media, sports and society. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, pp. 13-48.

Whannel, G., 2005a. Fields in Vision: Television Sport and Cultural Transformation. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library.

———2005b. Media Sport Stars: Masculinities and moralities. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library.

Yoshida, M., 2012. Samurai Days, Europe Days. Tokyo: Gakken Publishing.


[1] The most prominent example is Captain Tsubasa created by Takahashi Yoichi, which is the story of young Japanese soccer players with dreams of international success. The original manga was printed from 1981 to 1988 in the Weekly Shonen Jump, one of the most consumed manga books aimed at the young male sector. After the success of the printed version, the anime series was transmitted by TV Tokyo between 1983 and 1986. Because of the popularity of the title among young audiences, and in the context of the establishment of the J.League, a second generation of the manga was published between 1994 and 1997 (Takahashi, 2003; TV Tokyo, 2013). The potential effect of these children oriented contents in the popularization of football can be seen by analyzing yearly survey that the company Dai-ichi Life has been doing among Japanese children about what they want to become when they grow up (Dai-ichi Life, 2013).

[2] See Japan Football Association (2012a).

[3] According to the ratings of the matches of Japan, from 43.1 to 66.1 percent of the population were following the games of the national team, plus those who went to watch the matches to the stadiums (Video Research, 2010b).

[5] In field work performed in Tokyo (2012-2013), I counted thirteen soccer magazines with regular periodic releases—three weekly, three monthly, three bimonthly, and the rest with publications two and three times a week. In addition, there were some special publications about individual players and official magazines released by clubs.

[6] Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 2000. Bang! Tokyo: ZTT Records.

[7] Fuji TV, Kabukiza Kaijō Special. Ima Katarareru Kanzaburo. Episode aired on April 5, 2013.

[8] Comments by Hasebe Makoto in the episode aired on May 20, 2012.

[10] This writing form also marks a difference with that of the national baseball team, which is called Samurai Japan and uses ‘samurai’ written with the corresponding kanji.

[11] Episode aired on November 12, 2011.

[12] Another attribute that has been historically related to Japanese female beauty is white skin (Ashikari, 2003) and, evidently, playing soccer means being exposed to the sun for long periods of time, so all members of Nadeshiko Japan have skin that is darker than the ideal and so it becomes one more element that is presented as inconsistent in their gender representation.

[13] See Vogel (1971).

About the Author

Yunuen Mandujano is a PhD candidate in Social Sciences at Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez (Mexico). She received the degree of MA in Asia and Africa Studies, specialising in Japan, from El Colegio de Mexico in 2009. She is writting her doctoral dissertation on the national representation in contemporary Japanese media through male media idols. The author has published in Mexican journals of social science and Japanese studies.

Email the author

Back to top