Sports

Japan’s curling success a win-win for the sport and the Hokkaido town they represent


Having drawn a legion of new fans to the sport of curling, the Japan national women’s team has been using its popularity to empower the seaside town of Tokoro, on the shores of Hokkaido’s Lake Saroma.

Since the team won bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, the country’s first Olympic curling medal, Tokoro, with a population of 3,400, was thrown into the national spotlight as the home to the Olympic heroes.

Three members of the team’s four-person lineup, sisters Chinami and Yurika Yoshida, and Yumi Suzuki, were born and raised in Tokoro, a town that faces the Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Saroma and is located deep in the wilderness.

“Honestly, there’s nothing in this town. I didn’t think my dream would ever come true if I stayed here,” Chinami Yoshida said.

But the sisters’ small-town dream turned into an incredible reality. With their hometown fans behind them, Japan will be playing Great Britain for its first Olympic curling gold on Sunday at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing.

Following the 2018 Games, Kitami, of which Tokoro is a part, became a popular choice for participants in Japan’s hometown taxation program, through which taxpayers make monetary donations and get a variety of thank-you gifts and a tax break in return.

In March 2018, Kitami received ¥22 million ($191,000) under the program, almost six times the amount in the same month the previous year.

Known by its club name Loco Solare, the curling team garnered nationwide attention for snacking at halftime, popularizing the phrase “mogu mogu time” (snack time) to the point where it was nominated as one of Japan’s buzzwords for 2018.

The local sweets the team ate to keep its energy up during competition enticed people to donate so they could get a taste of the area’s products in return. In fiscal 2020, which ended in March 2021, donations to Kitami reached ¥600 million. In the current fiscal year through next month, the city has already collected more than ¥1.7 billion through the program.

In 2020, the city used part of the money donated to build a modern curling facility.

Last month, Kitami added Loco Solare goods to its list of return gifts for donors for the first time.

“Local people are happy that Kitami is now known as a curling hotbed. We will do our part to help in any way,” said Japan skip Satsuki Fujisawa.

Fujisawa has kept her word, speaking to crowds of community members and taking part in curling lessons for children in foster care to promote the sport.

The interactions created synergy between sport and society and a two-way relationship where both parties benefited.

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