If someone asks you who Korea’s rival is, you’ll probably say Japan. This is especially true when it comes to sports. There’s a strong sense that you can’t lose a ‘Japan-Korea’ game, even if you lose every other game, and the players actually do, sometimes to the point where their coaches have to advise them not to get too caught up in it and ruin the game.
However, if you look at the recent sporting achievements of the two countries, there is no such thing as an opponent. Let’s start with football. South Korea’s U-17 team recently faced Japan in the Asian Cup final and lost 0-3. This is the fifth consecutive loss for South Korea at all levels of the national team. Even the scores are all 0-3. That’s how close Japan is to being Korea’s nemesis.
The same goes for baseball. South Korea’s baseball team has lost six straight games to Japan, starting with the 2017 Asian Baseball Championship defeat. A 4-13 loss in the group stage of the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March was a particularly grim reminder. Japan celebrated with the trophy, while South Korea was embarrassed afterwards when its players were caught up in a drinking controversy.
At the 2023 Women’s Japan Basketball League (WJBL) Summer Camp in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, Japan, from 15-17 July, KB Stars head coach Kim Wansoo and Shinhan Bank head coach Gunadan agreed: “We need to learn from Japan.” They emphasised that Korean players should emulate the attitude of Japanese players. But at the same time, they recognised that such a spirit comes from the soil of society, namely sports infrastructure.
In fact, Japan has a rich women’s basketball infrastructure that cannot be compared to Korea. In one region alone, there are more than 500 high school teams with 30 to 50 players. South Korea, on the other hand, has only 13 girls’ high school teams that participate in weekend leagues. In head-to-head matches between girls’ middle school teams, only five players are allowed to participate, leading to skits in which teams lose players to injuries, ejections, and forfeits when only one player remains on the court.
It is inevitable that players who come from a place where so many players compete to get to the professional level will have a different perspective than those who come from a place where there is a shortage of players and the league has to worry about its existence. And yet, we are quick to blame the mental strength of athletes whenever a sport is underperforming. That’s the nature of the drinking controversy in the baseball team. Even when it comes to women’s volleyball, which is experiencing a downward spiral after key players such as Kim Yeon-kyung (Heungkuk Life) left the national team, it’s not uncommon to hear sarcastic comments about fans who don’t even know volleyball and players who have become celebrities because of their popularity.토스카지노
I walked through Takasaki at 6 p.m. on the 15th after the first day of the summer camp. At a playground, three boys were playing volleyball. “Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two.” Their skin was tanned from the sun as they repeatedly received and tossed the ball while counting. As I watched them play volleyball, smiling in the heat, I realised that it had been a long time since I had seen children playing sports on the streets of South Korea. They told me they were in the sixth grade, and beamed as they shouted “Thank you!” at me as I left.
In a society where we have to worry about the mental health of children due to lack of exercise, I’m not sure how valuable it is to emphasise the mental strength of athletes. If Korea and Japan are ever going to be ‘the other’ again, there are some things that really need to change.