“Just Do It” and Move Ahead
Nikaido : Marriage, retirement―you had a year of big changes. How do you feel about your new lifestyle?
Sawa : I have moved to Sendai where my husband is now. I’m a full-time housewife doing some jobs upon request in my spare time. It’s a well-balanced lifestyle!
Nikaido : Have you started anything new?
Sawa : Yes, hot yoga!
Nikaido : Really? I’m doing yoga too! Not hot, though.
Sawa : It must be due to my good metabolism, but the moment I enter the yoga room I start sweating all over, while no one else does (laughs).
Nikaido : An athlete indeed! But wasn’t it a big decision to quit what you’d been doing all your life?
Sawa : Sure enough, it didn’t come easy. If I were just a regular player I guess I could have gone on for a few years more, but I had my fixations. As an active player I wanted to go for the world. But after we finished the World Cup last year, I asked myself, “Can I bring my mind and body together once again and aim at the Rio Olympics?” And realized it would be difficult. Yet, I have really done all I could, so I have no regrets. I can say with confidence, “I had a terrific life as a soccer player.”
Nikaido : So it was a positive decision?
Sawa : Exactly. I wanted to get on with the next step, and when I see it from a life-long perspective, the second life is longer anyway, so from now on I’m excited to try out all the things I couldn’t do before.
Nikaido : Such as yoga and a new life in Sendai.
Sawa : Honestly, at first I did have a sense of loss and void. But the emptiness is getting filled little by little. A new day will come anyway, so isn’t it better to enjoy life as much as you can? I’ve had this positive way of thinking since long ago. I accept everything that comes my way, even if it is unpleasant or hard. I know that if I run away things will only get worse, so I set about to “just do it” and move ahead. That’s how you go on.
For Everyone to Be Herself
Nikaido : With a positive captain like you, the team members also get a positive attitude, don’t they?
Sawa : There are all kinds of captains, but I had pretty much my way of doing things. I used to pull the team together by means of a game. Words are important too, but the result is even more so. Scoring a goal when the team is exhausted is the best argument.
Nikaido : Isn’t that too much pressure?
Sawa : I feel it’s fun! “Let’s show the result!” Once I think so, I get excited. The stronger the opponent, the further from home, the bigger the motivation. Even the audience’s boos sound like cheers! (laughs)
Nikaido : Great! That’s why you always played with a smile on your face!
Sawa : I think we enjoyed playing in the 2011 World Cup in Germany most. Match by match, we could feel the team become one.
Nikaido : Until then, I had never had much interest in watching sports, but on that occasion I was moved beyond words.
Sawa : Really? That’s nice to hear, thank you!
Nikaido : As a captain, what kind of relationship did you have with your coach?
Sawa : I used to sum up what the team thought and deliver it to the coach. In case of successive games or hard training, everyone gets tired both physically and emotionally, but athletes can’t just say to the coach, “We’re tired.” So I would go to the coach as a representative and say, “That’s what we think.”
Nikaido : You were a kind of an intermediary between the coach and the athletes, weren’t you?
Sawa : Well, I never thought of it that way, just did it naturally. As a veteran player you find it easier to communicate with the coach, too, and anyway Norio Sasaki was a coach who gave an ear to athletes’ opinions.
Nikaido : When I have my name first on the script, I also feel a little like a leading actress, and somehow responsible to grasp everything that’s happening around me, even if no one tells me so. It’s not just about how I want to perform as an actress, but more about incorporating the feedback of the team―director, cameraman, sound director, lighting director―and acting accordingly. That’s what I think it means to be a professional and a leading actress.
Sawa : In that sense, cinema and sports have a lot in common. In a sports team it’s the same: so many athletes, so many minds, which are sometimes difficult to sum up. No matter how an athlete performed, I did my best to listen to her point of view so everyone could be herself in the team.
Nikaido : I suppose once you won the World Cup, people started looking at you differently, didn’t they? What did it feel like?
Sawa : Women’s soccer had always been regarded as a minor sport (and still is today, to an extent), so when I was a child, people would always be surprised at a girl playing soccer. But after we won the World Cup, the attitude changed radically! We became the center of great attention, the conditions got also better, and we put up a new goal for female soccer players―the world. That was a good thing, but at the same time, once everything is provided, there’s a risk of losing the “hungry spirit”. It’s a pity the team failed to qualify for the Olympics this year, but I’m sure they will use this experience as a springboard and develop into stronger Nadeshiko* than ever. I believe in them.
*Nadeshiko (full name: Nadeshiko Japan) – the Japan women's national soccer team
All for a New Stage
Nikaido : I started this job when I was 12, exactly 10 years ago. I’m turning 22 soon; what was your life like at 22, Ms. Sawa?
Sawa : I was in the US back then. I quit the university at 19 and tried for the US professional league. At first, my mother was against the idea, but I told her I really wanted to try my luck in the US, and she sent me off saying, “Go ride the wave of chance.” Whenever I hesitate, I always think to myself, “You’ve only got one life!” It’s better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t. And hesitation means you want to do it after all, so I go for it. You know, it’s like with shopping, when you hesitate, “I really like it; should I buy it or not?” But if you don’t buy it right then, it might be gone next time, right?
Nikaido : Exactly! That’s what always happens with clothes and stuff.
Sawa : That’s why I always act right away.
Nikaido : How did you experience in the US influence your life?
Sawa : That was a big influence. At first I could hardly understand English, and I had visa issues as well so I couldn’t earn any money. I had to do everything by myself, so everyday life was really hard. But I’m that kind of person who starts acting once driven into a corner. If there’s no one to help, I’ll learn to do everything on my own. It also made me stronger in a mental sense.
Nikaido : And you were strong from the start, too.
Sawa : Actually, at the beginning I was quite shy. The US changed that in me. For example, as you jog in Japan no one talks to other joggers on the way. Try asking them, “Are you fine?” and you’ll see them taken aback, “Who, me?!” Whereas in the States it’s normal to say “Hi!” as we pass each other. Also, at a party everyone chats amiably with the people they just met. Influenced by this atmosphere, I gradually started talking to people first, and that changed my character, too.
Nikaido : Really? I would have never thought so! A while ago I read your book and it appealed to me a lot. You wrote, “Since soccer is what I love, I’m going to enjoy it!” yet at the same time, “As I’m a professional soccer player, soccer is my ‘job’”. I also love cinema and enjoy expressing myself as an actress, but I believe it’s not enough and I need to always think how to be a professional. I feel the camera catches that attitude, too. I don’t know much about soccer, but when I saw you standing on the field I could feel your attitude. I think that’s what impressed me so much.
Sawa : You make me blush! But seriously, I cannot do my job half-heartedly. I put in 120% not only into competitions but also into training. I just can’t be complacent. Even on my days off it’s 120% fun (laughs).
Nikaido : So now it’s 120% for your husband and married life?
Sawa : I’m set on doing my very best, but I’m not there yet. Cooking, laundry, cleaning―that alone keeps me busy all day. If childcare comes next... Once I imagine that, I can’t but respect all mothers in the world! When I was living with my parents, I’d just throw things in the laundry basket, or ask “Where’s my lunch?” I’m so ashamed of my old self that I called my mother the other day and said, “Thank you.”
Nikaido : How nice of you!
Sawa : And my mother asked, “What’s up? That doesn’t sound like you.” But I realized: if it weren’t for all those people who supported me on the way, I wouldn’t who I am.
Nikaido : So you’re doing your best in the second life as well.
Sawa : I’d like to challenge a new stage, other than professional sport. We’re in for the Tokyo Olympics in 4 years, and I’ll do all I can for Nadeshiko to win the gold. I’ll do my best for the future of soccer as well as the whole world of sports.