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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: The unifying power of sports

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters recently won the right to negotiate a contract with young baseball star Kotaro Kiyomiya, who is still only in high school. The news was particularly relevant for me -- because I'm originally from Hokkaido, and I'm a fan of the Fighters.

    On the night the announcement was made, I was actually in Hokkaido, on my way to present a lecture in the town of Yubetsu. I found out about the news via my smartphone on my way to the town, and upon arriving in Yubetsu, I was greeted by a cheerful bunch of town hall workers who commented on the excellent news. I even started my lecture with a reference to the up-and-coming slugger.

    "There are probably some fans of other baseball clubs in the room. I happen to think that Hiroshima Carp and Lotte Marine fans based in Hokkaido are great as well. But, let's face it, the Kiyomiya news is really pleasing, right?" I said. Upon which, many of the people in the crowd began to smile and started to clap.

    Hokkaido is a huge place. It takes about five hours to get from Sapporo -- home to the Fighters -- to Yubetsu, even if one takes an expressway bus. The JR railway line that serviced Yubetsu has been discontinued. Yet, there are residents in Yubetsu who support the Fighters because they're the main baseball team on the island these people call home. For example, inside the sushi restaurant I went to after the lecture, there were several Fighters' posters on the wall.

    Sports have the power to unite people. When I was working in a psychiatric hospital as a young adult, I used to enjoy taking part in softball and table tennis competitions against other wards -- playing with staff and patients. The tournaments were fun, but after they finished, quite a few people would return inside feeling dejected. However, I would try to see the situation positively. I would think to myself: "Even if it was just for a few moments, it was lovely to be in such good spirits."

    However, I did come across a number of people in Hokkaido who made comments such as, "What's the point of supporting The Fighters?" and, "Nothing will change even if I participate in competitions." Some other people made comments such as, "I'm not that good at pursuing things in large groups."

    If I'm being honest, I'm not that proficient at operating in groups but on the other hand, life without any kind of group activity can be a little bland. When it comes to being in groups, I say to myself that, "I'm on a film set. I'm on a theater stage. And now I'm performing." I think it's fine to let's one's hair down now and again, and behave differently to normal.

    In Yubetsu, which I visited for the first time, people said to me things like, "We've done it!" and, "I'm looking forward to Kiyomiya coming here." It made me realize that's it's wonderful when a whole region comes together to unite behind a local team.

    For people who say, "Sports? I'm not interested," or, "There's a sports day in my town but I've never taken part," I would recommend that they join up with some other people one day and participate. By taking this approach, you will start to smile as you cooperate with others, and some of the stress you may be feeling will probably disappear. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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