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Okinawan soccer club launches coffee cultivation project

Naohiro Takahara of the Okinawa SV soccer club, third from right behind the children, and other team members prepare to transplant coffee seedlings to a farm in the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in April 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Okinawa coffee project)

TOKYO -- Soccer club Okinawa SV has launched a project to cultivate coffees in Japan's southernmost prefecture, club leader and former Japanese national team forward Naohiro Takahara explained at a press conference here.

Naohiro Takahara of the Okinawa SV soccer club explains a project to cultivate coffee in Okinawa Prefecture at a press conference in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, on April 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Chisa Fukuda)

The 39-year-old soccer star serves concurrently as the CEO, coach and a player for the Kyushu Soccer League club based in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture. He aims to build up the brand value of Okinawan coffee and distribute it throughout the country.

"I want to develop the project as an industry for 20, 30 and 40 years into the future," said Takahara.

Takahara got the inspiration for the project in the summer of 2017, when he discovered that coffee plants are cultivated in some areas of Okinawa, the northernmost limit of their range. He proposed the plan to Kobe-based Nestle Japan, then a sponsor of the J-League soccer team Jubilo Iwata Takahara had once played for. The company adopted the proposal as part of its plans to support coffee cultivation around the world. The city government of Nago in Okinawa and the University of the Ryukyus also decided to help.

In the autumns of 2017 and 2018, Okinawa SV players sowed a field with Arabica and other coffee varieties provided by Nestle Japan. The 240 seedlings that sprung up were transplanted on April 23 this year to a farm provided by the Nago Municipal Government and chosen for its optimal soil and climate conditions.

The soccer club expects to reap about 200 kilograms of coffee beans -- good for about 10,000 cups of coffee -- in around three years if the cultivation goes well. Next spring, the club will transplant up to 10,000 seedlings to the farm and start mass production.

The University of the Ryukyus will provide technical support to protect the plants from damage from the typhoons that regularly strike the island prefecture in the late summer and autumn.

Takahara, originally from Shizuoka Prefecture in central Japan, was the J-League's top scorer and MVP in 2002, when he played for the Jubilo Iwata side. He also played in the German Bundesliga for Hamburger SV and Eintracht Frankfurt, and took the field for Japan in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. Takahara established Okinawa SV in late 2015, and moved to the prefecture the following year.

(Japanese original by Chisa Fukuda, Sports News Department)

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