Ten years ago, Japan was facing a wave of negative news stories about its children; how they were experiencing bullying, hikikomori (social withdrawal), and mukiryoku (apathy); how their adolescent hearts - kokoro in Japanese - were broken and in need of healing. In response to this, the Japan Football Association (JFA) launched its Kokoro Project, bringing together athletes and schoolchildren across the country. In the first year after its launch, the Project arranged for more than 150 athletes to visit almost 120 elementary schools. The athletes spent time with the children serving as Dream Teachers, helping them understand how they could achieve their goals if they worked hard at them.
After ten years, the tally stands at more than 10,000 Dream Class sessions run at more than 3,000 schools, including schools in many overseas countries, with nearly a thousand athletes and quite a few celebrities engaging with more than 300,000 schoolchildren.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake struck in March 2011, four of Japan's sport governing bodies - the Japan Sports Association, the Japanese Olympic Committee, the Japan Top League Alliance, and the JFA - teamed up and launched an initiative called the Sports Kokoro Project Smile Class, a joint effort by the four organisations based on the JFA's Kokoro Project, which supports reconstruction efforts at a number of locations in disaster-hit areas of Japan. Under this project, around 300 athletes were brought in to play the role of Dream Teachers in disaster-affected regions including Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Aomori and Chiba, meeting with more than 50,000 schoolchildren — all fifth graders. The project was originally intended to run until 2015, but has been extended for another five years until 2020, and now includes eighth graders.
Many athletes in Japan realised there was something they could do to help inspire the nation's young people. Ayano Egami is one of them - she won a silver medal in synchronised swimming at the Olympic Games Sydney 2000 and works as a manager of Sport Competition at the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee. Egami commented at the 10th anniversary celebration party on 19 April at the Tokyo Dome Hotel: I have taught multiple Dream Classes, some of which were held in the disaster-hit areas. I was at first surprised to see children, even in towns very far from Tokyo, getting so excited about the Tokyo 2020 Games. She added, During the classes, I try to tell the fifth graders how I overcame setbacks in my life. In the end, the children always end up cheering when I tell them the work I do at the Organising Committee to prepare for the Games. I feel a great sense of responsibility.
Japan is looking forward to its future and is actively preparing for it! In particular, the year 2020 will be a landmark year in our nation's history. The Olympic and Paralympic Games will return to Tokyo after 56 years, and are likely to have a tremendous impact across the whole country and bring a host of benefits to disaster-hit regions, some of which have been selected to actually host some of the events - for example Fukushima will host Baseball and Softball events and Miyagi will host Football events.
In 2020, the world will witness in Japan a vivid demonstration of the power and the value of sport. In the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Games, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee will continue to work closely with partner sport organisations and local communities in order to encourage people all across the country to take up sport. Our aim - for the Tokyo 2020 Games to inspire new hopes, dreams and aspirations!