the incredible life of the first Japanese who played and scored a goal in Argentine soccer

Asking Google for some precision based on “Japanese + Argentine soccer” or talking about the same thing in a soccer table brings the same results: Naohiro Takahara Y Mouth. But that soccer player born in Japan was not the first to sign official sheets, nor was that club the pioneer with such a signing with the seal of the Argentine Soccer Association (AFA) office.

Hector Rodolfo Veira put on the field Yasushi Kawakami (58) nearly 40 years ago. It was in a game that they played home students Y banfielda team that was then running the baby, who made his first strokes as DT. That day, October 9, 1982, without marketing strategies or news published in the newspapers, for the first time a Japanese played a game organized by the AFA.

Kawakami literally landed in Argentina. It was in 1968 when he arrived by boat with his family, he was five years old and did not speak any other language than the one he had learned in Okinawa. The first thing he knew about the new country was that he would be called Jorge, the name that an uncle who already lived in these lands chose with the conviction that it would avoid teasing at school. There was no case. George was called Yellow, Japanese, Kawasaki either kawa. The last nickname, more affectionate, still accompanies him.

Unlike Takahara, Kawakami had a paddock. Since he was a boy they chose him first in the bread and cheese. As a teenager, he went to a players trial at Banfield and stayed. He went through the lower ones, started playing in the Third Division and one day the baby Veira told him that she would put him on the substitute bench for the game the following Saturday.


Kawakami, with the shirt he wore on the bench when he made his debut in Argentine football. Photo: Martin Bonetto.

“Japanese, Japanese”

“How great, I made a Japanese debut in Argentine soccer”Veira told him to the diary Chronicle after that 1 to 1. The Bambino, the next year, went on to direct San Lorenzo before arriving at a River that would make history Y Ediberto Righi, former goalkeeper, took care of the first team Drill. And some time later came the goal of kawa. It was also a Saturday, this time on July 20, 1985.

“I was several times in the bank without entering. Against All Boys the game was 1 to 1 and they were one or two less. People started to get annoyed… They knew me from the Third. Shouts were heard from the stands: put it on Japanese, put it on Japanese, ”he recalls in a talk with Clarion.

Veira DT's testimony after Kawakami's debut.  Photo: Kawakami Archive

Veira DT’s testimony after Kawakami’s debut. Photo: Kawakami Archive

“Then the coach tells me: ‘Start warming up’. I swelled all up, I said ‘this is mine’. But with many nerves, with many nerves. What I do know is that it flew. It was more mental strength and it wasn’t me who was playing, it was something else… I was flying The goal was from a shot outside the large area and the most impressive thing that happened was that the ball came out with great force and, for me, I kind of didn’t touch it and it shot out with tremendous power”, details an indelible image that does not have another record than that of his memory.

Clarín's synthesis with Kawakami's goal, the first by a Japanese in Argentina.  Photo: Clarin Archive

Clarín’s synthesis with Kawakami’s goal, the first by a Japanese in Argentina. Photo: Clarin Archive

The next game was a starter and the rival The Andes, at a time when that game was a true classic in the South. Local newspapers reported the “ja-po-nés, ha-po-nés” of the fans and of three clear situations that it generated.

The chronicle of the party in this newspaper was not so benevolent with the lyricism that it displayed: “Kawakami is too green to become a handle. He is light, he dribbles too far from the goal, where hits abound, where the exit needs other urgencies and where free throws in favor rarely yield anything positive ”.

Diego Armando Kawakami

There is nothing on Youtube.

Was Kawakami good?

It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Maradona. He had Maradonian things. An impressive skill, crazy. A very good technical richness. I saw him scoring a rabona goal, with that I tell you everything”, testifies without fear of exaggerating Daniel Luengo, teammate of inferiors in Banfield and in several regional tournament teams.

It is that the first Japanese of Argentine soccer is of Ascenso: Banfield, eight games in the Second Division, San Lorenzo de Mar del Plata, Alianza de Cutral Co, Neuquén, and Roberts Salliqueló, La Pampa, all from the Ascent of the interior. Rabona goal, Luengo said?

In San Lorenzo de Mar del Plata, where he put one of rabona.  Photo: Kawakami Archive

In San Lorenzo de Mar del Plata, where he put one of rabona. Photo: Kawakami Archive

“At that time I was a fan of Diego and Diego threw those tails. I practiced them because I had had an injury to my left knee and if I was given a move, I was not going to have a leg… That must have been why I did it. I went to the side, it was closing and I threw it away. He slipped past the goalkeeper… He went out”, he recalls as if it had been easy.

And no one lies: It was for Santo Mar del Plata and the newspaper the atlantic he described it like this: “At 25 minutes came the masterpiece of the afternoon: Kawakami entered from the left and from the edge of the large area he took a shot with his right leg behind the left that sneaks through the center of the goal to decree the second holy draw . Marianela, Rabona, Diego’s or whatever they want to call her, but great goal.

Why didn’t his career have another route? “I got carried away by football, I didn’t see it as a livelihood. For me it was a dream to be a footballer. If I had thought about it differently, maybe I took better care of myself: I was very skinny, I lost weight in training and I didn’t gain it back. At that time, the physical was different… Running 18 kilometers and then, perhaps, lifting a weight ”, he analyzes today.

With no place in Banfield, where he returned after each loan, he decided to return to Japan. There, the activity was still amateurish. He signed for S-Pressfirst, and the All Nippon Airways, later. And he hung up his boots in 1992, just a year before soccer went professional in the country. Ramon Diazof the Yokohama Marinewas the first official scorer in 1993, with 28 goals.

Kawakami in the final stretch of his career, in Japan.  Photo: Kawakami Archive

Kawakami in the final stretch of his career, in Japan. Photo: Kawakami Archive

After football, football

But Kawakami remained linked to soccer forever. Back in Argentina, an opportunity in 1998 took him to the AFA as collaborator of the coaching staff of the women’s teamin a time of little empowerment.

“The girls played with clothes that were too big for them, they couldn’t use the courts on the property and they trained as best they could,” she recalls.

All this had happened in Kawakami’s life when Boca announced the arrival of Takahara back in 2001. The Japanese newspaper yomiuri He contacted the former Banfield footballer: they wanted him as a correspondent to learn about the day-to-day life of the Boca striker.

“I went to training and they called me: I told them everything I did and I told them the odds that I would play on the weekend. I also did an interview with him and we talked a few times, ”she details. Takahara’s step was fleeting and Kawakami improved his situation in the national team: he went from collaborator to assistant and continued until 2012. Among others, he had Vanina Correa, the still current goalkeeper of the Mayor.

It was in that role when he felt a click in his identity. She was her in a match of the 2003 Women’s World Cup in the United States, when the teams of Japan and Argentina faced each other. “A very special thing happened to me. For the first time I clouded over and thought of myself. I had my parents of Japanese blood and faced the Japanese team. And I, in the Argentine bank. I was raised, educated and trained in Argentina. In the end what am I? What feeling do I have about one country and the other? When the anthem sounded I realized: it was impressive, my heart began to beat full. I sang the Argentine anthem, I don’t know how to sing it in Japanese. I’m Argentinean. And I confirm it more and more every day, because I can be in Japan, have Japanese blood… but I feel Argentine. It is one thing that does not change. It doesn’t change,” she says with an accent that belies his DNA.

At the time of the women's team: an interview by Clarín Zonales.  Photo: Clarin file.

At the time of the women’s team: an interview by Clarín Zonales. Photo: Clarin file.

The Kawakami Method

Thus, he returned to his homeland. Always with football as a way of life. This time, children. His experience on the Argentine fields was a magnet for a society that lives football, and life, in a different way.

“The boys do not have that passion that the Argentine boy has. What is most difficult is the affective, psychological part. They are not to convey feelings, passion for football. I teach them liveliness in football. Little things that they don’t have and that catches their attention. As in life itself, they also have a lot of respect when they play. And you can’t respect when it’s a game. It is respected after the game, passing the lime line, leaving the field, ”he explains.

What is the liveliness that instills them? “When there is a full-back, they give the ball to the rival or they don’t go looking for it because they know that the full-back is for the other team. They have respect for the rules. So I changed the rules of the game: when the ball comes out, the first one who catches it gets the lateral. If you change the rules and tell them it’s played that way, that’s how they play it. They don’t shout the goal, they don’t enjoy it. Now, if they don’t shout it, I don’t charge them. The scream is a contagion, everyone has to scream it. Fouls: if they don’t ask me, I don’t charge them. Things like that… and they are changing. The regulation changes the action of the game and that modifies the temperament. If you don’t ask for the ball, it will never come to you, that’s what I tell them. With a shout you are transmitting that you are with him, that you are here to accompany him. In Argentina it is quite the opposite, I would have to calm them down, so that they acquire an order. In Japan they already have order, you have to mess them up, ”he explains and reveals the Kawakami method.

Yasushi Kawakami, with the last shirt he wore in Japan after passing through Argentine football.  Photo: Martin Bonetto

Yasushi Kawakami, with the last shirt he wore in Japan after passing through Argentine football. Photo: Martin Bonetto

Now he plans another stage in Argentina, he returned to the neighborhood, to the South of Greater Buenos Aires. Takahara, on the other hand, is still in Japan, he founded his club and they still remember him in Boca, throughout Argentina. But he was not the first to arrive or to score a goal.

-And what did Takahara tell you when you told him that you had been the first Japanese to play and score a goal here?

-I never told him anything. He came as a star from Japan. He wasn’t going to be interested in what I did… It didn’t cross my mind to say anything to him. Until now, I think he must not know that he was not the first Japanese to score a goal in Argentina. Nor was it my vision to show him what I had done. He would have been cute maybe, wouldn’t he?

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