19 Nov 2020
The Japanese women’s volleyball team captured the nation’s hearts on the way to winning gold at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. Their triumphant run – including a final win over the heavily favoured Soviet Union which was watched by more Japanese television viewers than any other event in the Games – led to widespread media coverage of volleyball and is credited with greatly boosting the popularity of the sport for women of all ages in Japan.
Following the Games, “mama-san volleyball” – a form of the sport specifically aimed at Japanese women – became increasingly popular across the country and, in 1970, a national mama-san volleyball competition was organised in Tokyo. As of 2020, there are numerous mama-san competitions organised.
Since 1964, the team have remained prominent in the national consciousness through repeated documentaries on their success, animation series based on the team, as well as a weekly TV programme in the 1970s in which six of the original “Oriental Witches” competed against various amateur sides. Kasai Masae, the captain of the victorious 1964 team, remained heavily involved in the sport, coaching various mama-san teams in the 1980s and 90s as well as the Japanese women’s team at the Olympic Games Athens 2004. She died in 2013 at the age of 80.
Keeping the sport in the limelight has led to a legacy of Olympic volleyball success for Japan’s women. A new generation of players won gold at the Olympic Games Montreal 1976, and the team also picked up medals at Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Los Angeles 1984 and London 2012.