Japan's national softball team makes glorious return to Fukushima

Japan's national softball team returned triumphant on Nov. 3 to Azuma Stadium in Fukushima city, which hosted some epic games during the Tokyo Olympics. The Japan Softball Association held a "ceremony for the gold medalists" in the ballpark run by the Fukushima prefectural government. Head coach Reika Utsugi, 58, and 15 players extended their gratitude to people in Fukushima Prefecture for supporting the team. Later, team members and grade school children played a kickball game. The event was designed as an opportunity for interaction between the team and the community. Olympic matches at the stadium were staged without spectators to guard against the spread of the novel coronavirus, meaning there was little chance for the team to engage the locals. About 800 residents of the prefecture, including 250 elementary school children, were invited. Team members were greeted with applause and looked back over their Olympic performances while speaking to the gathered crowd. "We were encouraged in Fukushima (in the early stage of the softball tournament) and went on to grab the gold," Utsugi said in a show of her appreciation for the role the prefecture played in the team's success. "I was relieved when it was all over," said ace pitcher Yukiko Ueno, 39. "I felt the mission was accomplished," she added, noting she felt great pressure. Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori and Hiroshi Kohata, mayor of the prefecture's capital city, presented Utsugi and her players with local products as gifts. After the ceremony, Utsugi said she is "able to breathe a little easier to have been given an opportunity to express my gratitude" as she shared the moment with the people of the prefecture. Ueno said: "I enjoyed myself today, having been able to stand on the field and see things on the same level as other people while playing. I had a great time." Team captain Eri Yamada, 37, said she was "encouraged by local children" and that made her feel she would "work harder" in future. (Translated by Kyodo News)