Shizuoka sports fans fall for ‘futsal’ fever

TENRYU, Shizuoka Pref. — When Mario Yasumitsu, a second-generation Japanese-Brazilian, moved to Japan from Latin America, he packed the daily necessities and one “futsal” ball.

Yasumitsu, 47, loves futsal, a sport similar to soccer and very popular in Brazil, and has enjoyed playing it for 32 years. The ball might help in making new friends in Japan, he thought at the time of his move.

Now 4 1/2 years later, the sport has taken root in the Japanese-Brazilian community in Tenryu, Shizuoka Prefecture, where Yasumitsu now lives. Under his supervision, one or two futsal tournaments are organized per month, with more than 100 players participating.

“At first, we started playing futsal, using my ball, with friends as we had nothing to do on Sundays and got bored,” said Yasumitsu, who works at an automobile parts manufacturer. He then organized three teams — 15 players in all — that would play against each other at a municipal gymnasium in Tenryu. From there, he explained, the popularity of the sport “evolved naturally among Japanese-Brazilians who like (futsal) and missed it very much.”

At a recent tournament held at the gym in late May, about 100 players from 12 teams from Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures participated in the competition, under the gaze of about 100 spectators, consisting mainly of the players’ families and friends. “Futsal players have contacted me after learning about our tournament, mainly through word of mouth,” Yasumitsu said. “I never expected the event to become this big.”