Toru Kamikawa made his World Cup debut on Saturday when he officiated the Ireland-Cameroon game in Niigata in Japan’s opening game. It was a nice appointment by FIFA. He became the fourth Japanese referee to serve in the quadrennial tournament.

Kamikawa looked very calm and consistent in the match as if he were officiating a J. League game. He gave a verbal warning to some players who were out of line, issued four yellow cards and also took care of injured players. He controlled the match without any major mistakes.

As teams fight for a spot in the later rounds of the World Cup, referees also compete to win another chance to work the latter stages of the tournament. Kamikawa’s performance in Saturday’s game seems to have left the door open for another chance.

Kamikawa, who will turn 39 on June 8, is an elite breed in Japanese soccer. He was brought up through a special education system for improving referees, which was introduced by the Japan Football Association in conjunction with the start of the J. League. At the beginning of this season, he was named one the nation’s first two professional referees, along with 1998 World Cup referee Masayoshi Okada.

Kamikawa and Okada are training to further improve their officiating skills under the guidance of JFA chief referee instructor Leslie Mottram of Scotland, a World Cup referee in 1994 and the three-time J. League best referee prize winner.

The JFA’s referee education system was launched thanks to great effort from its predecessors. One of them is Yoshiyuki Maruyama.

Maruyama was Japan’s first World Cup referee when he was called up for the 1970 contest in Mexico. He was also the first Asian referee to serve in a World Cup match.

Maruyama previously officiated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and also in 1968 in Mexico City. During the 1964 Summer Games, he met referees from various countries and learned that most of them were aiming for call-ups to World Cup matches.

Inspired by their talks, Maruyama went to see the 1966 World Cup in England at his own expense and discovered the different playing standard between the World Cup and the Olympics.

After returning to Japan, Maruyama went to the JFA’s top officials and tried to convince them to introduce something to improve Japanese referees so that Japan could send them to World Cups.

But it was not that easy.

“Japan didn’t have that much recognition of the World Cup at the time,” Maruyama recalled. He also lamented the lack of financial assistance from the national governing body for his refereeing activities, leaving a dent in his pocketbook.

“It was a time that you had to do things by yourself if you needed them,” the 71-year-old Maruyama, who is now the chief of JFA’s advisory panel for the referees’ committee, said.

He was invited to the 1968 Olympics and then the World Cup two years later. While carrying on as a referee and officiating in games domestically and internationally, Maruyama helped operate the non-professional JSL, made educational plans for young referees and served as an instructor to train them. He also established the referees’ committee inside the JFA and the JSL, which later developed the same format for the JFA and the J. League.

Maruyama greatly contributed to setting up the foundation of the system for referees and referee education in Japanese soccer. That may be based on his bitter experience with the 1970 World Cup. Although the World Cup was a stage that he wanted to be on, his own World Cup was not so successful.

“I didn’t prepare for the tournament well,” Maruyama said. “Because I had had some experience in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, which was successful, I thought I knew what it would be like in the highlands. But I didn’t fully understand the standard difference between the World Cup and the Olympics.

“When I arrived there, a week before the start of the tournament, a FIFA trainer for referees, Dettmar Cramer, checked my conditions and told me I was out. I couldn’t catch up with the others in the first day of training sessions. If we had someone who had experienced the World Cup before, he might have given me more precise advice beforehand. But we didn’t.”

In the 1970 Mexico tournament, Maruyama eventually served as a linesman in two first-round matches — Peru vs. Bulgaria and Yugoslavia vs. United Arab Emirates.

His World Cup unfortunately turned out regrettable. But he didn’t waste his experience and instead gave advice to his successors so they wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

When Shizuo Takada was invited to the 1986 and the 1990 World Cups, Maruyama told him to train well and watch as many good games as possible. Takada refereed a first-round match, Spain vs. Argentina, in 1986 and another first-round game in 1990, Yugoslavia vs. UAE. Takada now serves as the JFA referee committee chief and trains Kamikawa and Okada with the help of Mottram.

“Because I had heard a lot of stories from Mr. Maruyama before, I knew what to do and what not to do when I was called up for the 1998 World Cup,” said Okada, who blew the whistle in the first-round match between England and Tunisia in 1998 in France.

Now it’s Kamikawa’s turn.

Kamikawa should know Maruyama’s story well. If Kamikawa does well in this World Cup it will be a tribute to all the hard work of Japanese officials who paved the way with their contributions through the years.

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