Vissel Kobe’s victory brought energy and hope to the people of Kobe – What went on behind the scenes?

Publish Date2024.05.17

On November 25, 2023, Vissel Kobe achieved their long-awaited first J1 League championship. This was a remarkable achievement for the club in its 29th year. Since its inception, the team has grown together with the city of Kobe. The team’s victory, which they achieved at their home stadium in Kobe, was a day that fans and local supporters will never forget. Kawasaki shares Vissel Kobe’s vision of revitalizing the city and people through soccer, and have been proud supporters of the team since its founding. This article commemorates Vissel Kobe’s first J1 championship, and is joined by special guest Daiya Maekawa, the goalkeeper who has been with the team since the start of his professional career. We discuss what went on behind the scenes, the team’s determination to win back-to-back titles, and the community activities they take part in alongside Kawasaki.

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Goalkeeper (Uniform No. 1)
Vissel Kobe
Daiya Maekawa
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Department Manager, Public Relations and Manager, Promotion Group
Fan Communication Headquarters
Rakuten Vissel Kobe, Inc.
Yuka Sugai
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Manager, Osaka/Kansai Expo Promotion Section and Area/Inner Section, Public Relations
Corporate Communications Group
Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.
Keisuke Murakami

The joy of the fans made us realize the weight of the victory

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Murakami

Congratulations on winning the league championship in 2023. How did it feel when you won?

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Maekawa

Thank you. The match that decided the championship was not a match I was personally satisfied with, so, at first, I felt more regret than joy. However, I was very happy to see the fans and everyone around me celebrating. That’s when the joy of winning the championship after the long league battle came over me

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Sugai

I felt the victory was a culmination of small and simple activities, such as seeing off fans and supporters at the airport, soliciting messages of support, and creating an atmosphere in which the players could win. We all worked together, which led to the championship.

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Murakami

On the day of the final game, I was also cheering on the team at the stadium! 2023 must have been a year of great growth for you. You played in all of the matches from the very start, and of course you were also the starting goalkeeper when you won the championship. I suppose it was a different year for you compared to previous years, right?

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Maekawa

I didn’t change anything in particular, but I think it was a year in which my daily efforts finally paid off. But beyond that, I was able to achieve personal results, and I was also able to participate in matches as a member of the Japanese national team, so that was a very fulfilling year for me.

Vissel has always felt love and support from the city of Kobe

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Murakami

Has your relationship with local fans changed since you won?

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Maekawa

I have been with Vissel for the longest or the second longest of all of my team members. Over the years, I have come to understand our shared history, and how much the club is beloved by the fans and supporters. That’s why I am so happy to be part of delivering the first championship.

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Murakami

You have been with Vissel Kobe for your entire career. What do you think makes the city of Kobe special?

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Maekawa

Kobe is surrounded by both mountains and the ocean, and it is truly a wonderful city. It’s a place where good things are condensed into one place, but above all, the way the supporters cheer at the games is so uplifting. They’re the presence that pushes me forward and surrounds me. The people of Kobe are like family to me.

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Sugai

Vissel Kobe was struck by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake on January 17, 1995, right after the team was created. It was the day the team was scheduled to hold its first practice. Since then, we have walked hand-in-hand with the city of Kobe. That is why we want to contribute to the community, to the whole of Kobe.

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Murakami

Every season, you and your players visit the local shoutengai, or shopping district.

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Sugai

Yes, after all, a sports club can only thrive with the support of the local community. We take the players to visit, of course, but the staff also go out to put up posters and greet people each time, saying, “Thank you for your continued support this season.” We also went out to thank them after winning the championship. We really value our relationship with the local community.

Delivering energy to the community and children beyond the game

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Murakami

Vissel Kobe is working to become a club that can bring happiness to everyone involved with Vissel, with three main goals: “Contributing to the local community through soccer,” “Improving soccer skills in the community,” and “Creating a proud, world-class sports club.” Could you tell us about your activities and initiatives outside of the actual matches? You are also actively involved with local elementary schools, correct?

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Maekawa

Since 2010, we have been continuing the “Goal for Smile Project,” in which we donate four soccer balls to elementary schools in Kobe for every goal scored in Vissel Kobe’s official matches (league matches, league cup matches, and Emperor’s Cup). My hometown is Hiroshima, so I grew up having that kind of experience with the Sanfrecce Hiroshima soccer players coming to my school to teach and play soccer with us kids. It was a truly irreplaceable experience to be able to play soccer with professional players, and it was what inspired me to become a soccer player myself. That’s why I feel like I want to continue this activity.

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Sugai

When we visit these elementary schools, we call out to the entire company and team and ask whether people can go, instead of just having the same person who is in charge go every time. I think it’s very important for everyone to get involved in these activities to interact directly with the locals. I hope that through this project, we can bring the joy of soccer to as many people as possible.

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Murakami

Even outside of the games, it sounds like you are finding ways to bring energy and hope to the children through these activities.

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Maekawa

Of course, it is important to bring joy to people through the results of the match, and at a personal level, I always try to deliver energy to fans every time I compete. I believe that when we play soccer with our whole hearts, regardless of our weaknesses and strengths, that is what moves people’s hearts. I still have a lot to learn, but I also want people to see me working hard and giving it my all, even if I’m not perfect. I want the supporters to see me trying to do my best and be inspired to think, “Maekawa is trying to do his best, so I’m going to try to do my best too.”

Creating a world in which “like” creates “like”, from Vissel to Kawasaki

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Sugai

By the way, why did Kawasaki decide to sponsor Vissel Kobe?

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Murakami

The reason Kawasaki decided to sponsor Vissel Kobe was to contribute to the local community. As a Kobe-based company, we wanted to support the local community and revitalize the Kobe area. We also saw how the citizens of Kobe made various efforts, such as collecting signatures, to help establish Vissel Kobe. 

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Sugai

I see, that’s why you’re working with us on various activities to revitalize Kobe.

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Murakami

Yes, at Kawasaki, we are constantly exploring new ways to support Vissel Kobe and the city of Kobe as a sponsor. For example, Kawasaki sponsors special matches every year. We have been exhibiting our consumer motorcycle products there, and I have heard that they have been well received by many people, including the players. We are very proud to be able to provide a place for fans, supporters, and local residents to come together and enjoy themselves every year.

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Sugai

Kawasaki has been supporting Vissel Kobe ever since the team was founded, and I feel that we have been fighting side by side the whole time. In addition to the matches, we also held a special exhibition together.

Top left: Exhibition Entrance
Top right: A lineup of past uniforms
Bottom left: "Amazing Vissel Kobe Players" - Jump Height
Bottom right: Signed balls and "MAN OF THE MATCH" corner
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Murakami

Yes, in March 2024, we held a special exhibition at Kawasaki World with Vissel Kobe. For example, we introduced why Noevir Stadium uses hybrid turf, and there were sections in which visitors can experience the greatness of the players, such as how high Yuki Honda can jump, or how fast Jean Patric can run the 50 meters, and even how many kilometers Mitsuki Saito runs in a match. We planned the event with the desire to convey the magic of Vissel Kobe beyond the matches in both a fun and informative way. We also hope that this will be an opportunity for people who love soccer to see the exhibits at Kawasaki World related to land, sea, and air, and think about how interesting product and technology development can be. On the other hand, I also want people who came with the objective of learning about Kawasaki to be exposed to Vissel Kobe. They have the chance to realize, “Soccer players are amazing. I want to go to the stadium next time.”

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Sugai

I hope there will be a synergistic effect!

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Murakami

I think there are many children in the world who like various topics, such as children who like soccer, children who like vehicles, and children who like to create things. It would be great if these “likes” would lead to other “likes” and their dreams could grow.

For example, if a child who likes vehicles wants to create a comfortable Shinkansen bullet train that allows soccer players to travel from Kobe to the National Stadium in Tokyo for a match, or an airplane that doesn’t tire everyone out when they go on overseas expeditions, that would be wonderful. On the other hand, children who love soccer can become interested in trains, airplanes, and ships when they travel, and think about working for such a company in the future, or about contributing to the local community together with a company if they become a professional soccer player. I would be very happy if we could provide opportunities for them to expand their dreams.

Anticipating another giant leap in 2024 

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Murakami

What kind of year do you want the 2024 season to be?

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Maekawa

My goal is to become the best goalkeeper in Japan and be selected for the best eleven. If I aim for that, I think I can naturally become an unbeatable player, so I want to continue to work to achieve that goal without giving up. I also believe that our fans are looking forward to seeing us win the league championship again, so I will do my best to achieve solid results while also making further progress myself. Thank you for your support!

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Sugai

We won the J1 League in the 2023 season, and we are now facing high expectations from those around us. Of course, we want to live up to those expectations and become an even stronger team. Going forward, we want to focus on new initiatives with an eye on Asia, as a team, club and business. At the same time, we want to continue to grow together with the local community of Kobe, as we endeavor to drive the spirit of “Kobe Forever Forward.”

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Murakami

We look forward to continuing to support Vissel Kobe, after wins in the Emperor’s Cup in 2020 and the J1 League for the first time in 2023! We would be overwhelmed if Vissel Kobe could maintain this momentum. The developer of the motorcycle that we will provide at this year’s Crown Day is also a big fan of Vissel Kobe, and wants the players to ride the motorcycle he made! We would love to continue to build the excitement around Vissel Kobe and the city itself.

A Message from Kawasaki
“Creating an abundant society together, both today and beyond”

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Group Manager, Corporate Communications Group
Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd.
Takashi Torii

Vissel Kobe, founded in 1995, the year of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, has been actively working on local activities to revitalize the community alongside its efforts as a professional soccer team. Kawasaki supports the spirit of these activities and has been sponsoring and supporting the team since its foundation. The company has been a uniform sponsor since 2003.

The Kawasaki Group’s mission is to “Kawasaki, working as one for the good of the planet” We will continue to help build an abundant society by pursuing various community activities, including supporting Vissel Kobe.

Vissel Kobe and Kawasaki are both based in the city of Kobe. Vissel Kobe is a sports team that excites people, while Kawasaki is a heavy machinery manufacturer that supports the industry and people of Kobe with various technologies. Although their roles are different, they share the same passion to make positive contributions to society through the city of Kobe. Kawasaki will continue to provide energy and hope to people all over the world together with Vissel Kobe, which aims to win the championship again this year.

※ The numbers and affiliations mentioned in the text are based on information available at the time of the interview.

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