Homeless Japanese soccer player finds team spirit at Milan world cup

After playing in Milan's world cup for the homeless, things are looking up for Japan's Yutaro Gomikawa.

BEIJING – Just a quick note with some encouraging news about the young homeless Japanese man I wrote about a few weeks back on the eve of the Homeless soccer World Cup.

Well, Yutaro Gomikawa went to Milan with the Japanese team, and it seems to have done him a whole lot of good.

“He is, like, always smiling” says Eriko Sato, a staffer on The Big Issue, a monthly magazine that homeless people sell to earn some money. “The boost to his self confidence is obvious.”

That clearly has little to do with the Japanese team’s overall performance at the tournament: They lost all eight of their games, often by wide margins (most notably, 17-1 against South Africa).

But Mr. Gomikawa says that doesn’t really bother him. “We all worked hard and we did our best,” he says.

What did give him a lift, reckons Ms. Sato, is the fact that Gomikawa won one of the “fair play” awards that were given each day. And the whole experience seems to have made him more of a team player.

“Homeless people are often very egotistical, and don’t think about other people” says Sato. “They are the lowest of the low and it’s very, very difficult for them to show empathy for others.”

When Gomikawa first came to the Big Issue office, Sato recalls, he was always interrupting other peoples’ conversations. Now he is much more considerate.

That is apparent when the young player describes what impressed him most in Milan. It had nothing to do with him. Rather, it was when a teammate scored a spectacular goal.

“The moment that ball hit the back of the net was what I lived for in Milan,” he remembers. “I was so happy when my friend scored. That was the most brilliant moment I have ever experienced.”

Gomikawa is still looking for work. He had been offered an interview for a security guard’s job before he went to Milan, but when he came back the company had hired someone else.

“I was a bit depressed, but never mind,” he says. He has another soccer match coming up. “Let me think about my job hunting after that.”


Homelessness has been on the rise in Japan since the "Lehman shokku." How are the homeless coping? Read more here.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.