There is a scene in the popular Japanese movie “Hula Girls”, a film in  which a group of miners wives/relatives decide to form a hula dancing group to aid the development of a Hawaiian resort in a town faced with looming unemployment, in which to help the city’s dream of becoming a tourist destination Iwaki is presented with some palm trees. It doesn’t occur to some people that, with Iwaki being located in north eastern Japan, the palm trees might struggle to survive the harsh winter. It takes a group of people, led by one person with drive, backed up by another group of people with the means to help, to help the situation by rounding up stoves and fuel. Therefore giving the trees some much needed heat that, ultimately, helped them grow and survive. For Iwaki residents, overcoming obstacles, however big or small – or indeed catastrophic – is just something they do.

That particular episode was back in the 60’s, at a time when the area of Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture was struggling to cope with the dramatic change in the landscape, both economic & social. Another event was to come along in March 2011, which would test the foundations (literally) of what Iwaki was made of. The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake & Tsunami was another hammer-blow, and one from which it is only just recovering. The Hawaiian Center on which the film “Hula Girls” is based on (or Spa Resort Hawaiians to give it its current correct title) is inland and thus out of reach of the tsunami which devastated the eastern coast of Japan on that fateful March day. But parts of the city of Iwaki were in reach of the tsunami and that – coupled with the initial tremors – saw over 250 people from Iwaki lose their lives.

But that was just the beginning. The menacing specter of the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power station (a name that, unfortunately, we’ve all become too familiar with) started to creak, leak and before long it was a full on environmental catastrophe. Places around Fukushima prefecture were told to evacuate as the radiation levels weren’t safe for human inhabitants. Iwaki city itself was declared ok, but the news had, understandably, spooked a lot of people. And with a lot of people turned off visiting anywhere near Fukushima for a long while after the initial reactor disaster, Iwaki, and Spa Resort Hawaiians, struggled to survive.

But survive they did. The Hawaiian Center took their show around the country, playing to packed houses that wanted to show their solidarity with the stricken area, and slowly but surely, people began to revisit the area. The numbers aren’t as high as they once were, but it is a start.

The name of Iwaki City has, as detailed, gone through peaks and troughs of reputation. From the depths of the mining industry collapse to its reinvention as a Hawaiian cultural centre, to March 11, 2011. It would be easy to linger on the troughs, to forget about it and to just let it find its own way back to relevance. But a man and a company from far afield, a situation that in essence isn’t so different to the one that occurred in the film, wants to take the reins of a project to catapult the city to national relevance.

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Pieter Huistra. The name means different things to different people around the world. Mention the name to any Glasgow Rangers supporter through the mid-nineties and they will recall the elegant, skillful winger who glided past opponents and was part of the historic 9-in-a-row team, winning 5 titles with the Ibrox club (plus one sending off against Celtic). Sanfrecce Hiroshima fans remember him as part of Wim Jansen’s time at the club – a time where they reached the final of the Emperor’s Cup twice. If you mention the name in Indonesia, they’ll speak of a coach who was appointed just before Indonesia was suspended from international competition.

People in Iwaki? It takes a good leap to imagine that people had heard of Huistra before he set foot in the city. But no-one should be under any illusions about what the Dutchman has planned for the city. Partnered with international sports apparel behemoth Under Armour, Huistra has come on board for a project that would transform the city into a centre of football excellence.

It starts from very humble beginnings. Iwaki FC are currently in division 2 of the Fukushima Prefecture regional league – a full five divisions below the Japanese professional football level. But starting this low, this organically, didn’t deter Huistra and his associates from taking this project (and it is a project in the true sense of the word) on.

 

J.League Regista spoke to Pieter Huistra about his ambitions for the club, the city and his own personal ambitions.

JLR: It seems an obvious question, but how did you come to be involved in the project at Iwaki FC?

PH: I met (Iwaki FC Chairman) Mr. Okura (pictured below) last year in Japan when he was still involved with Shonan Bellmare. We had a good talk about football. Later he got involved in the Iwaki FC project and asked me to become the head coach.

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Some people might not know this but you’ve actually played in Japan before, so you’re not actually brand new to Japanese football. What do you remember from your time at Sanfrecce Hiroshima?

I had a great time with Sanfrecce. We had a good team. Many players of that team are now coaches. Moriyasu, Kazama, Hasek, Takagi, Moriyama, Van Loen and myself. We reached the final of Emperors Cup twice. Also, the supporters were great.

How much different is it coaching at Iwaki FC’s level, compared with the other coaching jobs you’ve had before? 

In a way, coaching a group of players is the same regardless the level of the players. There is the strategy that everybody has to understand, there is the physical training that has to be done. As a coach you have to give attention to everyones needs.

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We have a young team who have to learn to read the game situations. So I put a lot of emphasis on that. they have to learn to take the right decisions in the game. We also do a lot of passing and control exercises to improve the handling speed that is required at a higher level.

Obviously Iwaki is in an area that was greatly affected by the disasters of March 11, 2011. Did that make you a bit anxious initially? Or did it inspire you to go there and make a difference?

After talking to Dome Corp. (a sports and health company that is one of the main backers of Iwaki FC) and hearing their reasons to establish a new club in Iwaki it inspired everybody working on this project. It is the right place to start such an ambitious adventure. 

Iwaki FC is being backed by Under Armour. How much have they been involved?

They have been the driving force behind the plan. They have the knowledge and the resources to fuel the project. They also realize the need to anchor the club in the community and become a part of the Iwaki identity. 

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How have the people in the local area responded to you and your ideas for Iwaki? 

I feel a lot of support from the local people. The relationship with Iwaki FA is good. The fan base is growing. Many people recognize me already and start speaking about football.   

Anybody who remembers you as a player will know that you were an attack-minded winger, technically excellent and comfortable on the ball. How do you want your Iwaki FC side to play the game? 

I like to play dominating modern football. Play quick passing football to create many chances and score goals. We also try to win the ball back as soon as possible when we don’t have ball possession.

This season, what would you like to achieve?

We want to get promoted to the higher level of competition first, but the main goal is to improve the qualities of the players. Iwaki FC players have to work hard to achieve that goal. We have long practice sessions and do a lot of physical training. We believe that a professional lifestyle with the right nutrition and physical stimulants is the only way for Japanese players to bridge the gap to international standard. 

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Finally, what are the ultimate goals for this club? How far can you go? 

The ultimate goal is to play professional football with Iwaki FC. It is up to the club to create an atmosphere in the city that is willing to support this ambitious plan. This general support will be crucial to fulfill this quest.

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I’d like to thank Pieter for his time, and I’m sure everyone reading this will want to wish the club the very best not just for this season, but in their quest to promote the area of Iwaki and their vision for professional football.

There are ways and means to keep up with Iwaki FC’s progress. They are:

* All photos here come from the Iwaki FC Facebook page

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