Nankatsu SC: From Katsushika City to the J.League?

Nankatsu SC, the fictional team from the Captain Tsubasa soccer manga, has emerged as a real-life team in Katsushika City, Tokyo. Their goal? To make it into the J.League.
Tsubasa Ozora, a protagonist of the Captain Tsubasa manga, wearing his team uniform. © Takahashi Yoichi / Shueisha

Landmark Soccer Manga, Translated into over 20 Languages

The soccer manga Captain Tsubasa was first serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1981. Since then, over 70 million copies of the manga have been issued in book and pocket/paperback form in Japan. The manga has been translated into over 20 languages, and the anime has been broadcast in over 50 countries. Captain Tsubasa is a landmark work, with soccer stars young and old publicly proclaiming their love of the manga, including Kylian Mbappé, the French soccer star who garnered worldwide attention at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

In the manga, Tsubasa Ozora—whose catchphrase is "The ball is my friend"—is a young, immensely talented soccer player on the Nankatsu SC soccer team, based in the fictional city of Nankatsu. The manga chronicles the journey he and his teammates take as they win the national championship, going on to represent Japan against many of the world's powerhouse teams. The team, which was of course fictional when the manga was first serialized, now exists in real life in Tokyo. Iwamoto Yoshihiro, senior managing director and general manager of the Nankatsu SC, Katsushika City soccer club, says,

"There was a team set up in Katsushika City in 1983, called 'Tokiwa Club.' There was a push in Katsushika City to get the team to the professional league—the J.League—and in 2012, the name of the team was changed to 'Katsushika Vitoado.' But then, Takahashi suggested it be changed to 'Nankatsu SC,' and that's how the real-life Nankatsu SC came to be."

Takahashi Yoichi, the author of Captain Tsubasa, is both the owner and representative of the club. Born and raised in Katsushika City, he has long been creating his works in the area. The club name "Nankatsu SC" was even based on the name of Takahashi's alma mater, Minami-Katsushika High School ("nan" and "minami" both meaning "south" in Japanese).

Takahashi Yoichi, author of the Captain Tsubasa manga, said he hopes to be able to build a stadium with shopping malls, museums, and more in his hometown of Katsushika City. Photo: Takehiko Noguchi

Iwamoto says that the decision to take on the club name "Nankatsu SC" was an obvious one. "Our thinking was that we'd be able to create excitement and discussion beyond just the actual soccer games. Part of the J.League philosophy is having strong ties to local communities. There are a lot of cities in Tokyo, but Katsushika City has that warm, almost small-town feel, and many people have a lot of love for the area. I think that fits in very well with the J.League's philosophy."

The club is also making active efforts to strengthen their ties with the community—for instance, by coaching soccer at elementary schools, cleaning up areas around stations, and more. Photo: NANKATSU SC

The club has worked its way up the ranks of their regional amateur league for two consecutive years, and is now on the verge of making it into the Japan Football League (JFL), which is one level below the J.League. In 2022, they signed Inamoto Junichi and Konno Yasuyuki, who have both been in the FIFA World Cup as part of the Japan national team, in an effort to strengthen the club further.

The Team's Motto, "The Ball is My Friend"

Inamoto Junichi (left) and Konno Yasuyuki (right), who joined the club in 2022. Photo: Takehiko Noguchi

Inamoto says that the club had grabbed his interest even before he had joined. "As a soccer fan, I was intrigued by how much the people of Katsushika City loved the club, and the weight of that iconic team name. Now, as a member of the club, I think by taking on the attitudes and perspectives of the manga we will give the club a distinct personality. Our philosophy and style as a club revolve around the motto, 'The ball is my friend.' We keep that in mind as we go about our everyday training."

Konno says that Mori Kazuya, who serves as the manager of the club, often says this exact thing in meetings before games and practices. "This respect for the ball is part of what makes Nankatsu SC unique. In the manga, the team has to beat a whole lot of rivals to win, so of course it's also important to go after victories. As a member of the team, my goal is to perform to the best of my abilities and utilize my experiences to help push the team to these victories."

Making It into the J.League and Constructing a Local Stadium

The club's goals are twofold: make it into the J.League, of course, and also construct a new soccer stadium. As of 2022, the only stadium in central Tokyo that meets J.League standards is the Japan National Stadium. It is no easy feat to build a new stadium in the 23 Cities, given the high property prices. The club, however, is discussing options for building a new stadium in Katsushika City with the local administration, and are already taking action to make this a reality.

Takahashi says of the club's goals, "In the long term, we want the team to be one that's recognized all over the world. In the short term, our goal is to make it into the J.League, construct a local stadium specifically for soccer, and make it the kind of place that's full of people every day. I think that will be the foundation for our long-term goal of becoming a world-renowned club."

The club has also fielded proposals to launch a soccer school that utilizes the Nankatsu SC and Captain Tsubasa names, with plans to expand the real-life Nankatsu SC, created in Katsushika City and adored by locals, on a global scale. The hope, of course, is that this real-life club will follow in the footsteps of the fictional team—turning fiction into reality, this time story-wise.

Interview and writing by Osanai Takashi
Translation by Amitt