Cheerleading is a highly recognized physical activity around the world. In Japan, it is popularly known as a sport that requires athletic ability and physical strength. Teams are divided into males and females and they compete with routines through different levels.
But did you know that cheerleading is not only common among junior high school, high school, and college students in the country? It is also participated in by older women who have experienced taking on big challenges by frequently practicing and learning new choreography. One senior citizen cheerleading team even competes internationally and is known by the name of Japan Pom Pom. Let’s get to know them better!
The Japan Cheerleading Association (JCA) was started in 1988 in order to supervise the competitive sport around the country. Its association office was opened in Akasaka of Tokyo. It further spread and promoted cheerleading competitions. The first International Cheerleading All-Japan Championships happened in 1990 which prompted the country to broadcast its live events through the NHK satellite.
The association also held several workshops for training and certifying competition equipment before holding domestic and international competitions. The first World Championships occurred in 2001 in which the Japanese female team won over the mixed gender team. They were able to bag the prize again 2 years later.
Regarding competition guidelines, the cheerleading routines are done on a 12-meter square mat wherein teams perform their routine for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Certain elements can be found in the routine such as stunts, dances, gymnastics, sideline cheers, and pyramids. Competitions can either be group stunts or partner stunts. A group stunt is participated in by 5 members who perform routines of strictly-stunts for 60 to 65 seconds. On the other hand, a partner stunt is participated by a male and a female who perform routines for 50 to 60 seconds. Some cheerleading competitions also occur in clubs and at all-star levels.
As a highly competitive sport around the world, cheerleading is not only done by the young in Japan. Even women in their 60s and 70s dance and shake their pom poms in competitions across the country. Many of them believe that they are forever young who only age by number. Though the aging population of Japan is increasing, it is still rare to see old Japanese women who do cheerleading.
Japan’s Senior Cheer Association is dedicated to training elderly women to show their creative skills on different cheerleading competitions. Some of their members joined the team after watching the group’s performances and realizing that they could somehow also become part of it. It is an exciting way to maintain both mental and physical health.
In a sense, it is quite hopeful to see everyone’s future to be very active even at on older age. After realizing their capabilities through this kind of opportunity, some members persuade other elderlies to join as well. A little bit of push is all it needs in order to encourage the older generation to express themselves through cheerleading. It can also be a great way to have fun while getting old.
Fumie Takino, an 84-year-old woman, founded Japan Pom Pom in 1996. She was sent abroad by her father in order to become independent. The liberation movement of women was the strongest at that time so she decided to attend school at the University of Michigan in 1954.
Unfortunately, the death of her father at the age of 80 left Takino heartbroken. She was shocked by his suffering and thus decided to learn how to stay healthier and happier for a longer period of time. She started studying gerontology, the study of aging and older adults, at the age of 53. She even got a master’s degree in Applied Gerontology. From then on, she decided to create a solution to living life longer and happier.
The founding of Japan Pom Pom started with 28 women having an average age of 67. As of now, the age requirement for Takino’s team is 55 while the average age is 70. Every member is treated as an individual with no athletic experience. They are encouraged by the founder to perform challenging routines with great enthusiasm. The group looks like typical Japanese seniors until they change into their practice outfits and dance to music, jumping and kicking their legs.
The oldest member of Japan Pom Pom is Takino. She is always cheerful and energetic. If you get the chance to talk to her, she would always jokingly peek in and make a funny face. She’s also optimistic, fun-loving, and big-hearted. Though her relatives hated her for wearing costumes and short skirts, she didn’t mind them and just followed her passion.
These days, Japan Pom Pom often performs at nursing homes and charity events for the purpose of cheering other people up. Last September 2016, the group performed a number called “Dreamgirls” in order to compete in the national cheerleading and dance championship of the United Spirit Association (USA) Japan which was held in Chiba. They had an intense weekly training before the event. They dazzled in their pink tank tops while finishing their performance.
Most Japanese people expect their kids or grandchildren to take care of them when they get older. This is based on beautiful old stories when the Japanese cared for their ailing parents at a time when life expectancy was less than 50 years. But these days, women are expected to live as long as 87 years while men are expected to live as long as 80 years. When parents live up to their late 90s, chances are that their children could die before them, leaving them alone. It becomes a ridiculous idea for somebody to take care of an elderly they don’t really know, thus it is necessary nowadays to maintain good health to be able to live a longer life.
No one can avoid growing old. Eventually, everyone will deteriorate mentally and physically, so why not join Japan’s senior citizen cheerleading team, Japan Pom Pom, and have fun? It could definitely be an elixir of youth.
Japan Pom Pom Website *Japanese only