In Japan, Adoration for Women’s Volleyball

When Yoshie Takeshita of Japan goes up to block spikers 40 centimeters taller than her, she is lifted by an arena full of fans chanting her name and a banner in Japanese telling her, “159 cm is awesome.”

Not known for producing tall women, Japan, which is hosting the women’s world volleyball championships for the second time in a row, is leaping above other nations, at least in terms of media coverage and fan support.

It is not only because Japan will face top-ranked Brazil in the semifinal Saturday in Tokyo, after the Olympic silver medalist, the United States, takes on Russia, which won the 2006 worlds in Osaka, Japan, thanks to its 202-centimeter, or 6 foot 7 inch, spiker, Ekaterina Gamova.

In a country where most students play volleyball in junior and senior high school, Japan has figured out how to mass-market a sport that, though played by millions around the world, rarely garners the global media attention showered on soccer and basketball.

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