It’s been fifteen years since the last time the rising sun graced the sail of an America’s Cup challenger, and for SoftBank Team Japan sailor and general manager Kazuhiko Sofuku, the passion still burns deeply.
Known by most by his nickname, “Fuku”, Sofuku is a veteran of now four challenges for the oldest trophy in international sport including racing for the Japanese challenger, Nippon Challenge, in 1995 and 2000.
Founded in 1992 as the first Japanese flagged challenger in America’s Cup history, Nippon Challenge went on to advance to the semi-finals at every Louis Vuitton Cup they competed in during the 1992, 1995, and 2000 Cup cycles.
Only days away from the first America’s Cup event ever held on the Asian continent, Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Fukuoka, we caught up with Fuku and travelled with him to the town of Gamagori – the original team base for Nippon Challenge.
Remembering back 15 years, what was the impact of Nippon Challenge on Japan?
“The legacy of Nippon Challenge...it was the first ever challenge from Japan. I always told people that Japan is a maritime country surrounded by the ocean and has a culture based around that since a long time ago.
“That was why it was important for us to challenge for the most prestigious sailing event in the world.
“On the sailing side obviously, it was beyond a dream for us to challenge from Japan with Japanese sailors. We climbed a huge hurdle just to get to the starting line.”
Looking forward, what do you hope the enduring legacy of SoftBank Team Japan will be?
“We now have an amazing opportunity given to us by SoftBank to come back after 15 years of absence from the America’s Cup.
“Our challenge started last year and now we’ve been given the chance to race in Japan on Hakata Bay in Fukuoka. That is really something impressive.
“My hope is that we can introduce the new culture of the America’s Cup to the Japanese people. Sailing is a great sport for learning, for environmentalism, for kids, I’m happy to introduce it and hopefully the legacy continues for years to come.”