April 6, 2010 / 4:32 AM / 9 years ago

Rah rah! Cheerleaders pep up dour Japan

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Japan may have little to celebrate with its economic recovery still fragile, so some cheerleaders are hitting the streets and stages to pep up the mood — including one pom-pom squad whose average age is 66.

Fumie Takino, a 78-year-old cheerleader, practices cheerleading with other members of a seniors' cheerleading group called "Japan Pom Pom" in Tokyo March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

On a recent Saturday, some 20 members of elderly cheerleading club Japan Pom Pom performed at a competition near Tokyo, waving gold pom-poms and dancing to the rhythm in shiny red costumes adored with sequins and wearing bobbed silver wigs.

“I started cheerleading when I was 63 and I think I can dance much better and have made some improvements. Anybody can improve even if you are old,” Fumie Takino, the 78-year-old leader and founder of the club, told Reuters.

The club, whose members’ ages average 66 and add up to 1,520 years, practices two hours a week and often performs at children’s hospitals as well as nursing homes.

Takino said that their main goal is to have fun.

“There is a lot of depressing news and the economy is bad. I must say, I can only do little to overcome this problem, but I hope we can provide energy and encourage people by showing how we senior cheerleaders are simply enjoying ourselves,” she said.

The group’s enthusiasm appears to be contagious.

In Tokyo’s bustling business district of Shinjuku, Aya Saito, 33, has been dancing on a street every morning to the 1980s pop song “Mickey” for seven months as commuters rush by to work.

“Are you guys enjoying your job? Let’s do our best today, too!” Saito called out on a recent week day, her long ponytail shaking as she hopped. Some took out their mobile phones to shoot photos while an old woman watched in amazement.

Saito said she started her daily dance routine last August after wondering how she could tell other employees to avoid making the same mistake that she did in her previous job, and which led her to quit — bottling up her frustration.

Her solution? She taught herself cheerleading by watching YouTube clips and hit the street in a $40 red, sleeveless cheerleading costume, purchased at a party goods store.

“One guy said he was going to quit his job but decided to stay after watching me dance here. That kind of thing makes me feel that my cheerleading is worthwhile,” said Saito, now a freelance PR agent when she is not dancing.

Most commuters just walk by but some find it an inspiration.

“There’s not that much benefit in cheering other people but it’s amazing that she has still continued this every day,” said Masaki Tsuchiya, 47, who stopped to watch before heading to work.

The government upgraded its view on the economy for the first time in eight months in March, but deflation is still a risk in aging Japan, which expects over a quarter of its citizens to be aged over 65 by 2015.

Additional reporting by Toshi Maeda, editing by Miral Fahmy

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