For many football players, the World Cup represents a high point in their careers. The same can be true for referees, and that was the case with top Japanese official Toru Kamikawa, who was the man-in-the-middle for the third-place playoff between Germany and Portugal in the 2006 World Cup.
A few months after becoming the first Japanese referee to take charge of such a high-profile match, Kamikawa was forced to end his footballing career - both as a FIFA referee and as one of the Japan Football Association's "SR" referees - due to a knee injury. But his passion for the sport never left him.
Since February 2007, Kamikawa has moved on to a new challenge as a referee instructor for the JFA, developing the referees of the future and raising the standard of officiating in Japan.
"I'd like to help the JFA establish a good standard of refereeing," Kamikawa says.
The two-time World Cup referee was one of the first two Special Referees (SRs) when the professional referee system - for those who devote themselves solely to refereeing - was introduced in Japan in 2002. He received intensive on-the-job training along with colleague Masayoshi Okada, who was a World Cup referee in 1998.
"In my refereeing days, I always tried to maintain my standard through good self-control," Kamikawa explained.
"Your attitude should remain the same in any match; it doesn't matter whether you're officiating in a World Cup match or a game of primary school players. You do what you are supposed to do and have to do in every single match, and you just keep doing that. Based on that, you can gradually build up your experience and eventually you will be able to work big games, like in the World Cup."
"Everybody has his or her own style. What I'm trying to do now is to help referees develop their strengths," the 45-year-old former FIFA ref noted.
The number of referees in Japan in all classes and categories increased to 199,792 in 2008 from 187,083 in 2006. This figure includes female referees, who now total 8,023, up from 7,021 in 2006. There were 121 male Class-I referees and 30 Women's Class-I holders in 2008. The JFA are receiving more inquiries on how to become a football referee every year.
"I think the job of football referee is now being recognized as a profession," Kamikawa noted. "We are getting more young people who are learning to become referees, and what pleases me most is that they are really proud to be doing that."
"The increase in the number of referee candidates may have something to do with the existence of the SR system, and I also might have helped a little bit by making it to the 2006 World Cup."
The number of SR refs has grown from the initial two to 12 in 2009. Six of them are also registered as FIFA referees, and Ryuji Sato joined them in January, becoming the first such official to qualify from the JFA Referee College.
The College is the training organization that the JFA established in 2004 in order to bring up young and talented referees. With the increase in the number of J. League matches, it was vital to have good-quality referees for the success and the development of the J. League and Japanese football.
The Referee College has so far had 28 students, and 16 of them have qualified as Class-I referees capable of working Division One matches. One of those Class-I referees officiated in Division One in 2008, while three others served in Division Two. Four of them are in their 20s.
The JFA also introduced its Referee National Training Centre system from April 2007 to educate referees across the nation and help them share the same standards. Regional training centre sessions take place every month, while national gatherings are held twice a year.
"I think we have broadened the bottom part of the referee pyramid structure, and we can expect more people to become top-class referees in the future," Kamikawa stated. "We have many people who have dreams and hopes in the refereeing business. I think we are on the right track."
In order to develop their refereeing skills, Kamikawa says that the younger refs can learn a lot from their predecessors and that one of them, former FIFA ref Toshimitsu Yoshida, continues to develop his skills every year.
"Yoshida-san is still developing," Kamikawa says. "And that is a result of his hard work. He is learning from his own experience and that's why I'd like the younger refs to meet the challenge head-on without being afraid of making mistakes.
"In games, they should have no self-doubt when faced with a big-name player. It's down to attitude, not experience. It's a matter of whether you respect the players and the sport.
"That's why it's important to officiate in all games with the same standard, the same attitude and the same management. If you do, you can become a referee who enjoys respect and is known by the players and fans."
In 2009, seven referees and nine assistant referees from Japan will work as FIFA referees and FIFA assistant referees. At the same time, six referees and eight assistant referees will be registered as AFC Elite referees and assistant referees.
Japanese female officials have also won recognition internationally. Two referees and three assistants were appointed to the FIFA Women's Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups last year. Sachiko Baba was named the AFC Women's Referee of the Year in November.
The JFA are also making efforts to help their Asian neighbours. Since April, Tetsu Karakida has been in Cambodia as a referee instructor with assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Also, a referee exchange program was set up between Japan and Poland last August. Under the arrangement, a referee and two assistants from each country officiated in top league matches in the other country over a two-week period.
The JFA, who have five officials as FIFA and/or AFC referee instructors or assessors, also organized the JFA International Referee Instructor Course 2008 last April. The five-day seminar saw 25 referee instructors invited from 17 Asian countries in an attempt to share the knowledge the JFA have obtained on educating referees and improve the level of Asian refereeing and Asian football.
In December 2008, Kamikawa worked as a member of FIFA Referees Committee at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 presented by Toyota - the tournament that was a turning point in his own career. In the 2005 Club World Cup, he refereed two matches and was an assistant referee in another, and his performance led to his appointment as a 2006 World Cup official.
"I like to think I was a representative of Asian referees at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, so I'd like to do something for them in return," Kamikawa said.
"When I attend matches as an AFC referee assessor, I try to deliver some advice to the referee. From my own experience, I know receiving comments on your refereeing is more important than the assessment marks."
"I think many countries are making good progress in Asia. That's probably because each association has worked hard on restructuring their league and they now have greater motivation to qualify for the World Cup. I think it's a good sign."
(Text and interview by Kumi Kinohara, sports journalist)