Japan on Tuesday hailed women's football captain Homare Sawa after she was named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, saying the team's World Cup win had given the disaster-hit nation hope.
Sawa was announced as the 2011 winner at the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala in Zurich on Monday.
Last year she won the Golden Boot as top scorer and the Golden Ball as player of the tournament as Japan secured their first ever women's World Cup in Germany.
The 33-year-old midfielder, who appeared in a traditional Japanese kimono at the awards ceremony, is the first Asian player to win the award.
"The women's football team gave us great hope and brightness at a time when Japan faced a series of hardships" after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference in Tokyo.
"They encouraged us," the top government spokesman said.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, who was visiting Ishinomaki, one of the devastated cities in northern Japan, told reporters: "It is encouraging news as the new year has just begun. I'm proud of her."