Having drawn a legion of new fans to the sport of curling, the Japan national women's team has been using its popularity to empower the seaside town of Tokoro, on shore of Lake Saroma in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido.

Since the team won bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, the country's first Olympic curling medal in history, Tokoro was thrown into the national spotlight as the tiny town with a population of 3,400 that is the home to the Olympic heroes.

Supporters of Japan's women's curling team are pictured in Tokoro, Hokkaido, on Feb. 18, 2022. (Kyodo)

Three regular members of the four-person lineup, sisters Chinami and Yurika Yoshida, and Yumi Suzuki, were born and raised in Tokoro, a town that faces the Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Saroma and is deep in the wilderness, by Japanese standards.

"Honestly, there's nothing in this town. I didn't think my dream would ever come true if I stayed here," Chinami said.

But the sisters' small-town dream turned into an incredible reality. As surprise finalists, Japan will be playing Great Britain for its first Olympic curling gold on Sunday at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing with their hometown fans behind them.

Japanese curlers celebrate after defeating Switzerland in the women's semifinals at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 18, 2022, at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Kitami, the city where Tokoro is located, became a popular choice for Japan's hometown taxation program, where taxpayers make monetary donations and get a variety of thank-you gifts and a tax break in return.

In March 2018, shortly after the last Winter Games, Kitami received 22 million yen ($191,000) under this hometown tax donation program, almost six times the amount in the same month the previous year.

File photo taken on March 21, 2018 shows Japan's women's curling team members taking part in a parade in their hometown of Kitami in Hokkaido following their bronze medal win at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. (Kyodo)

So popular was the curling team, known by its club name Loco Solare, that it garnered nationwide attention for its halftime snacking. It popularized the phrase "mogu mogu time" (snack time) with it becoming a nominee for Japan's buzzword of 2018.

The local sweets the team ate to keep its energy levels up during competition enticed people to donate so they could get a taste of the area in return. In fiscal 2020 ended March 2021, donations to Kitami reached 600 million yen, and in the current fiscal year through next month, the city has already collected more than 1.7 billion yen through the program.

In 2020, the city used part of the money donated to build a modern curling facility.

"Local people are happy that Kitami is now known as a curling hotbed. We will do our part to help in any way," said Japan skip Satsuki Fujisawa.

Members of the Japanese women's curling team are pictured during halftime break in a round-robin match against China at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 14, 2022, at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Fujisawa kept her word, speaking to crowds of community members and taking part in curling lessons for children in foster care to promote the sport.

The interactions created synergy between sport and society and a two-way relationship where both parties benefited.

The team looked for ways to improve and raise their profile in their quest to win another Olympic medal. They hit the Okhotsk slopes to do a triathlon and dedicated their training time to on-ice practice sessions in the international-level facility.

And the rest is history.

Japanese skip Satsuki Fujisawa delivers a shot during the fifth end of the women's curling semifinal game against Switzerland at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 18, 2022, at the National Aquatics Centre in Beijing. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Loco Solare -- featuring Fujisawa, lead Yurika, second Suzuki and third Chinami -- will contest the gold medal game on Sunday, the final day of the Beijing Olympics.

"We want to produce the best possible curling," Chinami said.

Last month, Kitami added Loco Solare goods to its list of return gifts for donors for the first time.

Whether the team brings home gold or silver, it looks like a winning move for the city.

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