It’s like Being in a Different Country. Football Abroad No.1 - Japan

Discussion in 'The Beautiful Game' started by RichardL, Mar 6, 2007.

  1. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    It has to be said there’s something quite unsettling about going up to the young girl behind the information desk next to the ladieswear section of a department store, and asking her where the train platforms are. That she doesn’t stare at you quizzically as if you are a total imbecile is something of a relief, as is the information that tickets can be bought at the end of the floor above the deli counter, while the platforms themselves are upstairs, but not as far as luggage and leather goods. Japan does things differently, as if made by people who had the parts to build the western world but had lost the instructions, and if that means having a rail terminus completely enclosed within a department store, then so be it. It works for them, so who am I to argue?

    Perhaps less successful was Japan’s football league. While the ethic of company loyalty may be very strong in Japan, it wasn’t strong enough to make employees of Mitsubishi forsake an evening at the karaoke bar to cheer on the Mitsubishi team, in a league comprised mainly of teams from corporations. The formation of the J-League changed all that. While technically Kashima Antlers may be the secret love-child of the Sumitomo Metal Industries corporation and the Japanese equivalent of a man called Nigel who works in advertising, the newly independent teams went from strength to strength.

    An exception to both of those rules is the wonderfully named Kyoto Purple Sanga, who were always an independent club, being founded as a university team, while also managing to buck the trend and struggling to get the support from the large city. When I went, Kyoto were stomping on the opposition with ease on an unstoppable march to J1, yet only around 6000 were present. There looked to even less when I set off, taking the train the short distance to the ground from the centre, with barely a flash of purple about. The club flags that had line Kyoto’s main street towards the Geisha district of Gion didn’t seem to have inspired the locals to support, until that is the train arrived and a purple sea spilled from the carriages ahead. Most seemed very young, as does everyone in Japan – a place where the female accent sounds like a seven year old talking to her My Little Pony.

    As I left the station, a pretty young girl in a kimono walked passed, looking the picture of innocence, except that she was drawing heavily on a cigarette – a curiously alluring sight that made me wonder if the was a niche in the adult website industry that had yet to be exploited – but given that an alarming bulk of the young girls in Japan dress as if they have stepped out of a 40 year old virgin’s fantasy, it seems nearly impossible. It’s hard enough to understand why so many young women who clearly didn’t appear to be at school any more dressed as if they were, but the actual mental process that makes some teenage girls dress like Little Bo Peep isn’t within my capacity to fathom.

    Although there were one or two Kimonos in evidence at the game, neither of the latter ensemble were spotted. I had more own sartorial query though. The previous night, under the slight influence of drink, and due to a hideous miscalculation of the exchange rate, I’d expensively acquired an otherwise fine Kyoto Purple Sanga away shirt on one of the main streets of Kyoto. Now, as I walked round wearing this shirt, I noticed that nobody, nobody at all other than me, was wearing the away top. Was this bad? Had I committed some hideous Japanese etiquette faux pas? Was wearing an away shirt to a home game the equivalent of blowing your nose in public or leaving chopsticks upright in your rice? Had I bought shame on the home support, decked out almost to a man in home shirts – and also one girl in a purple kimono – now there’s one line of potential merchandise that even Manchester United haven’t thought of. Nobody sat next to me – that’s all I know, although maybe that fact that my body had reacted to Kyoto’s heat & humidity by engaging in it’s only personal sweat-a-thon – had I been sponsored I could probably have raised enough to build a small school in The Congo – and maybe that had a small part in the matter.

    The crowd was rather thin though. Perhaps the ground didn’t help. Japan has some terrific stadiums, most of which were showcased in the 2002 world cup, and a few others that weren’t. Kyoto’s Nishikyogoku stadium sadly isn’t among them, being straight out of the soviet provincial-stadiums-for-provinces-the-Russians-don’t-really-like book of rather nasty 1970s architecture. Just a single tier of uncovered seats surrounding an absurdly wide running track, with the seats not even making a full circuit of the track, seemingly losing the will to live and dropping away to nothing before entering the home straight.
  2. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Just finding my seat was something of an achievement, with the ticket being printed entirely in Japanese. That wasn’t a total surprise as sports events are one of the most authentic experiences you can get, with them being so completely not tailored towards tourists, but Japan is almost absurdly convenient. English is written in so many places it’s almost embarrassing and people will almost fall over themselves to be helpful. In hotels, they not only provide you with night attire and slippers, but also provide you with information as to why you might want to wear them – “these slippers are really warm and comfy for feet”, just in case you were considering wearing them as mittens or on your ears, perhaps. And to top it off, the absolutely fantastic sandwiches you can buy in any convenience store come with the crusts cut off, which saves the enormous expense of having your mother flown over to do it for you. They also provided an important lesson in the value of punctuation. The packaging bore a message imploring you to give the sandwiches a try, and hoped you enjoy them, but the translation let them down to the extent that “we want you to try and enjoy this sandwich” sounded more like a challenge. I’m not sure if it’s a love of convenience or gadgets that inspired someone in Japan to invent the multi-functional electronic toilet, but such appliances elsewhere in the world don’t usually come with instructions. In Japan you get the option of a built in bidet option, with adjustable spray strength and temperature, with a further blow dry option. You can also set the seat temperature if you so desire, but that can lead to the rather unsettling feeling of sitting on a seat which has just been vacated by someone else.
    But this ticket did, for almost the only time, allow me to make use of my efforts of going to the trouble of learning Katakana, even if any steward could have told me I needed gate five, rather than me having to struggle to read each part of the ticket until I found something resembling a gate or section. I think I still got it wrong though.

    Once inside I helped myself to a program and purchased a scarf. Rather than being woollen, it was actually made of terry towelling. Given the summer climate of Kyoto, when every step feels like you are being breathed on by Digby the Giant Dog, it actually made a lot of sense. Not that it bothered the commendable Kyoto fans behind the goal, who kept up a barrage of singing and bouncing up and down for the full duration of the game, although you perhaps wouldn’t want to be sharing a train carriage with them after the game. Many flag were waved, and banners draped over the walls added to the occasion, even if the wording on the banners was rather obscure. “Go Kimono” sounded almost like an appeal to the female populace to wear the traditional dress. “Massive Kyoto” made you feel the club were twinned with Manchester City. “Real Naked” defied any sort of explanation. Mind you, as Japanese youths often wore t-shirts bearing slogans which looked like they’d picked words at random from a dictionary, it isn’t surprising.

    The game itself was as energetic as the fans, with the players sprinting about as if on a crisp spring morning in Hampshire. Personally I was still finding that merest physical task would leave me perspiring to a degree that would make passers-by probably wonder if I was in the advanced stages of Malaria, so I had nothing but admiration.

    The match program contained the slogan “One for Win!” It was hard to know whether this was a call for unity, or if it meant they’d based their playing style on George Graham’s Arsenal of the late 80s, but as they struggled to break down a clearly inferior Tokushima Vortis, whose polite supporters were segregated away to my right – a measure about as necessary as disabled parking spaces at an ice rink – the latter reason looked more likely. Not that they were boring, boring, in any way. The renowned Brazilian influence had given the teams a freedom of expression not found in certain leagues highly popular around the world, although if players in England did try as many speculative long range shots and threading the eye of a needle passes then the freedom of expression would have been a reference to the range of Anglo-Saxon phrases such unlikely ventures would bring about.

    It took a rather clumsy penalty to edge beyond George Graham country and give Kyoto a 2-0 lead, and like for the first goal, the Kyoto fans cheered and applauded with their right hands against the hand-held fans they held in their left, creating a sound like it was raining Tupperware. But if nothing else, it meant that I had come to Japan, the home of Zen Buddhism, and heard the sound of one hand clapping. Such is the mystique of the Orient. If only a visit Leyton Orient could offer such enlightenment.
  3. crookeddy

    crookeddy Member+

    Apr 27, 2004
    You're a good writer.
  4. dolphinscoach

    dolphinscoach Member

    Apr 17, 2002
    Bellevue, NE

    As always, it is a pleasure to read your contributions. I hope the Japan trip doesn't keep you from writing about Reading for the YA forum.

    Hope you have a great trip.
  5. prvev

    prvev New Member

    Jun 4, 2006
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Nicely done. Would rep you if I could. And congrats on the front-page gig.
  6. Battlecruiser

    Battlecruiser New Member

    Apr 9, 2006
    Interesting story. I had to skim over it though because I'm kind of in a rush. Did you ever find out why wearing the away jersey was bad?
  7. jade1mls

    jade1mls Member

    Jul 9, 2006
    What a wonderful story Richard! Are there going to be numbers 2, 3, 4, etc?
  8. wolfp10

    wolfp10 Member

    Sep 25, 2005
    Excellent story. Hope you have fun!
  9. mls_in_canada

    mls_in_canada New Member

    Feb 29, 2004
    Waterloo, ON, Canada
    Wow. Lvoed the Sumitomo reference since my sister worked there and thus I am well aware of the corporate presence in Japan. Gotta give props to a University team in Japan...are you kidding me?!?!
  10. russ

    russ Member+

    Feb 26, 1999
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Class work as always,mate.
  11. NORML

    NORML Member+

    Aug 9, 2002
    Lake Wobegon, MN
    NSC Minnesota Stars
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Cool. I look forward to future stories.
  12. MightyMouse

    MightyMouse BigSoccer Supporter

    Jun 19, 2003
    Island paradise east of the mainland
    FC Barcelona
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    You had me chuckle at a few parts. The descriptions of the the reasons why you should wear slippers had me cracking up. Loved it, very well written and descriptive. I must go to Japan!!!
  13. texgator

    texgator New Member

    Oct 28, 2003
    Best blog entry on Big Soccer in a long, long time. Please write more.
  14. zeusbrowne

    zeusbrowne New Member

    Dec 12, 2006
    West Orange, NJ
    Thanks RichardL. Really enjoyed the writing. Repped.
  15. Sachin

    Sachin New Member

    Jan 14, 2000
    La Norte
    DC United
    Screw Martin Amis... This is some great writing.
  16. DoctorD

    DoctorD Member+

    Sep 29, 2002
    Philadelphia Union
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    as a gaijin you're going to stand out anyway; no one will care if wearing an away shirt is a faux pas.
  17. jpg75

    jpg75 Member

    Jun 11, 2005
    Toronto, Canada
    Toronto FC
    Nat'l Team:
    I liked your old avatar better...oh, and good blogging.
  18. Jay Hipps

    Jay Hipps Member

    Mar 18, 2000
    Northern California
    San Jose Earthquakes
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Nice report--reminds me of a trip I made a few years ago. We saw the Urawa Reds play, and the fans waved flags with slogans like "Play to the limit, in the right spirit." Japan's a great place to see a match.
  19. AmericanKaka

    AmericanKaka Member+

    Dec 30, 2006
    Great piece. Recalled for me that my first experience in Japan was to get up early in the morning having arrived the night before, severly jetlagged, get on a train in one city I knew nothing about and ride for a couple hours to another city I knew nothing about to watch a match between Jubilo and Gamba. It was a fantastic experience.

    By the way, Purple Sanga are notoriously the worst supported major club in Japan. The Kansai region in general is a black hole for soccer due to being particularly fanatical about baseball, but Kyoto is definitely the number one soccer wasteland among major metropolitan areas in Japan. The club itself is not such a bad one, they deserve more and better fans than they have.

    It's too bad you couldn't make it to an Urawa Reds game. Then you really would have seen something. Including more and larger indecipherable Engrish banners.
  20. DSM1

    DSM1 New Member

    Apr 9, 2005
    Hillsboro, Oregon
    i lived in Japan for several years in the 1990s and followed the J League quite closely so this brought back quite a few memories. I used to feel sorry for the poor Purple Sanga who almost always seemed overmatched. With the exception of one or two years Purple Sanga have always been J1 relegation battlers. It's amazing they have as many fans as they do.
  21. Leto

    Leto New Member

    Aug 23, 2001
    Very nice writing - I might start actually looking at the front page from now on if you're going to be a regular contributor. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.
  22. RichardL

    RichardL BigSoccer Supporter

    May 2, 2001
    Reading FC
    Nat'l Team:
    that's kind of the plan.

    Part 2 will be Russia, and there could be up to a dozen more (incl. one in the USA, which could be interesting), depending on how long I keep up enthusiasm for the whole venture.
  23. Crewfan Scott

    Crewfan Scott New Member

    Dec 19, 1999
    Galloway, OH
    Columbus Crew
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Thanks for this... reminds me of the time I saw Gamba Osaka at home a few years back. There are places in Japan where home game supporters are like Europeans and others where its more like watching an MLS match in the US.

    I am impressed that you were able to fit into a jersey at all. I am 6'4" and couldn't find a jersey that would fit at either the stadium or the league store. The towel scarves and the megaphone/clappers are both good ideas for leagues like MLS that play in the heat of the Summer sun.

    AmericanKaka is right... you should have seen a baseball game while you were there. Any city (Osaka) that forces its major league team (Hanshin Tigers) to play home games at a different site so that they can host a national high school baseball tournament...Yikes. They do this every year and all of the HS games are televised.

    Are you really planning on coming the US for an MLS match. I would recommend that you come to Columbus for a game but to be will probably find a better atmosphere in LA for the derby or at Toyota Park in Chicago.

    Gambate ne!
  24. roxbury

    roxbury Member+

    Apr 27, 2004
    Classy One.



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