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.