With rapidly burning arms in the hot Shizuoka sunshine I was beginning to look like the archetypal British tourist abroad. Towel draped over my neck and beginning to turn a medium rare pink on every inch of my body exposed to the midday sun. Just to complete the stereotype of a hooligan Brit abroad I was shouting at the football. Now before you think I’d somehow discovered a Red Lion pub in Eastern Japan and draped myself in a white napkin knotted at the corners I should point out that I was in fact attending my first Japanese football match (Júbilo Iwata v. Kobe Vissel), the towel was the Japanese equivalent of a football scarf and… ok the sunburn I can’t defend.
Last weekend, with an adult student of mine acting as my guide I ventured out to my first, though hopefully not my last, Japanese football match. An eight hour round trip to Iwata in Shizuoka prefecture the cost of getting the fix of live football that has been sadly absent from my life since I left Britain’s shores last year.
Arriving at the tiny stadium on a quiet and beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon around half an hour before kick off I was surprised to see so little a crowd edging their way to the stadium. The reason it turned out was that the place was already more than three quarters full. Some six thousand or so fans already lining the terraces, snacking on yakitori, kebabs, fries, sandwiches, iced drinks, cold beers and as usual in Japan a few edible items of indeterminate origin. Every single fan sporting a scarf/towel hybrid in Júbilo Iwata sky blue or a replica shirt from any number of seasons and sponsors past. The safe standing area in what most British fans would know as the cow shed end of the stadium was already packed (but in an orderly Japanese fashion) and bouncing to a drum beat from a Brazilian fan, cheered on by some huge flags that looked to have poles long enough to jab the goalkeeper with. Of course such mischief would never occur to these fans. Unfortunately. I may or may not have been envisioning a giant foam finger on the end of a flagpole…
As I noted in the Hiroshima Carp post a while back, Japanese fans are crazy and I love them for it. Their enthusiasm is simply boundless. The players arrived for their warm up around twenty minutes before kick off and the fans immediately burst into a full throated round of songs and chants declaring their love for every player and all things Júbilo Iwata.
This is also probably one of the few places in Japan beyond Tokyo and the port cities where internationalism is clearly visible. To begin with Júbilo is Portuguese for, ‘exultation’ while the score board declared, ‘Forza Júbilo !’ A frankly wonderful declaration of support for a Japanese team using a mix of Italian and Portuguese that I guess means, ‘forward exultation’. Frankly I’d march to that, nevermind bounce on the terraces.
Inevitably though, when the goals did come it wasn’t from a Japanese boot. This is a country seemingly socially incapable of producing a striker. The team ethic is so well honed and drilled in children from such a young age that the creativity, individuality and downright selfishness required to be a decent striker doesn’t exist. So like any other nation in the world, they brought in some Brazilians to do it for them. The goals in this game came from the boot of one Gilsinho, his first a sublime effort after cutting in from the left wing and his second a neat finish after some chaos in the box.
You can find the match report here.
As the final whistle blew I waited for the anticipated rush from the stadium that so characterizes the end of English football matches, that mad dash to the car in an often ill-fated attempt to avoid the traffic. Yet it never materialized. No mad rush, but instead half the stadium gathering as close to the pitch as they could get as the players took a long stroll around the pitch to thank the fans. A more appreciative group of fans would be really hard to find.
So, a hint of carnival, kids running around and my twenty five year old student screaming like a demented toddler who thinks he’s just spotted Santa coming down the chimney in an attempt to catch the attention of his favourite player.