The number of Japanese students studying abroad has been in decline for many years now. I’m sure there are a variety of economic drivers at play here however, there is one thing in particular that I believe has had a significantly more profound effect on the desire of Japanese to leave the safety of home.
Japanese no longer need to leave the comforts of home in order to consume foreign culture. It’s already being packaged and sold to them at astonishing rate and now there’s the option of same-second delivery. Generally made via YouTube; a website my students on average believe to have existed for around fifteen to twenty years. And if not from there, well the rest of the social networking world is picking up the slack.
Twitter is booming, Facebook is gaining a foothold and Mixi has already been a firm part of the youth culture in Japan for sometime now having skillfully tapped into the long kept and stunningly well maintained school day’s, nostalgia coated friendships.
On top of this plethora of gateways to the wider world stands sport, particularly football and The Premier league.
One boy in my class who has never been to England, as far as I know, idolizes Steven Gerrard and even portrayed him in our speaking project this term. Somehow, from thousands of miles away this fifteen-year-old boy has made a connection with this club, even slipping in, “You’ll never walk alone” into his project script.
There may have only been the one Steven Gerrard in my class but there were more than a few Atsuto Uchidas, Nagatomos and Shinji Kagawas. I also expect that cohort to include Ryo Miyaichi by the end of the year thus precipitating an unusual Man Utd/Arsenal rivalry to break out within the fans in my town, especially amongst the football fanatic kids in my classes.
This fascination is driven by a Japanese media that never hesitates to follow its sporting stars around the world. Shinji Kagawa alone had a dozen Japanese reporters at every Borussia Dortmund game to cover his every move. Now that he’s at Manchester Utd it’s fair to say that interest in his career is only going to multiply.
And if Ryo Miyaichi were to become a stand out player at Arsenal to boot, resulting in some real competition between the two giants of the nineties? I’d never escape their faces plastered across newspapers and TV screens. Endless inquiries from my students would make my ears bleed through sheer repetition and Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City would all be swiftly forgotten by this generation of teenage fans.
With this kind of devotion to fandom, especially in Japan, it is of course no surprise to see clubs outside of the top flight of English football trying to get a slice of the pie.
The most famous and dramatic example of this has to be Cardiff City and their now confirmed rebranding.
In exchange for a total investment of around one hundred million pounds, with money being detailed for use in expanding the only recently completed stadium, a new training ground as well as a substantial transfer kitty for the manager Cardiff City will now be playing in red and their club crest has been redesigned to feature the figure of the Welsh Dragon far more prominently, with a tiny bluebird below as a small touch to placate the fans.
However, with the reasoning behind fandom in Asia apparently quite firmly established; historical success, TV exposure, academy presence in the countries and of course the presence of a national icon at your club such as South Korean golden boy Park Ji-Sung and Japan’s young hopes Kagawa and Miyaichi at Utd and Arsenal respectively, I was left to wonder how effective Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan’s efforts would actually be in rebranding Cardiff City’s Bluebirds by donning them in lucky red and emphasizing the dragon.
Certainly the fans seemed to be pretty adamant about their feelings on the matter initially, though football being a money game seems to have swayed some opinions. This kind of thing after all, is simply a part of the modern game and when one man is willing to put a hundred million of his own cash up, then he can do what he likes by and large.
However, I couldn’t help feeling that my own team, Huddersfield Town, currently on the up thanks to our very own generous owner Dean Hoyle, might be missing a trick here.
Now I’m not for a second here suggesting that Town change anything at all. The trick being missed is that Huddersfield Town already connect to the Japanese market in an important way.
Sheer, unadulterated cuteness.
You see, the Japanese have for some reason in recent years, decided that they prefer to have pets rather than children. A tired economy, limited living space and a generation seemingly uninterested in sex has seen the number of pets overtake children. So while a young couple may not be able to afford kids and all the costs that go with it, a pampered poodle is well within their reach. (Evidently not quite so true…see below comments)
So will Huddersfield Town and Terry the Terrier one day tap into the Japanese market and begin to exploit the benefits of the Japanese adoration of all things kawaii (cute)?
It’d only take a single summer tour of a couple J-league teams and the gift of about half a million Terry the Terrier based omiyage (souvenirs) to sway this nation to the blue and white.
Maybe one day, when one of my students, stunned to discover that Yorkshire is a place and not just half the name of a fluffy ball of cuteness asks me once again,
“Is my dog English?”
I might be able to reply,
“More than that, he’s a Town fan.”