One of the great things about football is that despite it being played with the same rules all around the world every country has found a different way to play it. From the skilful play of the Brazilians to the total football of the Dutch to the fast paced game of the English, everyone has their own football culture and way of expressing themselves on the pitch.
So when I came to Japan I was particularly excited to see how the Japanese had taken to football and how they play the game. Football is still a very young sport here, the J-League (Japanese professional football league) has only been running since 1992 so this isn’t a very long time for a sport to integrate into the culture. Strangely though, it’s quite hard to analyse the Japanese style of football by watching it live in the stadium. I think I learnt much more about the Japanese style of play from watching a few of Japan’s world cup games on TV than actually watching their league football.
What I learnt mostly from going to games is how the fans behave and how the experience of watching a match is different from the English game. Firstly security is very lax compared to the UK, which I guess is fair enough given English football’s history but I was shocked to only see four or five security people around the stadium. Another big difference is that beer is available in the stadium, not only that but they will come to your seat and serve you, similar to the way they do at baseball matches.
In the best Japanese tradition of ‘the customer is god’, the beer people will bend over backwards to help you. I remember one occasion when after being served, we pointed out that our friends sitting a little way away from us wanted a drink. The beer girl apologised because she had run out of beer and proceeded to sprint across the length of the stadium get refilled and then run back with a full tank of beer on her back to serve our friends, all the time with a smile on her face. She was like an angel sent from heaven (with beer).
The most interesting thing though is how the Japanese fans behave. In England songs are sung and people are vocal about their team but it’s seems very spontaneous. The J-League fans have songs but they are sung in a very regimented fashion, everyone sings in time with each other and once a song starts it will be sung until the end and god help the person who tries to start another.
One thing I always noticed when watching European games on TV is that fans seem to make a different noise when they cheer a goal. In a stadium however it’s hard to tell if the roar of the crowd is particularly different in Japan but at one football ground, Kawasaki Frontale’s stadium, the fans made very little sound at all. They just waved their scarves over their heads when a goal was scored, it was kind of eerie and everywhere else I have seen a game in Japan they cheer as you would expect.
One thing I did really like about Kawasaki Frontale though is that they have given the number 13 shirt to the fans. A great touch which I guess really makes them feel like they belong to the club. However on the journey to the stadium, before I knew this, I did wonder who number 13 was and that he must be a wonderful player as almost everyone had 13 on their shirts. I felt a little tricked when I realised.
I’ll leave you with possibly the most bizarre football related advertising board I have ever seen, which was found on Enoshima beach in Shonan one day.
Babies with moustaches. If that doesn’t get you to a match, nothing will.