Friday, September 7, 2012

YOU'RE NOT READY FOR THIS (Commentary on Extreme Japanese Soccer Fans)

To all American (and to a lesser degree, European, I guess) soccer fans: you suck. That's right; you're awful. Your fandom may extend to your wardrobe, paraphernalia, and maybe even, on special occasions, to the paint on your face. I know you attend games with flags, Chelsea bricks (newspapers now banned from EPL, I think) and team chants, but in no way can you live up to the extreme display of fandom I witnessed at my first Japanese soccer game- and this was only a division 2 game.

My city (toshi) of Ichihara-shi and its toshi neighbor Chiba, in Chiba prefecture (state- yes, there's a state and city by the same gets confusing), is home to the JEF United soccer team. Don't ask whether JEF is an acronym or what it stands for, because my answer is the same to almost every question in this country: wakarimasen (I don't understand, or, in this case, I don't know). Anyway, JEF is a division 2 team that plays home games in the town of Soga, between my town of Goi (in Ichihara-shi) and the city of Chiba.

I convinced my wonderful husband to accompany me to a home game last Sunday, and even though he was exhausted (due to lack of sleep & waking up @ 6:00A.M. to watch college football), brain-fried (due to our first "official" two-hour Japanese class), and uninterested (due to...the crazies!!! Who doesn't like soccer?!?!?!?!), he came. (Insert endless praise for awesome spouse here). We wrote down directions and screenshot maps (as always when traveling, as we're illiterate; sometimes it works, most times it doesn't) but it was easy enough to find the stadium. All we had to do was follow yellow jerseys.  
We got in the ticket line and because of the language barrier (I really can't overstate this. You move to a country with three iconographic scripts and a phonectic sound base instead of an alphabet with no prior knowledge and try to communicate) I ended up paying 6000 yen ($75) for two tickets in, but slightly to the right of, the main JEF fan section. Admittedly, I was instantly depressed when I realized the amount I spent, but I cast off my sadness determined to enjoy the spectacle.

The opening was the same as you'd expect at any sporting event: players warming up, advertisements and player profiles on screen, news cameras, and ticket checkers. I don't know the name of our rival team from that evening, but I remember their logo resembling what would be the self-made CD label of a very bad metal band.

Just before the starting whistle, the rivals sang their chant for about 4 minutes. I was impressed, and felt a little team hadn't uttered a sound.


The starting whistle blew and it was accompanied by loud bangs, swishing flags, and waving team towels the size of scarves. Steady chants of "Ohhhhhh" in changing rhythms with beats of drums, open fist chopping hand gestures, and circling towels erupted and I was so excited to hear it (and that we were not in the middle of it)! How long was this this repeating tune going to last? It surpassed 2 minutes, then 5, then 10. Surely they can't chant the entire half, we joked, certainly not the whole game. 
But it lasted! It lasted through the uneventful first half, so loud, so energized, so...repetitive.
The second half began with my declaration that a goal would be scored, and with the whistle came the fan's electric song. It was only distracting to me for the first few minutes, but like any white noise coming from arena stands I'm sure the players are used to it and can tune it out (although not easily in this case)

JEF's first goal came from a free kick about 6 yards outside the box to the left. It was a perfect beauty! Whistle, kick, AHHHHH!!!!! GGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!! Just in the top right corner of the net. At this point, the song shifted from repetitive loyal fandom to insane celebration. I tried to record it, but by the time I hit the  button the goal cheer was over and fans returned to their normal rhythms.

The second goal was worked in from the midfield with a nice through pass. There was some ping pong action going on inside the keeper's box, but finally a JEF forward got his boot on the ball and swoosh....GGGGGGOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!! Quick celebration chant again, and then back to loyal "oohhhs". (side note: I should start an all girl rock band called the Loyal Os..........wait for it.....yeah, you got it).

The game ended 2-1, the self-promoting bad metal-playing team scoring a point with 10 minutes to go. We left the stadium inundated with pride, a sea of people, and bizarre Japanese customs (which I'll save for another blog).

So you see, my dear sweet Americans, while soccer fans around the world may have equal devotion to their teams, never, in all the games I've watched, have I seen any with more stamina than this.

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