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Japanese Soccer Fans: Following the Local and the National Team
Satoshi Shimizu
In John Horne and Wolfram Manzenreiter(eds.)(2002)Japan, Korea and the 2002 World Cup, pp.133 - 144, London, Routledge.

Introduction
It is clear that after the birth of the professional soccer league in Japan (the J.League) in 1993, soccer has raised various issues not only “on the pitch”, but also related to other aspects including the management of professional soccer clubs and the establishment of relationships with franchises. Holding the 2002 World Cup and making preparations for it mean being subject to FIFA regulations and an “invasion” of soccer fans from around the world. Japan and Korea will soon be engulfed by the huge wave of a sporting mega-event equal to, if not larger than, that of the Olympic Games. One of the considerations after the event will be the extent to which the diverse soccer cultures participating in the World Cup will help create new forms of play and support or change those forms that have developed in Japan and Korea in the past decade. One of the most important aspects of wider soccer culture worth studying is the characteristics of soccer supporter cultures. In this paper, I discuss some of the most significant features of soccer supporter cultures and subcultures in Japan. It is based on interviews, small sample surveys, observations and participant observation. It focuses on the behaviour of the supporters of just one J.League team, the Urawa Red Diamonds (hereafter Urawa Reds), who enthusiastically cheer on the club in organized groups that approximately consists of 15,000 participants, the largest in the J.League.
The paper will firstly provide some background to the team. Next I will make some brief comments on how I went about analysing soccer supporter cultures in Japan, in contrast with Western European traditions, especially in England. As one of my main concerns was to let the fans speak for themselves about the significance of soccer in their lives, I utilise interviews and observations of Urawa Reds fans at home and abroad following the national team to help us tell the story. The paper concludes with some further reflections on the contrasts with other studies of soccer supporter cultures.

Japan’s “Man. United”
Urawa is a northern suburb in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, in Saitama prefecture, approximately forty minutes by train from Tokyo central railway station, with a population of 480,000 people. On 1 May 2001 Saitama City itself was established through the amalgamation of Urawa, Ômiya and Yono – the combined population of this new city over 1 million. Urawa Red Diamonds began as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Football Club in the company-team Japan Soccer League (JSL) established in 1965. Mitsubishi were not unsuccessful during this period – winning the championship four times in 1969, 1973, 1978, and 1982 – but as with other JSL teams they could not develop as a truly independent soccer club without changes in the wider infrastructure. Even when the J.League kicked-off in 1993, and despite one of the J.League conditions of acceptance being that company names did not predominate, the chief company sponsor, Mitsubishi, did not completely relinquish its name from the team. For most of the 1990s Urawa were known as Mitsubishi Urawa Reds, and it is only since 2001 that the team have adopted the name Urawa Red Diamonds on their shirt badge. The name “Red Diamonds” still refers to the company’s logo of the three stacked diamonds that combines the three oak leaves of the Tosa crest and an allusion to the three ships, borrowed from the Tosa in 1870, that laid the foundation of the Mitsubishi Shipping Industry.(Mitsubishi sôgyô hyaku-nen kinen jigyô iinkai, 1970, p.3)
At the start of the J.League Urawa promised to be the “Manchester United” of Japan. Wearing the same shirt colours, consequently utilising the nickname “The Reds”, attracting considerable passionate support, and importing European, especially German, coaches and players such as Guido Buchwald and Uwe Rahn, Urawa were meant to go places. While other J.League teams have often struggled to even half fill their stadia, Urawa has had little trouble in filling Komaba Stadium. When attending a home game at Komaba, one always realizes that a soccer stadium is a place where various cultures interact. Shouts and chants from the Urawa Boys, which is the core group’s name of the Urawa Reds supporters, echo throughout the stadium. The cheer Warrior, based on a song for the professional wrestling tag team champions (1992) of Terry Gody and Steve Williams (had popularized in Japanese TV show, but originated from rock group Kiss) is very popular. Like England supporters during the World Cup in France in 1998, Reds’ fans also sing the up-tempo theme song from the film The Great Escape, composed by Elmer Bernstein:

Here we go! We are the Reds! La, la, la. La, la, la, la. La, la!
Here we go! We want a goal! La, la, la. La, la, la, la. Reds!
(Repeated again and again)

Other cheers are performed in French:

Allez, allez, allez au Urawa! Allez, allez, allez au Urawa!
Allez, allez, allez, hi! Allez, allez, allez, hi!
Allez, allez, allez au Urawa!

The area behind the goal (“end”) is a space of wild enthusiasm and excitement. Fans become fascinated, pursue pleasure and throw themselves into cheering. Using all parts of the body, supporters jump up and down, clap hands and never cease to shout to the voices of their leaders. In the midst of this fervent carnival, nobody is aware of the creolization process of diverse cultures which are represented by the songs and chants made from different languages, the rituals of supporting habits and soccer culture’s own origins. Then, with loud music blaring, the players enter the pitch. Precisely at that moment, a large vertical red, white and black banner with a red heart-mark in the center, in which the figure “12” is emblazoned (representing the supporters), is hung from the second balcony of the stands, and supporters turn their eyes to the players while watching the curtain. Be “the twelfth player in the stadium” requested the J.League when it kicked off in 1993. Urawa fans appear to need no more encouragement:

Urawa Reds! Cha, cha, cha-cha-cha! (Clapping hands)
Urawa Reds! Cha, cha, cha-cha-cha! (Clapping hands)

Then, several men standing close to the leader of Urawa Boys begin to set off smoke candles. Guards try to stop them, but another group of supporters prevent them from approaching the men. Cameramen near the pitch, always searching for dramatic photos, rush over in an attempt to take pictures of the scene. While watching the scene, supporters in the bleachers continue cheering and turn their attention to the kickoff.
Yet Urawa has not performed as well on the pitch as their ambitions or their support would suggest. In fact they were the first of the J.League founder teams to be relegated at the end of 1999 when promotion and relegation was formally introduced between J1 and J2 Leagues. They only stayed in J2 for one season however and attendances in J2 reached their highest average ever thanks to the devotees of the Urawa Reds.

Violence and representation by Urawa Reds supporters
Relegation at the end of 1999 drove Urawa Reds supporters towards ever more reckless acts, as their discontent had become a source of their energy. In fact Urawa Reds supporters have been represented as “hooligans”, or unruly fans, since the start of the J.League in 1993. In 1994 the Reds’ last game of the season took place at Toyama Stadium, Yokohama Marinos defeated the Reds 6-3. The next day, one newspaper article was published with the heading “Urawa let in six goals. Supporters go wild!” and the subheading “The manager should quit. Riot in grounds” (Nikkan Sports, 20 November 1994). Having lost four consecutive games, the players bowed to their fans in apology. Soon after, the supporters started to express their anger towards the manager, 51 years old Yokoyama Kenzô. “Resign, Kenzô!” they shouted repeatedly. Then they lit smoke candles and threw empty cans and trash. The stadium was thrown into an uproar. Nearly 30 supporters broke out onto the pitch and, despite the efforts of the team officials and security guards, they made their way to outside the locker rooms, shouting, “Hand in your resignation, Kenzô!” and “Come out and apologize!” Fortunately the riot quietened down in about 10 minutes after Urawa defenders Taguchi Yoshinori, 29, and Ikeda Futoshi, 24, went out to speak to the fans to try and calm them down (Nikkan Sports, 20 November 1994).
Disruptive acts by Urawa Reds supporters have continued to gain public attention. Headlines such as “Coins thrown at Fukuda” (an Urawa Reds forward), and “Radical supporters lose it!” featured in newspapers in 1997. When the team lost four consecutive games it was reported that “nearly 500 supporters threw raw eggs and coins at Fukuda Masahiro as he was getting on a bus to leave the stadium” (Nikkan Sports, 8 May 1997). Also, when Reds supporters responded to apparent provocation by Nagoya supporters and raided the supporters’ seats behind the Nagoya goal it led to the headline, “30 people riot in Nagoya” (Nikkan Sports, 11 May 1997). On 29 July 2000, while Urawa Reds were playing in Hokkaidô against Consadole Sapporo, Reds supporters lit smoke candles and threw plastic bottles at spectators in the Consadole section. After the game, they chased a cameraman who was filming them onto the pitch.
Clearly media coverage, especially newspaper reports, has helped to shape an image of Reds supporters. Furthermore, many books about the Urawa Reds (Crazy Calls and Todoroki, 1994; Ôsumi, 1998; Yamaoka, 1998; Yoshizawa, 1998; Toyota, 2000; Yamanaka, 2000; Seio, 2001) have reconfirmed these events and sustained the image of Reds supporters as unruly. Some of the books emphasized the distinctive masculinity and image of “delinquency” concerned in soccer supporters’ culture. These books may have become one of the main factors in attracting supporters to the Urawa Reds in recent years (Shimizu, 2000).

Making sense of soccer supporting, and the Match Day Program
Despite apparent similarities, the actions of the Urawa Reds supporters need to be understood in a different way than the hooliganism often observed in Britain from the 1960s onwards (Dunning, Murphy and Williams, 1988; Williams, Dunning and Murphy, 1984; Murphy, Williams and Dunning, 1990). In my view it is necessary for us to approach the behaviour of Japanese soccer supporters from a perspective other than that which concentrates purely on the violence alone. As concrete case studies, based on ethnographic research into the lived experiences of soccer supporters clearly demonstrate (Marsh, 1978; Marsh, Rosser and Harré, 1978; Ogasawara, 1998; Giulianotti, 1999, Robson, 2000), soccer supporter culture behaviour should be considered from the light of research on youth cultures and subcultures and the relationship with norms of masculinity (Cohen, 1973; Clarke et al., 1976; Taylor, 1982). This is particularly true in the Japanese case.
Historically, Japanese subcultures often were created in line with perceived images taken from Europe and America. A similar process shaped the emergence of soccer supporters’ culture in the 1990s when ardent fans started to fuse rock music and fashion with soccer and professional wrestling. Urawa Reds fans sometimes communicate their ways of cheering and opinions to the club through Match Day Program (MDP) that is such a semi-fanzine. MDP is edited by Saitama Newspaper’s MDP Editorial Office and is sold for 300 yen every time when the Urawa Reds have a game at Komaba Stadium. According to a small investigation carried out in April 1998, 80.6% of fans attending games purchase MDP. (This figure was obtained by polling people lining up at the gates for a match. As the total number of people polled was only 216 it cannot be considered as truly representative–see Shimizu and Iida (1999) for further discussion).
In MDP, Urawa Reds players, tactics, and the team’s point of view are introduced. In addition, staff members from the MDP editorial office suggest how cheering should best be done. Featured articles refer to the memories and impressions that newspapers and books have created. MDP also includes opinions on the supporters’ actions, while supporters themselves can exchange views amongst each other about the team. Hence the program is likely to be the most convenient and reliable source of information for Reds’ supporters who frequent Komaba Stadium. MDP also helps supporters think about and act on the opinions of others (Saitama Shimbun, 1998). In fact, after the season dramatically ended in 1994, the Reds team had an “MDP Special Edition” published to explain the club management and policy of the then manager, Yokoyama Kenzô. Also this edition included supporters’ contributions. Indeed, MDP may have been established precisely as an attempt to stop any violence from happening. In practice, however, this is hardly possible. For some supporters, it is very hard to keep calm when their favourite team keeps losing or when the team is playing a game that may decide their place in the league rankings. With rising frustration levels, they often act on it, ignoring all rules and regulations.

On the Withered Lawn
Since April 1998, I have been closely following a supporters group called Kareta shiba no ue de (“On the Withered Lawn”), which consists of 50(include 15 female members) born between 1959 and 1978 and which are led by a man born in 1968. “On the Withered Lawn” formed following the breakup of the “Crazy Calls”, was fanatical group that cheered on the Urawa Reds before the Urawa Boys.
Leader of the Crazy Calls was a man called Yoshizawa Kôichi. The key man of the Urawa Reds supporters developed his ideas by drawing on knowledge of spectacular subcultures, like rock and punk cultures in Britain. In 1994, in The Red Book. The fighting twelfth players of The Reds,Yoshizawa explained:

“I began to target young people, especially teenagers, as they tend to be more sensitive, but I only focused on boys. (…) Why did I focus on teenage boys? Whatever you start to like or become enthusiastic about when you are a teenager, you tend to carry on liking it even when you get older. (…) Something that a man will like in the future is usually introduced when he is young. (…) I researched what would really appeal to teenage boys, and then I realized that there was a common theme, “delinquency”.
In the Fifties, there was Elvis Presley and James Dean, and in the Sixties, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones represented the ‘Counter Culture’. The Punk movement took over in the ‘70s with The Sex Pistols and The Clash. The theme ‘delinquency’ always came up when I thought about what young people were enthusiastic about over the century. Of course, from an adult’s point of view, the very word ‘delinquent’ does not sound very good, but I think young people use the word to describe something cool. Crazy Calls focused on those people who wanted to be cool, and they stimulated people into realizing that soccer is an exciting and great sport” (Crazy Calls and Todoroki, 1994, pp. 120-122).

He also commented that,
“We decided that we should attract attention to ourselves as supporters, and therefore we should be introduced to the media as Crazy Calls.” (Crazy Calls and Todoroki, 1994, p. 129)
Yoshizawa and his fellow Crazy Calls concentrated on chants using lyrics and rhythms that derived from rock, and strived hard to develop exciting performance schemes of high visual appeal. Yoshizawa explained that the actual chants were:
“based on rock music, because rock has always been popular in Urawa. We also referred to hit tunes, and changed the lyrics so that they would rhyme”. (Crazy Calls and Todoroki, 1994, p. 39)
The resulting form was a kind of macho behaviour, partly borrowed from rock subcultures, and occasionally demonstrating a violent form of masculinity. The image of “delinquent men” became a kind of “marketing strategy” to sustain media interest. At the same time, Crazy Calls’ style grew popular among many of the supporters.
A male university student (born in 1978) who also became a member of On the Withered Lawn after his membership in Crazy Calls told me:

“The reason why the supporters attract people is that they try to purposefully project a macho image. It does not mean that everyone should be macho, but there are some people who still want to try to do that. ... I have been a supporter ever since the first year of the J.League, so five years now. I think I am more macho without realizing it. This must be the difference between someone who aims to be a supporter and someone who has long wanted to be one. I am not saying that women are not good enough, but the people you can rely on in case of an emergency are either young people or men in their 20s and 30s. In such cases, physical strength is needed and this is connected to fighting power, although I do not want to think that way too much. ... As society is becoming less macho, there is more desire to be macho. But we know there would be problems if we took things even further such as excluding women from society”. (Interview, 4 May 1998)

Wives and girlfriends of the “On the Withered Lawn” about 5 members usually sit behind the men who always take up their position standing in two lines at the terrace behind the goal. Watching the men while chatting amongst themselves, the women never mingle with the men, neither at the stadium nor in “Sakagura Riki” (“Sake Cellar Riki”), the main drinking establishment of Urawa Reds supporters. Urawa Reds supporters regularly go to Riki’s following a match to chill down from the excitement and (especially during 1999 when most of the field-work for this paper was undertaken) soothe each other’s disappointment after losing a game. Riki’s is also used by supporters as a rest place to refresh in preparation for their return to daily life the next day, as the pre-match ritual for the most dedicated fans includes waiting in line all night long, drinking alcohol, and standing and cheering throughout the match. For those who cannot see the match live, it is a place to get together with the supporters who did see it after getting off work. Some among the keenest supporters have moved to live near to Komaba Stadium and Riki’s so that they can meet with other supporter friends, drink and discuss the Reds and other soccer related subjects and return home late on foot or by bicycle.

Allez Japon! Japanese soccer supporters abroad
During the 1988 World Cup in France, for the first time elements of the Japanese soccer supporters’ culture in action abroad become visible to a global audience. A substantial number of Japanese fans flew to France, a flight of some 12 hours, only to discover that many of them did not have tickets for any of the matches. One product of the ticket scandal, when some thousands of Japanese were left without a valid ticket in France, led to an image of Japanese fans as eager to pay exorbitant sums to watch their team. Some sections of the local media criticized the Japanese for profligate spending. After such a long distance journey, however, it is understandable that many wanted to get into see the games they thought they had already paid to see! Television and newspapers reported Japanese fans walking around soccer stadiums holding pieces of paper with the words “Need Ticket” on it written in English or French, and negotiating with ticket scalpers (see Asahi Shimbun, 14 and 20 June 1998; also Nikkei Weekly, 8 October 2001). Hence, when Japan’s national team played its first match, against Argentina in Toulouse, Japanese supporters occupied 70 per cent of the regular seats in a stadium with a seating capacity of 36,500. An additional 10,000 or so Japanese supporters gathered at a park near the stadium to watch a “virtual” World Cup match projected on to a large screen (Asahi Shimbun, 15 June 1998). “Allez Japon”, and cheers for individual players were heard all over the place for over one hour before the kickoff (Asahi Shimbun, evening edition, 15 June 1998). One player commented afterwards, “I felt as if I were standing in the National Stadium in Tokyo”.
When there were no matches scheduled, Japanese supporters rushed to shop at famous brand stores or do some sightseeing. A luxury shop in Lyon, where the match with Jamaica was held, introduced a special shift for Japanese shoppers; increasing the number of Japanese sales staff and changing the assortment of goods to match the taste of Japanese people. Apparently successful, as it was reported that sales tripled (Asahi Shimbun, evening edition, 26 June 1998).
What significance did the 1998 World Cup have for the Japanese supporters? Irrespective of the Japanese team’s victory or defeat, they went sightseeing and shopping. While some male supporters professed themselves to be “delinquent” and tried to portray their “Japaneseness” by wearing, for example, a karate outfit, most of them rather performed as mainstream Japanese by acting in the same way as the average Japanese travel group. As Japanese supporters were most likely to be encountered in this particular style, it can be concluded that their behaviour sustained a distinctive characteristic of the Japanese people abroad; the tendency to settle for “passive self-satisfaction”, arguably also represented by the performance of the few Japanese professional athletes who have hesitated to advance overseas.

Ultra Nippon: travelling with the national team
Every time one of Japan’s national football teams includes Urawa Reds players, a group of Urawa Reds supporters sets out on tour to watch the team play, even if the match is played faraway. As English journalist Jonathan Birchall (2000, pp. 209-210) noted in his study of “Ultra Nippon”, the hardcore Japanese national team supporters’ group:

Dedicated European fans might make a few trips to Rome or London or Stockholm, but Japanese national team fans are in a frequent-flying category all of their own….one company was offering supporters a trip to see the away game against Kazakhstan in Almaty on what was advertised as a three days no nights basis. The lucky fans were to leave Japan on a Friday, travel overnight to the game on Saturday, and leave immediately so that they could get back to Japan on Sunday in time for work on Monday.

I was able to witness the involvement of a group of Urawa Reds’ supporters at another qualifying match for the Sydney Olympic Games, held in Hong Kong in June 1999. A male member of the group purchased two Japanese flags (hinomaru) before the match. When a guard refused to allow him to pass the gate with the flag affixed to the poles, he removed the flags from the poles and wrapped them around his body. At each national team match, he told me, he wore a black Adidas soccer cap and his fellow Urawa Reds supporters wore blue T-shirts that matched the national team colours. On the T-shirts was the logo in honour of their favourite drinking place, Sakagura Riki, as well as a large hinomaru mark on the front and the Japanese characters “Urawa” and “riki” (literally, “force”) on the back. A pair of baggy trousers completed the away team supporters’ outfit.
Upon entering the stadium in Hong Kong, the group stood in line, held up a large banner with the hinomaru mark in the center and written “Let’s go in high spirits! Let’s shout to one another! Let’s act as samurai and the sons of Nippon!” Next, following their leader, an individual dressed in a karate uniform with a hinomaru mark embroidered on the breast and hakama (i.e., Japanese-style trousers), hand-sued by his wife, shouted another order: “Spread the large banner!”, and the horizontal banner was unfurled. At that moment, many cameramen rushed over and focused their cameras on the spectacular scene. Their wives and girlfriends also smiled for the cameras, although in Hong Kong, too, the women followed their habitual convention of watching the match while sitting apart from the male supporter group. In fact, after the game female fans went to the lobby of the Japan national team’s hotel and enjoyed the thrill of having their pictures taken with players and getting autographs–of course, most of the players they were interested in, were members of the Urawa Reds.
Just before the start of the match, Urawa Reds supporters with Ultra supporters began singing the theme song from the NHK (Nihon Hôsô Kyôkai, or Japanese National Broadcasting Corporation) TV drama Monokaki Dôshin Inemuri Monzô, entitled “Genki dashite yukô” [Let’s go in high spirits]. This television drama serial highlights the traditional narratives in Japan that governed relations between male and female, husband and wife, father and daughter, and mother and daughter during the Edo era (1603-1868). A few key lyrics quoted from the drama were written on the large horizontal banner the supporters held. These displays were clearly conducted with the expectation that the mass media, especially TV cameras and newspapers, would cover them and bring the group’s activities to the attention of the wider Japanese public.
The Urawa Reds supporters’ visit to Hong Kong was a 4-day package tour, during which the members could watch two qualifying matches. As spare time was ample, the group usually displayed a behaviour similar to the activities of the Japanese supporters in France. In other words, this supporters’ tour was in many ways similar to other sightseeing tours that Japanese people usually take when holidaying abroad (Chon et al, 2000). When not at the matches, the group boarded a bus and took in the main sightseeing attractions in Hong Kong with the help of a local guide; meals had been prearranged in special restaurants. Almost all of the members of this tour also participated in similar group package tours to watch the qualifying matches and Finals of the 1998 World Cup.

Moment of resistance?
As previously stated, the leaders of the Urawa Reds supporters set their sights on “presenting interesting and stimulating visual images” (Crazy Calls and Todoriki, 1994, p. 122) based on their understanding of various subcultures in America and Britain and mainly focused on one factor, “delinquency”. Even the clothes and styles of fashion worn by the Urawa Boys, is influenced by this way of thinking. The recent styles of performance of Urawa Boys are based on those of supporters in Serie A, Italy. Today, Urawa Reds’ most fanatical supporters spend every moment entranced in the “carnival”. Not caring about the real meanings, they call out mixed up chants, songs and performances derived from English and Italian soccer fans, simply indulging in the pleasure that cheering the team on gives them (Giulianotti, 1999).
However, when it comes to cheering on the national team, the group focuses on cheers that are based on their “Japaneseness”, or their sense of Japaneseness; for example, by displaying the lyrics of the theme song from the popular Japanese television drama on their horizontal banner. For them, tying the hinomaru flag around the body is part of a performance. Kawabuchi Saburô, chairman of the J.League, has suggested that for some Japanese soccer supporters, soccer has become connected to their sense of national identity:

“But that’s something different from the militarism and patriotism that we had during the war years. I think it is a good kind of national awareness. These days, watching soccer may be the only time when people think about their nationality.” (quoted in Birchall, 2000, p. 212)

In domestic competitions it can seem, superficially at least, that by their actions even Urawa’s most fanatical supporters are discontented with the Urawa Reds team and club. I would argue however that perhaps the basis of their irritation is really their latent feelings about the conditions in the companies they work for and the Japanese work environment in general. In everyday life, cultural conventions prevent them from expressing their feelings in a straightforward way, which were neither “Japanese” behaviour nor “proper male conduct”. As they all have been socialised to believe that their behaviour should be seen as strictly “Japanese”, they follow this idea, even when cheering on the Urawa Reds. Particularly on the pitch, when TV cameras and the nationwide audience watches every move of the group, they are eager not to infringe the public expectations. In addition, the media are most salient in transporting and constructing role models of proper male Japanese conduct.
The work-centredness of contemporary Japanese society remains a major influence on the Japanese at play. It can be argued that for the Urawa Reds supporters discontent stemming from work and the norms of masculine behaviour in Japan are the inspiration behind their leisure time behaviour. Their actions take place in a social environment where the dominant factor is “a conservative consciousness that tries to maintain a consensual social system based on harmonious judgment” (Watanabe, 2000, p. 261). This can also be demonstrated by the fact that rather than simply cheering on play on the pitch, some supporters believe that they are better deployed in cooperating with the administration of their club to create a better club. That is to say, supporters are attracted to the notion of soccer, and the J.League in particular, as a grand social experiment in which their choices and actions will lead to the creation of an ideal club. As one supporter, an employee of a major general contractor, commented to me,
“I’m more interested in creating a better environment than watching soccer games, like working on the operational aspects such as improving the pitch grass for the Urawa Reds players”. (Interview, 12-14 June 1999.

Alternative choices
People do not just go to Komaba Stadium to be reminded of the impressions and memories of Reds matches or actions taken by supporters. Most of what might be called the “silent minority” go there with their own thoughts and feelings towards the team. One male worker, born in 1950 near to Urawa and still living there, has been a passionate supporter since 1994. He loves photographs and carries around albums with close-up photos of players. He also has an album exclusively featuring two of Urawa’s most famous players – Okano Masayuki and Ono Shinji (who played for Feyenoord Rotterdam in 2001). Some of the photos even have players’ autographs. He told me how his commitment to the team developed:

“Whenever some players or their wives or even their children see my wife or I, they always talk to us. There is warmth between us since we recognize and call out to each other. It makes me happy to realize that I am a supporter. Some players ask me about my son and daughter, saying ‘Is your daughter here today?’ I don’t really understand soccer though. My wife is more into it. She was watching games when players who represented Japan were playing. I wasn’t. Maybe it’s difficult to understand it unless you’re really into it. In my case, I’m just a supporter. But because of the photos I’ve taken, many people talk to me and then we become friends. I think whoever is a supporter finds it addictive, like, ‘I want to see it again’.” (Interview, 4 May 1998)

From his comments, it is evident that he enjoys supporting soccer for the opportunity it provides him to expand his social network of friendships. The feeling of being connected with players is also a key aspect of being a supporter.
Another of the members of “On the Withered Lawn”, a man born in Urawa City in 1964, who is a graduate of a private university in Tokyo and works as an employee of a major general contractor, told me:

“I feel I should not just work all the time. I’m calm when I’m working because I’m not involved in production. My job is to sort out companies that are not doing well as the result of the collapse of the bubble economy, so I am in the position to discuss and not to be dismissed. I used to work onsite before, as the company often constructed tunnels. I tried to get my wife interested in soccer in the beginning, but she couldn’t get into it. (He laughs). She just told me to do whatever I liked. I won’t have anything if soccer is taken away from me. It doesn’t mean that soccer is the main thing besides work, but I can afford to do what I want to do.
As for how I feel, soccer obviously wins over work. No matter how hard you try at work, everything depends on capability. Work isn’t forever. I could even get fired as the result of restructuring, so I don’t feel happy belonging to the company. Ideally, it would be nice to be acknowledged as an individual so that I could proudly say I am being useful for the company and get a reasonable salary. Our legal residence is Urawa City, and I want to bring up my children in Urawa, stay in the region, watch soccer and live with pride in my hometown, even though we are not in Urawa at present. Urawa is said to be a model for the J.League. ... But there are many things that others can’t imitate. As I said before, it used to be a kingdom of soccer (especially the All Japan High School Championship). I think those people in their 30s are the ones supporting the team at present, together with some young people.” (Interview, 12-14 June 1999)

Conclusion
Through a series of illustrations of the behaviour, at home and abroad, of members of one of the more flamboyant supporters groups in the J.League, this paper has offered a glimpse into how various popular cultures, such as fashion and music, have been incorporated into Japanese soccer supporter cultures. Member’s involvement as supporters is constructed out of a variety of elements of their daily life. Will it be possible through the J.League project to establish a regional sports club system and continue to operate it by virtue of the “power of the people”? Will the supporters break away from the “populist” as articulated by dominant political influences, and become truly independent as a “popular” group, forming a consensus of opinion and thereby putting “popular democracy” into practice? Taking into consideration the present political situation in Japan in terms of political history and new conservatism, it is not a particularly favorable climate. Nonetheless, at least in the J.League, the “100 Year Revolution” has begun!

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Satoshi Shimizu is associate professor of sociology of sport and body culture studies at the University of Tsukuba. He has been studying modernization of the body, and also researching baseball and soccer in Japanese cultural contexts. He is author of Archaeology of Koshien baseball (1998, in Japanese).

 

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