Sunday, December 18, 2005

thoughts on japanese culture during 10 days in japan

run when the music starts
After 10 days spent in japan , mainly in the tokyo/yokohama metropolis for the football club world championships december 11-18th 2005.
A thronging mass of (mainly japanese) humanity teeming onto a fearsomely complicated transport system with a large variety of train & subway lines from early in the morning to very late at night.
Expect packed trains at 10pm most nights even more so than (say) 5pm as the salaryman or equivalent still works or is at work or is entertaining for very long hours.
Expect to walk miles to change lines or find your station exit often negotiated via miles of underground shopping centre.
Expect overt formality to pervade everyday life - rituals that have filtered through from traditions such as the shinto religion, the bushido code & various ceremonies.
Expect strict adherence to the law ,not many buildings that seems very old, few immigrants to alter (taint ?) the culture (apart from some obvious western influences eg coffee shops)
Tiny children walking alone in tokyo city , even tinier children tied together tottering along with a teacher leading them.
And an underlying feeling of a very powerful national (rather than nationalistic) spirit evident especially whenever disaster strikes.
A well dressed populace eating very healthy food & living for a very long time in a safe environment presenting an often (to a european) impenetrable facade.

See the yasukuni shrine (picture above) & in particular the nearby yashukan (military) museum including the very poignant wife dolls made for the (young, unmarried) special attack corps (kamikaze) pilots that died during ww2.
And most of all wonder how such a previously nationalistic nation could transpose into a peaceful and so deferential country that we see now.

Wonder at the mobile phones with the 400 page manuals & the akihabara (electronics town) area of tokyo - the mecca for the cyber geeks (the young guys that you often see asleep on the couches in the internet cafes after all day/night gaming sessions)

So everyone waits at the crossings until the music starts & you can cross the road - run quickly so you get across before the music stops & try to avoid the locals talking on their mobiles &/or not looking where they are going.

liverpool vs sao paulo final club world champs yokohama

liverpool 0 sao paulo 1
played before a nearly full yokohama stadium (66800) with maybe 3000 liverpool and similar
numbers for sao paulo plus locals
the atmosphere as usual tends to dissipate in such a large stadium with the crowd well distanced from the playing area
the tournament means more to the south americans than the british & they certainly celebrated at the end (with the mandatory communal praying)
thats not to say that liverpool didnt want to win and in the second half particularly they showed a lot of spirit & desire though it seemed strange that crouch was not to appear until the last 15 mins - surely he would have caused the brasilians problems from the start ?
but liverpool had many chances anyway & should have had a least been level at the end
it was only in the first half that sao paulo were to show consistent (attacking) prowess
& you felt they were unduly pragmatic in the 2nd
the final presentations with mr blatter prominent seemed to (and did) go on for ages

overall a generally entertaining tournament with all games being close (except liverpool vs saprissa) played in v cold but dry weather in large stadiums before mainly quiet audiences
tickets easy to buy - only maybe the final would need some prior organisation & it looked like they had cat 1 (v expensive) tickets left
as you would expect in japan it is very easy to get around - the transport system is awesome

To encourage more local participation it would make sense to a) include a local team
b) move the event around different confederations c) merge oceania with asia in the sense of having one champion/particpant from that super-region

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

derby days

river plate v boca juniors

saw 8 games in 10 days during November 04 when visiting Buenos Aires - with the superclasico as the centrepiece
had seen N Chicago v Chacarita beforehand - a (much) smaller version but passionate nonetheless - the first time I saw the entrance of the (Chacarita) barra brava
had secured a ticket for River via the hotel (who likened the deal to a 'remise') - as this was my first time at this game I wasnt sure how dangerous it would be - I was picked up & taken to the game & taken back to the hotel -
all for 50 (US) dollars - including translations into english (worth the money alone)

for me its the greatest derby that i've ever seen (and for many people the greatest in the world)
it has all the ingredients - two very big clubs, hatred, passion, constant noise, many chants & songs, colour, full stadium & significant away support

the favourite memory is the entrance of the river barra brava ('hooligan leaders') some 15 mins before the kick off(my translator told me when they started to sing the song saying 'the barra brava are coming' - it still gives me shivers down my back whenever I think about it) - curiously the boca b-brava didnt enter until nearly half-time

B Aires must be the greatest football city in the world - certainly for club football - with so many big derby games - everywhere you see the graffiti 'pasion'
that & (in spanish) a flag saying 'i give my life for you' at the river game summed up the intensity

celtic v rangers (Feb 05)

i'd managed to borrow a celtic season ticket for this game - I'd previously been to (the old) ibrox for the
Old Firm game (c. 1970) but hadnt seen the parkhead version
this game has as much pure hatred as any game (though I guess some in the Balkans may come close)

plenty of noise (esp you'll never walk alone)
but like in many uk games there is a severe lack of chants/songs (though these clubs do have plenty they are not allowed to sing the sectarian ones anymore)
also lacks the build up of river or fener (where the fans are inside the ground an hour or so before the match starts)
I would (currently) put it 3rd behind river/boca and fener/gala (of those I have seen)

fenerbahce v galatasaray (may 05)

saw this game during my trip to the Champs Lge Final (I did have merseyside connections)
secured a ticket via the hotel (they had a guy who could fix such things - places like Istanbul have these guys)
ticket was for behind the goal but as it turned out you could move around fairly easily - everybody stands (usually on the seats)
this game clinched the league for fener so there was extra tension
the main memories were the water bottles raining down from the top tier when the gala players came onto the pitch, the noise/flares/fireworks & the constant whistling when gala had the ball
& , as is common in turkey, the chants between home supporters - from stand to stand

plenty of crazytown action after the game (street fireworks etc)
for me the 2nd best derby i've seen (so far)

corinthians v palmeiras (july 05)

saw this as part of trip to Sao paulo - also incl the Copa Libertadores final (2nd leg)
for sure S Paulo is not the nicest city in the world (venice it is not)
so its 'edgy' , poor, large & noisy
no problems with tickets for this one(although I did have to pay over the odds for the Copa Lib. ticket - again via a hotel
as I didnt fancy buying a ticket outside the ground being a foreigner , not speaking portuguese etc)
the Morumbi is big (had held c. 140,000 i think - now c. 75000) so unlike the other games it was far from full (c. 40000)
first experienced the buzz when I got off the bus - seeing thousands of black shirted Corinthians fans eating/drinking
at the numerous street stalls - I'd say Corinthians (fans)outnumbered Palmeiras by 2:1
& its quite a sight to see them both in the stadium & streaming out at the end of the game
my feeling is that Sao Paulo v Corinthians would currently be a bigger derby
& in brazil generally I dont think they have the same derby focus , tradition, as argentina (the onetime biggest fla v flu now has low attendances - a problem with many games in brasil)
rio/sao paulo etc would however be special places , i guess, when their national team are playing

barcelona v real madrid(nov 2004)

saw this on the way back from argentina (also saw spain v england in madrid)
bought a ticket outside the ground (not cheap - but I wanted a good seat to get the best view)
for me the spanish (& portuguese incidentally)dont have quite the same intensity as (say) the argentians (or turks, greeks) but obviously this game has particular resonance
the colour, initial noise, spectacle etc is impressive but it doesnt have the constant noise of the others
though the game itself produced some of the best football
& there were only about 100 real fans