June 9, 2010
“It’s really sad…nobody in Japan is excited about the World Cup this year!” A friend told me this while we walked around Osaka, a city decked out in billboards and other little reminders that the Japanese Men’s National Team are going to South Africa. It’s a great PR blitz, put as many celebrities in team jerseys and sell as much merch as possible to make it look like people are pumped for the biggest sporting event in the world. If I were lesser informed, I would have stared blankly at my friend before asking “what do you mean? Look at all these signs??? I could buy a keychain right over there!”
Unfortunately, I am surprisingly on top of the Japanese Men’s Team and understand why the people of Japan might be less than thrilled for the start of the World Cup this Friday. To be blunt about it…Japan doesn’t have a good team. I’ve managed to watch most of the friendlies Japan played after qualifying for South Africa, and most of these matches ended in a loss for the Japanese side. Recently, I’ve seen them shellacked by rival South Korea, and, after taking a 1-0 lead over an extremely strong England team, managed to blow that game by basically scoring two goals on themselves. The Japanese team’s biggest accomplishment as of late has been injuring the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba, thus destroying the hopes of an entire African nation. Gotta take what you can, I guess.
Worse yet, Japan find themselves in a really hard group. Though not as comically absurd as North Korea’s situation (Juche won’t stop Ronaldo, dudes), they will have to go up against a very strong Netherlands side, and very solid squads from Denmark and Cameroon. There exists the very real possibility Japan won’t even manage a single draw against this competition, along with the threat of them being completely pulverized out of South Africa. Morale in Japan isn’t very high, and for good reason.
Though people may be sort of grim about Japan’s chances, they still appear to be excited about the rest of the World Cup. At least businesses trying to pull in more customers seem excited for it. Products with no relation to football (soccer, whatever, NFL season hasn’t started yet and people get really anal about this) now boast a ball or something on it to make it seem more “timely.” A barbershop I walked by put a big football player decal on their window. Bars advertising World Cup watch parties makes perfect sense, but clubs? Well, it actually sort of works out since a lot of the games won’t start until late at night ie “clubbing hours.” My personal favorite World Cup tie-in comes courtesy of the monsters at Coca-Cola, who have released mini-bottles of Coke for each team in the tournament (though I think they just combined the Koreas into one container). So far I’ve found three of the four teams I’m rooting for (United States, Japan and France…where you at Greece?). I also found Honduras.
A bunch of World Cup-related commercials have flooded the TV, as expected. I can’t find many of them online, but here is one from Adidas Japan that I’ve seen a lot of recently. Not quite as good as their Star Wars-Daft Punk ad that dropped last week, but OK.
Japan also has a World Cup “anthem,” courtesy of popular-with-my-girl-students boy band EXILE (to sum them up…two guys sing, 14 others dance around). I already wrote about it over on that music blog of mine, but to go over the same points I discussed there – this songs a pretty bad pop song, but as a corny World Cup song it’s pretty awesome, all goofy “African” vibes and chanting. This isn’t remotely representative of Japanese music.
So credit to Japan for still caring about the World Cup despite the “our team is doomed” attitude. Stay tuned for more this weekend.
(Japanese Fun Fact #66 – I bought another hoodie featuring Bart Simpson prominently displayed on the front. I just can’t say no to the Bartman. Anyway, I wore it to school the next day for lord-knows what reason. Some of my students saw me in it and said “kawaii” and one said “CC Lemon?” which is a popular lemon-flavored drink in Japan. That’s when it hit me…The Simpson’s don’t really exist in Japan. You see them every once in awhile…one of my student’s had a Simpson’s pencil bag, and I guess tons of hoodies in the Kansai area feature characters on them…but not nearly as much as in other places. Tons of people I met in England knew about America’s favorite yellow-skinned family, which makes sense…no translating required and the humor still carries over. A show like The Simpson’s would never fly over here. Seinfeld would do even worse.)