I Spent Saturday Night In Osaka Watching Three World Cup Games And Still Found A Way To Be A Whole Nerd About It
June 15, 2010
8:30 P.M., South Korea Vs. Greece Or Wherein I Muse On The “Charisma Man”
Despite the fact I’m firmly in the pro-vuvuzela camp when it comes to whether the controversial/annoying South African horn should be banned from World Cup 2010…I’ve got to admit the damn things are loud. The ominous buzzing (described by everyone on the Internet as “sounds like beeeees!”) manages to be the only sound from the South Korea-Greece game to rise above the constant chatter filling the Shinsaibashi branch of the popular British pub chain Hub. The vuvuzela’s…being broadcast a hemisphere away…keeps pace with the never-ceasing chit-chat of the packed-to-capacity bar. If the anti-noisemaker masses needed evidence, this wouldn’t hurt.
I’ve come here tonight in an effort to live out my fantasy of being a soccer/football/futbol fan. The “beautiful game” has always been alluring to me…I even worked as a referee while in high school because nothing beats having homicidal parents scream at you for an hour. This interest intensified when I spent a summer in England – on the flight over, I read all 900 pages of a book outlining the history of the sport in some desperate effort to fit in with the locals. I watched the Euro 2008 final. I bought an Arsenal t-shirt. I made a joke about Chelsea that someone sorta chuckled at. Baby steps.
Now, with the biggest sporting event in the world (read: outside America) going on, I decided to immerse myself in all of the spectacle. I’ve decided to spend an entire night in Osaka just watching World Cup soccer, surrounded by people really into it. Except…nobody seems to be paying much attention to the game being broadcast on five TVs strategically placed around the pub. Can’t really blame them though – this is South Korea vs. Greece, a game between two meh squads that will eventually reveal itself to be a total borefest. One guy seems to be really cheering for South Korea. I am rooting for Greece, based on the “if you’re ancestors came from that country, you can root for them” rule embraced by so many Americans. Everyone else cheers when something interesting looks like it could happen, before returning to their conversation when it heads south.
Hub (the British pub, goes the slogan) has garnered a very negative reputation from Japan’s online foreign community. If you read foreigner-centered message boards…which, preemptive strike, you never should if you want to enjoy your time in Japan…the bar chain gets ridiculed for being a gathering spot of foreign creeps and the greatest foil of the foreigners-in-Japan community the “charisma man,” summed up as being a dude who sucked with women in his home country but doesn’t in Japan (which…what? This passes as “feeling superior” to some foreigners in Japan. “Heh, you are a total geek who gets women, KNEEL BEFORE ME.” Isn’t this just petty jealousy?). Japan has plenty of creeps – foreign and domestic – and a few patrons of Hub tonight reek of prickish-ness…the table of guys wearing nothing but Abercrombie and Fitch apparel, and the bro who has SHUTTER SHADES tucked into the neck of his t-shirt. But Hub seems pretty run-of-the-mill tonight…and pretty Japanese heavy. Not to mention the fries taste good.
South Korea scores early. Greece rarely create opportunities to score, the ones they stumble into quickly squandered. The group of girls sitting across from us stare intently at their phones. They clearly have social lives, making plans for later in the evening while I stare futilely at the Greek National Team. South Korea scores again. Game over.
11:00 P.M., Argentina Vs. Nigeria Or Wherein I See Japanese Parenting In All Its Glory
I’m currently reading the book The Japanese Today, a sociological study of the country that’s only slightly outdated as it was written while Japan still had money (1988). One section details the differences between raising children in Japan and America – Americans treat their children, the authors write, with some independence, often giving babies their own rooms and hiring babysitters. The Japanese, on the other hand, often let the child sleep in the same bed as their parents for several years and mothers often take babies everywhere with them. Basically, the Japanese parent is slightly more coddling.
I see this on display at the eternally bathed-in-blue-lights Time Machine Bar, where a family has brought their two small children with them for the Argentina-Nigeria showdown. The baby sits on the mother’s lap, while the toddler is sprawled out on a couch, sleeping under a blanket. The Doors “The End” plays over the bar’s speakers as Argentina scores early-on. It is a sign.
This establishment ends up being the polar opposite of Hub…near silent, all eyes on the screen trying to see if Lionel Messi will score (he won’t), classic rock on loop. It’s a much more relaxing place. The game passes by quickly, the sleeping toddler eventually being woken up by her parents as they leave at the half. Television’s “Marquee Moon” plays, and I geek out.
After the final whistle, we kill time at McDonald’s, whose bombardment of ads around the field clearly had some sort of impact on me. I eat a Big Mac. The store plays Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” before switching it up with no-frills Christian rock. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to prep for the America-England game.
3:30 A.M., England Vs. U.S.A. Or Wherein I Wish To Become A Douchebag
Clearly trying to not be too American, we choose to watch this much-hyped game at a Persian Bar. It’s a tiny establishment, and only a handful of people crowd into the joint. There is us, the owners, a lady who does card tricks at the half (?) and…a table full of English supporters in front of us accompanied by a posse of young Japanese women.
I soon realize I hate them.
Not just because they root for England, nor because they actually seem to be popular with women. Well, not entirely at least. They are loud, in the way everyone assumes Americans are supposed to be. They wear stupid hats. One of them, who announces he isn’t that big a sports fan beforehand, does that horrible thing where he makes little non-joke-jokes (“nice pass, man.” “Great kick, dude.”) during the course of the game that ring more annoying than any vuvuzela.
“If I could blow myself, I would” one of them says, answering a question asked by nobody. At this point my I am annoyed, but suddenly realizing…in this moment, I am no better than those on the Internet whining about the “charisma men.” Like those message board inhabitants, I am scowling at a group of people who are simply having a good time…regardless of how annoying they are (a lot), they are still having fun and have girlfriends who enjoy the still ongoing “blowing myself” discussion. I am still the nerd updating Twitter on my iPhone to see if anyone has anything interesting to say about the upcoming match, still reveling in having heard “Marquee Moon” four hours ago.
“How about this,” the England fan wearing the stupidest hat says to one of the girls. “If England win, you give me a blowjob! If England loses…you give me a blowjob!” Much laughing, and instead of disdain I instead wonder…what would it be like to be you? Be like that? Would my life be markedly better? Would I still be sitting in this Persian bar, jotting down their blowjob conversation in my mini Moleskine (ugh)? The game starts, and England scores four minutes in. They go crazy. I suddenly feel like throwing my pen at them once again.
The game goes on. It becomes clear they aren’t as annoying as they came off as…except the “nice pass, man” guy, he legitimately sucked in every single way. Or maybe they’ve become slightly less grating because English goalkeeper Robert Green has surrendered an equalizing goal late in the first half after his hands suddenly transform into irons. The English leave a little after the half, as it is five in the morning by this point. We stay and watch the U.S.A. force a great draw. It is a small victory.
Monday, 10 P.M.
In about an hour, Japan will open its World Cup campaign against Cameroon. Despite being big underdogs, the Japanese pull out a great 1-0 win over the African side. Considering I basically said Japan had no chance in a previous blog entry, it should have been a nice opportunity for me to eat crow. I don’t see it though, as I’m asleep, still dead from the soccer-full weekend. I foolishly decided to watch the entirety of the Algeria-Slovenia match Sunday night (“this has to be good”). It is not good. I am officially burned out on soccer for the moment…at least until North Korea plays, when then I can root ironically for one of the most reviled nation’s on the planet because “lol Juche right?”
Maybe…I am a douchebag after all.
(Japanese Fun Fact #67 – No facts, but here’s a picture a student drew of me playing soccer with famous Japanese kids superhero Anpanman.