Japanese sports fans are nuts! I went to the World Cup soccer match between Japan and Uzbekistan last night, and received quite a dose of culture shock. Our seats were on the Uzbek side, but needless to say there was not an Uzbek in sight. Instead, we were surrounded by what felt like the student section at a college football game. The cheers were led by a taiko drum group, which would simply start up a beat and the fans would join in with the corresponding chant. The cheers themselves were humorously simplistic, usually consisting of grunts and yells, with the only recognizable word being “Nippon!” Participation was near-universal. The opposite side of the stadium, however, was where the real action occurred. It was akin to staring at a Magic Eye picture while on acid… of the several thousand fans in that section, not a soul was standing still. Most appeared to be flailing wildly, especially when the drums started up. I took a brief video, although it’s a poor representation of a very visceral situation so I’ll refrain from posting it.
The journey to the stadium is a story in and of itself as well. We had very clear directions to Saitama Super Arena, and found it with no trouble. After grabbing a quick dinner of gyoza and chaahan, we arrived at the stadium mere minutes before kickoff. Unfortunately, the soccer game was not being held at Saitama Super Arena. After discussing this with a security guard, we learned that we needed to backtrack about 3 stations and then take a bus to get to the stadium. Another 20 mins later, after several more conversations with helpful Japanese, we arrived at the bus stop as our bus was pulling away. The next bus was not coming for another 30 mins, so we hopped in a cab. The cabbie spoke the most difficult-to-understand Japanese that I have heard so far, and even now I’m not entirely sure what he said, but he seemed very skeptical when we told him to take us to Saitama Stadium. I guess he was surprised that two random Americans would hop in his cab asking to go to a soccer game that had started 40 mins ago. Anyways, the cab ride was much longer than we expected, and ended up costing almost 2500 yen.
We didn’t get lost on the way home, and budgeted almost 2 1/2 hours for the trip, but still barely managed to get in the gate by midnight. Not a problem for me, but my buddy was a junior sailor and had a curfew. Unfortunately, the regulation also states that he must be in his place of berthing by midnight, not just on base, so that landed us in some hot water. Why was I in trouble? Well, because I was his buddy. Fortunately, due to the innocuous nature of this incident–only 30 mins late, no alcohol was involved, every effort was made to return on time–nothing became of it. But it was a poignant reminder that, especially once the carrier pulls in, every incident, no matter how insignificant, is treated with an iron fist. That is the reality for the American forces in Japan. For this reason, I resolve to spend as little time as possible on base once I get an apartment.