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Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds) December 14, 2010

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-xq

On November 14, I had the pleasure of being able to watch another football game in Japan. It was only my fourth time to ever watch live football in Japan, and as with my other experiences, this didn’t disappoint. In my previous visits, I had been to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, west of Tokyo. This time, I decided to north to Saitama to watch one of Japan’s biggest teams, the Urawa Reds. The Urawa Reds are one of the most popular teams in Japan, and their following is huge. Those who were born in Saitama are supposed to love the team. Those living in Tokyo and even Chiba like the team. Their fans always make the journey to watch their team play no matter where they play. The supporters are very vocal and it can be deafening to just be in the stadium as the team is playing. This was all at Ajinomoto Stadium, so you can imagine what it might be like at Saitama Stadium, the home of the Urawa Reds.

Getting to Saitama Stadium is very easy. Within Tokyo, taking the Toei Metro’s Namboku Line, you are directly connected to the Saitama Railway which terminates at Urawa Misono Station. This is the closest station to Saitama Stadium. It’s also a 20 minute walk from the station to the stadium. The first thing you will notice when you leave the station is that the entire area is a sea of red. No matter which way you look, you will see red everywhere. The station has various signs promoting the Urawa Reds. One of their slogans, at least for 2010, was “We are Reds”. It’s entertaining, but it isn’t the destination of the day. The signs and the walk to the stadium definitely make one excited, but unfortunately, it’s a long walk with few signs between the station area and the stadium to keep you interested. The area between the station and the stadium is nothing more than a broad walkway with a few street vendors along the way. There isn’t much to see, but if you are hungry, it’s best to buy something there. Once you reach the stadium entrance, everything becomes more expensive.

Once I got to the gate, I took a little time to enjoy the atmosphere outside. There were various street vendors selling beer and food. They even had a tent for people to transfer any liquids they had into free cups. Due to safety concerns, plastic bottles and cans are not allowed into the stadium. They do check your bag to ensure you don’t bring anything dangerous into the stadium. When I arrived, they even had a small jazz band playing music, and all of the band members were wearing Reds shirts. I doubt they could afford jerseys for a short show like that. The next thing to do was look for the merchandise. At the time I went, they had a large portable with various goods at discount prices. Due to the time in the season, they were trying to sell their 2010 merchandise before the end of the season so many things were 40-50% off. If you time your visit right, you can get some good things.

After that, I finally decided to head in. The game was a Sunday afternoon game, and they were playing Kyoto Sanga, one of the lowest ranked teams in J1. Kyoto Sanga was facing relegation into the J2 league as they were in the bottom 3. It was a must win for Kyoto. The entire stadium was obviously painted red with everyone wearing red jerseys. Even in the upper deck, it was hard to find someone who wasn’t wearing red. For the day, the only colour that was not allowed was purple, the colour of Kyoto. In fact, because it was Saitama Stadium, the supporter’s section was extremely small. They took up just one section of the entire stadium. If it was a bigger team, such as FC Tokyo, or Gamba Osaka, they would get at least 2, maybe 3, but not much more. The last game I saw was in Ajinomoto Stadium, and the reds took up the entire section behind the net, and even a little more towards the sides. It was almost impossible to see the Kyoto supporters in Saitama Stadium, but they were there, and they did their best to support their team.

The game itself was relatively predictable. With the mid ranked Urawa Reds playing the low ranked Kyoto Sanga, one could almost predict the outcome of this game before it even started. From the kick off, the Reds controlled the ball and kept it moving. They had more chances to score, but Kyoto kept capitalizing on turnovers for short chances. It was a tug of war between the two teams, and while the Reds were winning on the field they just couldn’t get the ball in the goal. At the 25 minute mark, the Reds finally converted and scored their first goal. Needless to say, the entire crowd jumped to their feet shouting in joy. I could barely hear the crowd as I was screaming way too loud to hear anything else. In fact, I screamed so loud, I almost lost my voice! High fives were exchanged between me and my friends, and I even got those around us, pretty much only behind us as those in front didn’t turn around, to also give high fives. Everyone was happy, but the game was far from over. By the second half, the game seemed to have changed. Urawa wasn’t playing as hard as before, and the opportunities didn’t materialize as much as it should have. For the team, they seemed to have stopped trying to score, and played for a 0-1 win. It was a tense second half, and by the end of regulation time, it was announced that they were adding 5 minutes of extra time. For a game that had minimal stoppage, 5 minutes was extremely strange. I thought that 2 minutes would be the most, but 5 minutes was unimaginable. I was talking to my friend about how the refs probably wanted to give Kyoto a chance to tie, but just as I was saying that, the Reds scored for a second time leading to a second round of cheers. By the time everyone had settled down to continue watching the game, the refs blew their whistles and the game was over.

While the game was over, the crowd wasn’t ready to go home yet. In the upper deck, a lot of people were heading out, and people were trickling out of the lower bowl. For those in the supporters section, not a soul had left. They were still singing and cheering and the action wouldn’t stop until all of the Urawa Reds players came out and saluted them. All of the players did their ceremonial salute to the stadium. As in Ajinomoto, the team came out, bowed, and raised their arms to the air as the crowd chanted in unison. It’s difficult to describe the chant, other than it was a long “oh”. You do have to visit the stadium itself to understand it.

Saitama Stadium is one of the only, if not the only, stadium in Japan that is dedicated to only football. The seats are very close to the pitch and all the seats are good. While I was in the upper deck, because I am a casual fan, it’s nearly impossible to get into the lower bowl for a reds game, unless you know someone. It was a lot of fun and I highly recommend going if you can. The only sad part was the fact that there are no beer girls in Saitama Stadium. Unlike Ajinomoto, they don’t make a lot of money on beer as everyone watches the game. Why drink when you should drink after the game. Needless to say, I had a great time and I’ll definitely go again if I get the opportunity. I’m still an FC Tokyo fan as I started out watching them. My second team will now be the Reds.

Urawa Reds Information:

Official Homepage (Japanese): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index.html
Official Homepage (English): http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index_en.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urawa_Red_Diamonds

Access Information: http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/english/saitama.html

Saitama Stadium Official Site (Japanese): http://www.stadium2002.com/
Saitama Stadium Official Site (English): http://www.stadium2002.com/en/index.php

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Running in Tokyo (Central Tokyo) June 22, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Running in Tokyo (Central Tokyo)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-pc

The Imperial Palace is the most popular place for running, but it is not, by far, the only place to enjoy a run.  There are countless other locations that make for a good run.  In central Tokyo, there are three good areas for running.  The second most popular place, after the Imperial Palace, is Yoyogi Park.  This is a large public park that is free to enter.  The closest station, for most people, would be Harajuku Station.  The park is located just behind Meiji Jingu, but be aware that heading into Meiji Jingu, and running, is not allowed.  The main entrance to Yoyogi Park is located on the south side, across from the Yoyogi National Stadium.  If you don’t see it clearly, you aren’t really at the entrance.  The other way to tell you are going to the wrong place is to look for the large wooden Torii (gate).  If you see that, that’s the route to Meiji Jingu and the guards will probably stop you from entering.  The park itself is a nice short run.  Upon entering, just keep going straight and you’ll naturally enter the inner loop.  This loop is less than 1km long, probably about 700m.  It’s a nice loop and you’ll be able to enjoy the various people relaxing in the park.  You’ll be within eye sight of the large fountains, and you’ll be able to see various school kids practicing their drama skits.  You might be lucky to see maids, various costumes, and idols getting their pictures taken.  It’s a popular site for this.  If you are lucky enough, you can even enjoy the cherry blossoms.  Overall, the park is nice as it’s fairly shaded in the summer, but due to the number of people relaxing, it can be a little difficult to enjoy it all the time.  It’s not perfect, but it’s still great.  If you are staying in the Shinjuku or Shibuya region, Yoyogi Park is very close and easy to reach without any travelling.

Next door to Yoyogi Park is Meiji Jingu Gaien.  This is a large complex of greenery and sports stadiums.  It was built during the 60s for the 1964 Olympics.  Since then, the buildings have been maintained and the area has become one of the centres of sports in Tokyo.  While Tokyo Dome is the home of the Tokyo favourite, Yomiuri Giants, Meiji Jingu Gaien is home to the Yakult Swallows and the Emperor’s Cup final for the J-League.  For runners, there is a major loop road that is closed on the weekends and provides a good circuit for running.  The loop is roughly 1.5km in distance and generally surrounded by trees.  Since the road is closed on weekends, it makes an ideal place to run.  The only problem with this is that there are various activities happening on the weekends at all times of the day.  There are courses for kids to learn how to ride a bike, various baseball teams walking to and from the many baseball fields in the area, and lots of security keeping an eye on people.  I would still recommend this loop for running, but due to the popularity of the area for families and others, it may not be the best for all people.  Also beware of the Swallows games as it will be extremely busy near the start and at the end of the game itself.

Located next to Meiji Jingu Gaien is the Akasaka Palace (State Guest House) and Togu Palace, home of the crowned Prince Naruhito, the heir to the Japanese throne.  This is a very ideal running route, in my own opinion.  This route is around 5km in length with no lights.  It is similar in distance to the Imperial Palace, but far superior.  The route itself isn’t very busy as most Japanese people avoid it.  When running, I usually encounter serious runners only.  The main reason only serious runners tend to use this route is the fact that there are two significant hills.  While the Imperial Palace has only one hill, which isn’t very steep, the two on this route are fairly significant.  The first hill is located on a small section on the east side between Aoyama-dori and an elevated highway.  This is also the most dangerous section of road as the sidewalk is very narrow.  There is barely room for one person to run, so passing oncoming runners can be a challenge.  Thankfully, this section is very short.  On the opposite side of this stretch of road is the other hill.  It is not as bad as the eastern section, but still a good workout.  Generally, the area has a nice wide sidewalk for 90% of the route and lots of police and cameras.  Unfortunately, the scenery can be a little sparse due to the high walls keeping people out of the palace grounds.  The only interesting thing to see would be the Akasaka Palace.  If there is a head of state visiting Japan, such as the US President or the Queen of England, they will be staying in the Akasaka Palace.  During this time, there are state flags everywhere and extra security.  Don’t let that detract you from running around the palace.  It’s still nice, even with the police watching you as you run.

If you are adventurous, and in need of a marathon run in Tokyo, doing all three of these parks, along with the Imperial Palace is a great way to see everything and do minimal stopping.  This route will be in the neighbourhood of 20km to do a loop of each on, but may not include a return trip.  Be aware that brining money for a train to get back, or a few hundred yen to buy a drink at various vending machines or convenience stores is advised.  The summer can get very hot and humid, so keep hydrated.  Other than that, be adventurous and have fun exploring the city on foot.

This is part of a series on running in Tokyo.  To read more, continue to Running in Tokyo – Imperial Palace.

Information:

Running Club:  http://www.namban.org/
Runner’s World Article:  http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-239-281–6897-0,00.html
Running In Tokyo:  http://runningintokyo.com/
Time Out Tokyo (Blog):  http://www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo/feature/176
Yoyogi Park (English):  http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/english/park/detail_03.html#yoyogi
Yogogi Park (Japanese):  http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index039.html
Meiji Jingu Gaien (English):  http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/english/
Meiji Jingu Gaien (Japanese):  http://www.meijijingugaien.jp/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Japanese Football aka Soccer (Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo) December 1, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Sports, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jk

This year, 2009, I have had the luxury of attending two football games in Japan.  Last year, I wrote about my experiences to see football for the first time. This time, I had a different experience.  I was lucky enough to introduce a couple friends to FC Tokyo, and more recently, I was able to see a game as an Urawa Reds fan.  Generally, my first experience with FC Tokyo was how things were in 2009.  When attending a game, once you reach the stadium, you have to head into the stands where you’ll get your seat.  Then, just wait and enjoy the game.  FC Tokyo still runs “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and they still salute the crowd after every game, regardless of the results.  Since I was in the visitors side for a game this year, this post will reflect the feelings and emotions of the opposing time.

On November 8th, I headed into Ajinomoto with a friend of mine.  We were meeting a couple of Japanese guys who are big Urawa Reds fans.  Since it was Urawa, the entire visitors section was full.  It was all red and black, the team colours.  There were the die hards sitting in the front row behind the goal and a bank of over 10 huge flags.  There were also various flags of other countries flying in the main section.  Essentially, if it was red and black, it was flown.  The flag of Yemen, or the old German flag, was also flown because of the colours.  The significance of the country itself wasn’t important.  Getting to the stadium early, as in any other game, is important if you want to get good seats.  Roughly an hour before the game starts, the cheering starts.  There are a few dozen different chants that the crowd does.  There is generally a leader in the main stands along with a drummer to keep the beat.  There may be more than one drummer.  There are a few basic cheers and everyone has to stand and do the cheer.  The Japanese guys I was with were a little sad as the cheering had been started a little early for their tastes.  You need a little energy for the game as well.

During the singing of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for FC Tokyo, the Urawa fans went crazy.  Lots of comments talking about how stupid it was to sing the song, and when they talked about FC Tokyo, they cheered and whistled as loud as they could.  It’s nice to see that they’ll do anything to support their own team.  Upon the kick-off, the cheering subsided so that the fans could watch the game.  The flags were down and only basic cheers could be heard.  Everyone was at the edge of their seats hoping a weak Urawa would be able to beat FC Tokyo.  To give a little insight into the game, both Urawa and FC Tokyo were in trouble.  Urawa is in a sort of rebuilding season, and FC Tokyo’s main ace was injured, and their top foreign player left to play in the Middle East, for more money.  However, FC Tokyo had recently won the Nabisco Cup, so they had the advantage of momentum.  The first half of the game was pretty boring.  FC Tokyo dominated the game with several shots on goal, but Urawa was limited and trapped in the mid-field.  For the second half, the game remained the same, but Urawa made one excellent play where a couple of strikers broke free of the defence and scored.  The crowd was ecstatic and the cheering was deafening; soon after, FC Tokyo also scored, but it was an off side goal.  By the end of the game, Urawa kept their 1-0 lead and won the game.  Obviously, the Urawa fans stuck around and saluted their players.

In general, the FC Tokyo fans are never very loud.  They enjoy the games and they cheer on their players, but I think the visiting teams are always louder.  They tend to be more focused compared to FC Tokyo.  I’m sure the FC Tokyo fans are also louder when visiting other stadiums, but at home, it’s sad to see they aren’t close enough to shake the stadium.  I still highly recommend going to an FC Tokyo game.  It’s very close to Tokyo itself and the team is still pretty good.  If you have a free afternoon/evening, it’s only 20 minutes from Shinjuku Station.  You don’t need to buy tickets ahead of time, but do wear blue.  Avoid any other colours or you might have to buy your own jersey.

Information:

Ajinomoto Stadium (Japanese Homepage):  http://www.ajinomotostadium.com/
Ajinomoto Stadium (Event Schedule – Japanese):  http://www.ajinomotostadium.com/schedule/index.html
Ajinomoto Stadium (Access – Japanese):  http://www.ajinomotostadium.com/access/index.html

FC Tokyo (English Homepage):  http://www.fctokyo.co.jp/english/index.phtml
FC Tokyo (Japanese Homepage):  http://www.fctokyo.co.jp/
FC Tokyo (Schedule):  http://www.fctokyo.co.jp/english/index.phtml?schedule=1
FC Tokyo (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F.C._Tokyo

Urawa Reds (English Homepage):  http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index_e.html
Urawa Reds (Japanese Homepage):  http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/index2.html
Urawa Reds (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urawa_Red_Diamonds

Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo) November 4, 2008

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo) complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-3Q

On October 26th, 2008, I made my third adventure of the year to watch Professional Japanese sports.  I headed out to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu to watch a football game.  Built in 2001, Ajinomoto Stadium is the home of FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy.  It was originally built as a track and football stadium, but it has yet to hold any athletics matches.  Due to the nature of the design of the building, I’ve been told that the acoustics of the stadium aren’t good for football.  I guess I agree, but unfortunately, I’ve never been to a purpose built football stadium.  In general, I will say that the stadium is well built, but the overall design and layout needs to be improved.

Ajinomoto  Stadium is located a short 5 minute walk from Tobitakyu Station on the Keio Line.  During the football games, all Keio trains stop at this station.  Do note that to get the best seats, you need to arrive before the first train.  Upon arriving at the station, you are greeted with banners proclaiming that you are indeed at the right place.  Banners promoting FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy are hung within the station, and all along the road you’ll see FC Tokyo banners on most shops.  It’s also very busy as you walk to the stadium.  I recommend buying whatever food and drink you need before heading to the stadium.  While the train is extremely busy, you’ll at least have everything and don’t have to fight with everyone else for what little shops are available.  Note that there are long lines for any restaurant.  If you are only in need of beer, the traditional beer girls are there.  There are more guys selling beer, and they don’t have silly uniforms.  🙂

When I arrived at the stadium, I had trouble finding seats behind the home team goal.  It’s also good to get information on where to sit before heading to the game.  I spent 5 minutes asking a bunch of staff where to sit, but they weren’t too clear as to where it was okay.  Thankfully, a fan helped me out and I discovered that half of the stadium was reserved for the home team fans.  Again, unfortunately, I had to sit a little far from the die hard fans.  Like baseball, football has a lot of die hard fans that will cheer and cheer and cheer.  I was a little disappointed, but that is probably due to the design of the stadium.  The fans aren’t close enough to the action.  It could also be because FC Tokyo is a perennial low ranked team within the league.   The second reason for the lack of sound from the home team could be from the loyal fans from the Kashima Antlers side.  Kashima has a longer history than FC Tokyo and they generally finish at the top of the J1 division, and they have won the most J1 titles.  Thus, they have a very loyal fan base.

Before going any further, a little J-league education is needed.  The J-league officially started in 1993 as a professional league and it has been evolving ever since.  Currently, there are 18 teams in the first division (J1) and 15 in the second division (J2).  Plans are underway to expand J2 to 18 teams.  There is also a third tier under a league name of the Japan Football League, however this league is a semi-pro league.  JFL teams will be promoted to J2 until J2 has reached it’s intended target.  The J-league itself runs 2 series where teams can switch between both series.  J1 is the top tier with the best teams.  Currently, the lowest two teams at the end of the year are sent to the second tier, while the top two teams of J2 are promoted to the J1 series.  The third ranked J2 and third lowest J1 team play a special match to decide if the teams will switch positions in the league or not.  Ultimately, since Tokyo Verdy has had poor form in recent years, FC Tokyo is the Tokyo favourite, even tough Tokyo Verdy has a longer and better history within the league.

The game itself was very good.  Before things begin, both teams take to the field for a little warm-up.  FC Tokyo came out and gave a type of bow and banzai gesture to the fans.  Kashima came out much later, but they didn’t do the same bow and banzai.  They just waved to their fans.  After the warm-up, FC Tokyo stole a Liverpool tradition and sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.  I was a little disappointed because it’s such a strange song to sing for the Japanese people, and I thought a Japanese song or a lively song would be better.  After the FC Tokyo “Anthem”, the game got underway.  The first half was a decent game, but there were many slow points.  A few scoring opportunities, but nothing much.  The second half proved to be the better half.  All 5 goals in the game were scored in the second half.  FC Tokyo scored first, followed by a tie goal by Kashima.  FC Tokyo then scored 2 goals followed by another goal by Kashima.  There was a nail biting end to the game and 3 minutes of extra time.  Obviously the referee wanted a tie game because there were barely any stops to the game.  In the end, everyone was happy to see their team win.  Even on on the Kashima side, the fans were happy and still cheered loudly for their team.

So what are my final thoughts on the J-league, or at least the game that I watched?  It’s definitely worth my 2000 yen.  Should you go to a Baseball game or a Football game?  I will definitely say yes to both.  If you have the chance, go to them.  However, do note that unless you have an interest in Football, I don’t recommend it.  With Baseball, you don’t need to know the sport to enjoy the game.  With Football, I can’t say the same.  Personally, though, I think I’d enjoy Football more than Baseball.  I just enjoy the action.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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