Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Marcus Tulio Tanaka Anchorman?

Marcus Tulio Tanaka Anchorman?
Like the teams at the World Club Cup I have now adjusted to my surroundings, having arrived in Japan last Friday lunchtime, after an 11 hour flight and nine hours time difference.

This gave me enough time to check in at my hotel and have something to eat before collecting my tickets for the tournament and attending the opening game.

Initial frustrations over my inability to understand the language and even more frustrating being unable to read the signs are overcome by familiarity on my third trip to the country. At least they drive on the left over here.

The purchase of a rail pass is a necessity for any foreigner contemplating travelling in Japan as with a couple of trips you will have paid for it.
Having done just that, I set off for Kobe on Saturday morning. It is just under 600km away, but only 3 hours by the Hikari Super Express Shinkansen.

During the day I managed to take in the 5th Round Emperor's Cup game between Vissel Kobe and Kawaski Frontale, before heading to Chinatown and then viewing the Kobe Luminaire - a light festival held in Kobe every December since 1995 to commemorate the Hanshin earthquake of that year. The streets are closed and lit up forming what seems like an arch that leads to what could be a palace.

Returning to Tokyo I met up with a Japanese friend, Tetsuma, to see Pachuca v Etoile Sportive Du Sahel. We had already spotted large groups of schoolchildren dressed in dug out coats (a sure sign that Japanese people are going to the match), and he explained that a large number of tickets were given to schools. As we arrived at the ticket booth we were approached by a young man offering two free tickets for the game.

The match itself was frustrating but symptomatic of a lot of games played at this competition over the last few years. Both sides were restrained and play was concentrated around midfield as players held on to the ball for too long. In the first half a couple of Sahel lapses gave Alvarez a chance to shine.

Unfortunately he didn't take them and Sahel punished the Mexicans with a deflected strike late on. This delighted the travelling supporters who celebrated for some time with the team and then in the darkness of the stands in the National Stadium (which houses the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum).

The next day saw proceedings move from Tokyo to Toyota (who just happen to sponsor the tournament). Toyota lies around an hour away from Nagoya, the name of the city was changed in 1959 by the Toyada family who revived the economy of the town by founding the Toyota Motor Company. The magnificent stadium was completed in 2001 and occasionally hosts J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight (who in a rare role reversal were originally called Toyota Motor S.C.)



The local Urawa supporters and FIFA will be delighted that they made it through to this prestigious stage of the tournament. Where they are guaranteed a further two games and a meeting with AC Milan.

The silence in the crowd was eerie on Monday night in Toyota as the game was about to kick off. Until the Urawa supporters as one, burst in to rhythmic chanting which continued for the majority of the game. This trance like state was evident as locals around us began joining in by clapping, the older folks around the stadium thankfully refrained from joining in the pogoing.

This same concentration was not matched on the pitch by last years Asian Footballer of the year, Tulio, whose defensive lapse let in Sepahan for their goal.

After the match it was back to my accommodation a Nagoya, a capsule hotel.
Once again the experience can be quite daunting as with most things Japanese there are prescribed ways that things are done. I gathered immediately that my shoes should be removed and placed in a locker. Upon payment I was given a wristband with a locker key and a number. I was shown a map which showed the layout of the beds, mine was number 163.

Having placed all my clothes in the locker, I made use of the one size fits all pink shorts. The next room had washing facilities but up the steps I could see the glass door steaming up. Walking through them revealed a communal baths with hot water being pumped through artificially replicating the hot springs found outdoors around Japan.

So having observed the ritualsand thoroughly washed myself I saw that a pile of pink shorts lay discardedin the basket next to the door. Oh well, I would have looked silly going in with my shorts.

Testing the different pools I noted that one was freezing cold. I opted for the warmer version with the bubbles massaging my back. I then found the sauna, and briefly made use of the cold pool. By this stage of the evening there was no one else around so I sheepishly investigated my
surroundings and found a door through which there was a pile of towels and Japanese style pyjamas.

Now it was off to find my capsule. (A walk around the place revealed that all the capsules fitted in just two rooms). Having found it, I slid in and proceeded to look for the light switch. I found a radio with an alarm clock but no switch. Eventually I realised that an object I had felt could be a
torch. Sure enough it was. I now pulled down my blind and retired for the night. Emerging at around 10a.m. the next morning I noted that everyone else had gone, but it didn't stop me from visiting the pool again. The hardest part of the whole experience turned out to be leaving the place.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile

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