Returning home to the riots in England provided a stark contrast to the social order I had become used to in Japan. Football, as is so often the case, provided an interesting backdrop against which to compare the two cultures.
“Japan are actually quite a good football team, aren’t they.”
That’s what my brother said to me during the Samurai Blue’s comprehensive win over, an admittedly below-par, South Korea last week.
It was, I think, the first time I’d sat down and watched a Japan game with him since I’d moved to Tokyo and seeing as it’s normally me telling him all about Japanese football it was interesting to hear his thoughts on it.
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this though, and pointed out that, yes, actually they’d got to the second round at the World Cup and were the reigning Asian champions.
It turned out he wasn’t being ignorant and patronising though, but that he instead meant it literally.
“They play as a whole team, like a club, rather than a national team,” he explained. “Whereas the England team always looks like a bunch of players from different teams who’ve been thrown together, Japan looks more like the players know each other and how each other play.”
This observation of the Japanese style – teamwork, not a group of individuals etc. – is, of course, not exactly a new one but it seemed a particularly fitting distinction for an Englishman to make in a wider context because of something else that had been going on since I returned to the UK.
On Saturday 6th August riots broke out in Tottenham, North London. These scenes, which included people attacking police, setting fire to cars and looting local businesses, quickly spread around the capital and soon to other cities including Manchester and Liverpool.
The individuals responsible for the acts of theft and violence were from some of the poorest areas in the country, and while their actions were obviously the result of deeper-lying social problems (which are far beyond my ability to try and explain or fully understand), they came pretty much from nowhere and took the nation by surprise.
Claims were made that they were a reaction against “the rich people” and “the government, Conservatives or whoever” and that it was to “show the police we’re not scared of them and we can do what we want”, (all genuine comments from looters).
Having been in Japan in the aftermath of the tragic earthquake and tsunami this demonstrated the different ways that my country and my adopted country cope in times of difficulty – and it was very sad.
Scenes such as those which were unfolding in England are very rarely, if ever, justifiable, but they can sometimes be expected. As transportation was hit and supplies were not being delivered in Kanto, Ibaraki and Tohoku in the days and weeks after the tragedy in March, for example, it would perhaps not have been surprising if people had started to get angry and aggressive, looting essentials and reacting against the government and other officials who were failing to provide detailed or clear information.
This didn’t happen, and never looked like it would, though. While there are, of course, also negatives to the meek and unquestioning response that was the norm in Japan, in terms of maintaining social order and getting back to normal as quickly as possible the manner in which Japan and the Japanese people responded was the best for the majority.
Of course, the football was also affected by the disaster in Tohoku, with the J.League postponing five rounds of matches, Japan pulling out of the Copa America and charity events being arranged at many clubs to assist in the recovery process.
There was also an impact upon the game in England, with the Three Lions’ friendly with Holland being postponed as the fans’ and players’ safety could not be guaranteed (although I’m sure Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong could handle themselves against any English hooligans), and the domestic leagues and cups having to call off some games as the officers required to police the events were needed more urgently elsewhere.
All in all it was a very unsavoury return to my home country, and England’s return to the dark-ages of hooliganism and mindless violence was made all the more stark as I watched the collective and dynamic way that an ever-improving – and still unbeaten – Zac Japan disposed of their old rivals.