Posts Tagged ‘韓国


Cultural Conflict

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.


The Mixed Zone with…Tadanari Lee

For my most recent Mixed Zone with… I travelled to Hiroshima to meet Tadanari Lee.

You can read my interview with the Sanfrecce and Japan striker here.


Asian Cup hero Lee looking for new challenge

Last weekend I visited Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s training complex in the mountains of Yoshida, and while I was there I sat down with their No.9 Tadanari Lee.

The Japan striker spoke about the way perceptions of him have changed since the Asian Cup, his decision to switch allegiances from South Korea to Japan, and the rumours about a move overseas.


Not just a sweater

I have just started a column for Weekly Soccer Magazine 「週刊サッカーマガジン」and will be posting English versions of the articles here at Sakka Nihon. If you would like to read them in Japanese please check out 「蹴球ベイベー」 in the magazine which is available from most convenience stores and news-stands.

The first subject up for discussion was Alberto Zaccheroni’s start as Japan coach – and his knitwear… 

When Alberto Zaccheroni was first announced as the new coach of Japan it was a bit of an anti-climax.

With the Samurai Blue having performed so well in South Africa it was felt that a big-name appointment could provide the spark to take the team to an even higher level and, consequently, the reaction to Zaccheroni’s appointment was rather muted.

A big name is not always what is required though, and you need only consider two of the most well-respected coaches in the world for evidence.

Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger arrived at Manchester United and Arsenal as relative unknowns, and supporters of neither club were particularly impressed by their appointments. While they may not have been dancing in the streets when they initially took over, the pair have gone on to win fourteen Premier League titles between them and very few fans of either club could bear to think of anyone else leading their team now.

Despite the distinct lack of excitement at his unveiling in September Zaccheroni made it clear that he intended to get straight down to business and, having declared that he would be spending the majority of his time in Japan, his face (and impressive collection of sweaters) soon became a common sight at J.League stadiums around the country.

As the coach set about acquainting himself with the players he would soon be working with his eagerness appeared contagious, and when I asked Shinji Okazaki for his thoughts on the new boss after Japan defeated Paraguay he replied, “Kakkoi!” It obviously wasn’t just me who was a fan of the jumpers.

Zac, as he insisted we call him, had started to win people round but the real challenge lay in the two extremely tricky opening fixtures against Argentina and South Korea. Declaring he was not scared, the new coach stayed true to his word and set up in an attacking formation when Messi and co. visited Saitama. Again, his positivity infected the players.

With four attack-minded players on the pitch in Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda and Takayuki Morimoto, Japan refused to sit back and more than matched the tenacity, pace and aggression of their opponents.

Eiji Kawashima, Yuto Nagatomo and Kagawa  all looked full of confidence – each clearly boosted by their recent moves to Europe – and the tried and trusted pairing of Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe anchored the midfield superbly.

It was also encouraging to see the players taking a few risks, and had it not been for Hasebe trying his luck from 30 yards Okazaki may never have been given the opportunity to tuck home the momentous first goal of Zaccheroni’s reign.

Ryoichi Maeda, back in the squad having been largely unfavoured by Takeshi Okada, provided a further example of this more aggressive style of play when shrugging off the desperate lunges of Javier Mascherano and getting a shot away. All too often a Japanese striker would have opted for a pass to a teammate, and it is likely that such a strong-minded approach was in his coach’s mind when selecting the team for the Korea match, with the Jubilo man starting in place of Morimoto.

While they were unable to make it two wins from two in Seoul, it was pleasing to see them again launching their attacks quickly, and Honda in particular was peppering the goal with strikes from all angles.

Avoiding defeat to their fierce rivals – and keeping another clean-sheet – was a definite improvement on the last two meetings between the sides, and I am starting to sense a little bit of edge creeping into Japan’s play.

Not only are more players readily throwing themselves into 50/50 challenges, but the passionate pleas by captain Hasebe for a penalty (which remarkably wasn’t given) was something I cannot recall having seen too often from a Japanese player.

While the embarrassing levels of whinging and moaning at match officials in Europe is certainly not something I want to see imported by Zaccheroni, a little emotion and desire will certainly be a welcome addition to a team all too often referred to as ‘good losers’.

It is still very early, and new coaches nearly always enjoy a ‘honeymoon period’. If Zaccheroni can continue to infuse his players with such self-belief and fighting spirit though, it may not be long before the countless Fair Play awards on display in the JFA museum will be getting overshadowed – hopefully starting with the Asian Cup in January.

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June 2023