Cheer on the Samurai Blue at events across the country

by Mike Sunda

Special To The Japan Times

It may be nicknamed the “beautiful game,” but these days it can sometimes be hard to see soccer as anything but ugly.

As well as all the usual cliches about preening, overpaid prima donnas, there are also the persistent, disturbing bouts of racism and intolerance that continue to blight the sport. In the domestic leagues, countrymen come to blows over geographical divides and historical rivalries in scenes that are closer t>o something you’d find in “Game of Thrones” than “Match of the Day.”

And yet, for one glorious month every four years, it feels as if soccer deserves its nickname. The magnitude of the World Cup — and the collective optimism it inspires — transcends any petty tribalism: Uruguayans will spend the next fortnight obsessing over the fitness of Luis Suarez, Borussia Dortmund fans will declare a temporary truce with their Bayern Munich counterparts as they get behind the German team (just don’t mention Robert Lewandowski) and England supporters will hope that Alan Hansen’s maxim, “You can’t win anything with kids” will again be proven wrong.

If your home nation didn’t qualify for this year’s tournament (we’re looking at you, Canada), then why not take the opportunity to join the locals and cheer on Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and the gang? The Samurai Blue, as Japan’s team is affectionately known, will be looking to take advantage of a relatively comfortable draw that sees them pitted against Greece, Colombia and Cote d’Ivoire in the group stage.

No matter which colors you end up wearing, there will be no shortage of places to watch World Cup matches in Japan. It might not compare to the nonstop carnival atmosphere that will envelop Brazil, but there’s plenty on offer here to make this year’s tournament a memorable one. The one big downside is the 12- and 13-hour time difference, making for some seri://global.shibaura-it.ac.jp/en/”>ously awkward kick-off times: the “earliest” matches begin at 1 a.m. Japan Standard Time, with others generally starting at 4, 5 or even 7 in the morning. If becoming nocturnal isn’t an option, then it might be a case of handpicking the marquee fixtures. Whether that means Spain vs. Netherlands or Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran is up to you.

Capital celebrations

Tokyo Dome might be best known for its associations with baseball, but on the morning of June 15, expect it to be packed solid with soccer supporters. The stadium is opening its doors to 30,000 fans for a public viewing of Japan vs. Cote d’Ivoire — which also happens to be the only match kicking off at a relatively comfortable 10 a.m. Tickets hover around the ¥3,000 mark, with discounts for primary and middle school students. The match will be broadcast on a colossal 505-inch LED screen, which should be just about big enough to show the whole of Gervinho’s forehead.

NHK will likewise be holding a public viewing of Japan’s opening match, as well as showing USA vs. Ghana (June 17, 7 a.m.) and Japan vs. Greece (June 20, 7 a.m.) — all in 8K Super-Hi Vision. The screenings will take place at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in the Tokyo Bay neighborhood of Toyosu, as well as at the Aeon Cinema in Yokohama for those living just outside the capital. Applications for a seat can be made via the NHK website.

Aside from these larger events, all the city’s sports bars and pubs will be embracing the festivities. Choice picks include The Footnik in Ebisu — traditionally a favorite among soccer enthusiasts, with a clientele who can tell their trequartistas from their false 9s — and Rooney 2008 in Shibuya, although the name alone will remind England fans of fractured metatarsals and petty red cards rather than any World Cup success. Other options include Hobgoblin (Roppongi), The Aldgate (Shibuya), The Dubliners (Shinjuku and Shibuya) and the ever-reliable Hub chain of pubs with well over 20 branches scattered across Tokyo.

Elsewhere, Adidas have set up a pop-up World Cup-themed cafe in Roppongi Hills for the duration of the tournament. The 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Stadium won’t be open all night, but expect them to show replays of the matches, as well as selling exclusive commemorative merchandise such as replica trophies and prints by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto.

And if Japan wins its matches? Then make sure to head to Shibuya crossing, which (much to the chagrin of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police force) has become the de facto gathering site for crowds to celebrate the national team’s victories. If you do head to the crossing, be safe and be sensible.

Offside in Osaka

Much of the Japanese national squad might be away plying their trade abroad for most of the year, but Osaka’s two Division 1 teams maintain a strong presence, especially in midfield, with Yasuhito Endo and Hotaru Yamaguchi representing Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka respectively.

Fittingly, a whole host of public viewings are on offer to make sure there’s room for fww.murphysosaka.com/english.html”>ans on either side of the divide, not to mention everyone else. The opening contest against Cote d’Ivoire will be shown at the Tsurumi Kumin Center (capacity 800, first come first served) and in the plaza on the ninth floor of the Hankyu Umeda Main Store (capacity 700, register online). A third option, possibly the best if the weather’s good, is outdoors at the Canadian Square in front of Moriguchishi Station. All three of the above events are free of charge.

Japan’s second contest, against Greece, will be shown at the Namba Grand Kagetsu Theater. Tickets are ¥1,800 and can be purchased online. The price includes performances by comedians Kenji Tamura, Yuta Kajiwara and more, although if Japan fails to get a result against underdogs Greece — who have yet to qualify from a World Cup group stage — even the professionals might struggle to cheer up the crowd.

For the other matches, the usual sports bars and pubs around Shinsaibashi should suffice, such as Murphy’s, which boasts a 100-inch screen, The Pig and Whistle, and The Blarney Stone.

Full Time in Fukuoka

With its lively expat community, Fukuoka should be in great spirits for the duration of the World Cup. The most obvious location for watching games is at Bayern Fukuoka near Ohori Park. Officially sponsored by FC Bayern Munich, this restaurant and bar offers a huge selection of German beers, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself rooting for Joachim Loew’s boys after a few delicious pints. Most matches are free, although a reservation is required for Japan’s fixtures, as well as a ¥2,000 charge that includes one drink and a side dish.

Brits should head to Morris’ Black Sheep or the Three Kings — both of these British pubs are located in Daimyo and will be showing all of England and Japan’s group matches. Both are offering reservations for ¥1,500 per person, which includes three drinks at the former and one at the latter.

There will also be a public viewing of the 10 a.m. Japan vs. Cote d’Ivoire match at the Level-5 Stadium in Hakata. Tickets cost ¥1,500 and should be available at the door.

Nutmegs in Nagoya

As with Fukuoka, pubs and sports bars are your best bet in Nagoya. Shooters Bar and Grill in Fushimi will be showing all of Japan’s games as well as select matches from the knockout rounds, as will The Red Rock Aussie Bar & Grill in Sakae. Reservations are recommended at both, with Shooters already down to standing room only for Japan’s first game, and likely to be just as busy for the subsequent two group stage matches.

Shootouts in Shikoku

The award for the most unconventional public viewing of Japan vs. Cote d’Ivoire goes to Adidas, who will be screening the match at Katsurahama Beach in Kochi. As well as the unusual location — presumably perfect for a spot of beach soccer at half time — there will also be a selection of live music. Pop star Crystal Kay will be performing, as will electro-rock duo 80kidz, who are booked in for a DJ set. Whether the audience will still be up for raving if Japan goes into half time two-nil down remains to be seen. Tickets cost ¥2,500 and the screening will go ahead rain or shine.

Home and away in Hokkaido

If any event is going to rival Kochi’s beach bash, it’ll be the one at Kirin Beer Park in Chitose. Budweiser is sponsoring this event — again, a screening for Japan’s first match against Cote d’Ivoire — so expect the beer to flow first thing in the morning. At only ¥300 a glass, it’s just as well they’ve brought in a 270-inch screen, so it should be easy to spot the ball even if your vision should start to blur.

The FIFA World Cup kicks off with a match between Brazil and Croatia on June 13 at 5 a.m. (Japan Standard Time). For more information, visit www.fifa.com/worldcup.