Forty-seven days before kickoff, the World Cup, to be held in France from June 10 to July 12, has already begun for soccer fans here.

Soccer enthusiasts are rushing to their goal, FIFA World Cup France ’98 Espace Officiel stores in Japan, and competing to pick up official, licensed items that can only be bought at these shops. “Popular items are sold out in no time, and even we don’t know when they are coming in next,” said Naohiro Tsukamoto at one of the official stores licensed by the Federation Internationale de Football Association in Ikebukuro, Tokyo.

Among the official items produced both in France and Japan, key chains, T-shirts and cellular phone straps are popular, but commemorative pins — interest in which has picked up since the Nagano Winter Olympics in February — sell the most. “I tell the lucky fans going to see the games in France to take these pins and trade them with the local people. That way the World Cup will be more exciting,” Tsukamoto said.

The five Espace Officiel outlets — in Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Ikebukuro and Shibuya in Tokyo — are the first to open outside the original on the Champs Elysees in Paris. They will be open until the end of August.

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