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Staff writer

TOULOUSE, France — Although Japan made an unsuccessful World Cup debut Sunday in a 1-0 loss to two-time champion Argentina, its supporters appeared to win the cheering battle at Toulouse Municipal Stadium.

Japanese fans accounted for more than 60 percent of the 37,000 spectators at the stadium, and developed highly organized cheering under the leadership baton of Ultras, the dynamic soccer cheering group.

While Argentine fans cheered wildly and constantly throughout the match, the Japanese systematically changed their shouts, songs and rhythms depending on the progress of the game.

When Japan took control of the ball at one point and focused on offense, Japanese fans promptly switched in the middle of a song to a heavy, slow chant that reverberated throughout the stadium, forcing a feeling that something was about to happen.

The drums and trumpets played by Ultras members led supporters’ shouts and songs. The Ultras’ repertoire includes more than 20 numbers, including some dedicated to specific players.

Fernando Kolb, a 28-year-old Argentine supporter, said the Japanese chants were effective in that everybody seemed to be able to join in easily. “The Japanese have many songs that are short and easy. Most of our songs are too long and not everybody knows them all,” he said after the game. “I was also impressed that Japanese fans were cleaning up the stadium after the game. That never happens in Argentina.”

As the game ended, Japanese fans began picking up the confetti thrown during the game, encouraged by the cheerleaders to reuse the blue plastic bags used during the cheering.

With bloodshot eyes, Shoji Naito lamented Japan’s loss, but said he was still glad he attended the game. The 26-year-old engineer from Yokohama was one of the Japanese who arrived in France the morning of the game on Japan Travel Bureau’s “bullet tour,” and was headed back to Japan soon after the game ended.

The package tourists had left Kansai airport late Saturday night, and were expected to return to Osaka on Monday, hoping to grab a few hours of sleep during the flight before heading back to work. Most of the participants in the 265,000 yen tour, which did not include a night’s stay in France, were company employees in their 30s and 40s who could not afford to take more than five days off, according to JTB.

“The only reason I came here was to watch the game. I chose this tour because it is short and contains no unnecessary elements such as sightseeing,” said Masayuki Sakai, 32, another tour participant and a staff member at the board of education in Shimizu, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Most of the enthusiastic tour visitors were dressed in Japan’s national team uniform. But other Japanese seemed to view the sports fete almost as a fancy-dress parade.

Some Japanese came dressed as samurai, with safe-guard swords on their waists, some wore topknot wigs and others had kabuki makeup on their faces. A group of five Japanese girls came to the stadium dressed in “yukata” (informal kimono), which attracted local media attention.

Japan’s next opponent will be Croatia on Saturday in Nantes.

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