National

Japan's interest in World Cup spikes after Samurai Blue's surprise win over Colombia

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

Japanese fans were reveling in victory Wednesday, a day after their team’s surprise win against Colombia in its first match in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Hopes of a win were low for the Japanese national soccer team, ranked 61st in the FIFA rankings, against Colombia, a formidable squad that is currently ranked in 16th place.

However, almost half of the nation was watching by the second half of the game, according to the ratings agency Video Research Ltd., with television viewer ratings in the Kanto area averaging 42.8 percent for the first half and 48.7 percent for the second.

At a public viewing of the match hosted at Nakano Gymnasium in Tokyo, the venue quickly reached its capacity of 500 before the game even started, and the host of the event had to turn away some viewers who had hoped to cheer the national team on with lots of fellow fans.

“We hadn’t expected such a high turnout. … But the crowd really enjoyed themselves,” said Hidemitsu Nagami, an official responsible for culture and sport in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, which hosted the event.

A public viewing held at an open-air venue in front of the Otemon gate of Kochi Castle, Kochi Prefecture, attracted some 680 people, despite the rainy weather that had hit the area, said a PR representative for Adidas Japan, which hosted the event.

“The navy blue of the national team’s uniform was actually often worn by feudal warlords. We decided to play on that association between the warlord and an ancient castle,” the representative explained when asked why Adidas, the Samurai Blue’s kit-maker, had chosen Kochi Castle as a venue.

About 2,100 people filled another viewing event, also hosted by Adidas, located in Tokyo’s Odaiba district, the representative added. Participants were treated to a surprise appearance by David Beckham at the event, who addressed the crowd during halftime.

Online searches for the term “Osako hanpa naitte” (“Osako is way too good”) spiked during the game, thanks to Yuya Osako’s winning goal during the second half of the game, as well as merchandise bearing the phrase being broadcast on TV.

The phrase was first uttered in 2009 during a TV interview in a locker room by a high school football team captain whose team had just lost to Osako’s squad in a football tournament.

The humorous clip, which shows the captain complaining about how “Osako is unbelievable,” and how he wished Osako had told him how good he was before the match, went viral.

Even major food processing firm Nissin Foods made a parody of the clip for a TV advertisement for its brand of instant noodles.

The phrase also made its way onto merchandise, such as flags and T-shirts, created by designer Yasukazu Asano. According to a report by Kyodo News, Asano could only sell about 50 of the T-shirts in October 2013. However, sales peaked after one of the flags was broadcast during a friendly match against the Netherlands in which Osako scored a goal.

A clip of the original video, uploaded onto YouTube in early January, had already reached 2 million views as of Wednesday.

Now there is growing excitement leading up to Japan’s second World Cup match, which will take place against Senegal on Sunday.

“Sales for tickets to the public viewing of the game against Senegal spiked after Japan’s win against Colombia,” said Chiharu Nerome, a representative for Eco Love, which provides event planning services and is hosting the event.

“I think it’s safe to say Japan’s win has boosted our sales,” she added.

Nerome explained that tickets to the Senegal game are selling at a faster rate than the Colombia game. Half of the tickets for the venue, which accommodates 450 people, had already sold out as of Wednesday morning, she said.