At first sight, it was almost as if pre-pandemic days had returned.

On June 12, when soccer fans flocked to Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, western Tokyo, they were allowed — for the first time in over two years — to cheer at the top of their lungs. Tokyo Verdy fans, though numbering just over 800, jumped to the beat of the drums, thrust their fists high in the air and chanted “Go! Go! Go!” throughout their home game. Their voices, loud enough to be heard across the stadium, added much-needed liveliness to the game, a quality lost from soccer matches when the pandemic set in.

Except that things weren’t quite the same.