• Staff Writer

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Stadium are more than just places to play. They also have the potential to revitalize communities.

The J. League understands this and has encouraged its domestic professional clubs and local administrations to build better, more attractive venues.

Last year, Suita City Football Stadium, widely known as Suita Stadium, opened as the new home for the J1’s Gamba Osaka and the magnificence of the 40,000-seat stadium, which was built at a much cheaper cost than other new Japanese stadiums in recent years, had a big impact for the league’s stadium construction boom moving forward.

That trend is spreading to cities with lower-division clubs as well.

The latest examples is Mikuni World Stadium Kitakyushu, the new venue for Giravanz Kitakyushu, a third-division J. League team. The stadium is located right by Kokura Port and just 500 meters from JR Kokura Station, with an estimated seven-minute walk from the station to the stadium.

One of the more fascinating attractions of the 15,000-seat Mikuni Stadium is the short distance from the stands to the pitch. Unlike many other stadiums in Japan, there isn’t an athletic track in between the seating area and the playing field; instead, there are only eight meters separating the first-row seats and the touch lines and goal lines.

The stadium was built inexpensively as well. The cost was about ¥10 billion and ¥3 billion of it was subsidized with grant-in-aid money from Toto, Japan’s sports lottery, which is operated by the Japan Sport Council. (After Suita Stadium, Mikuni became the second soccer venue to be build with Toto’s assistance.)

“We are aware of creating communities around stadiums,” said Hitoshi Sato, the manager for the league’s stadium development group, at Monday’s J. League news conference to kick off the 2017 season in Tokyo.

Because of the convenience of the stadium being built right near the busy Kokura area, which has a shinkansen station stop, Sato jokingly added: “You can start your first beer 15 minutes after a game is finished.”

Mikuni hosted an exhibition between Super Rugby’s Sunwolves and a Top League All-Star squad on Saturday as its inaugural contest. The first soccer match will be played between Giravanz and Blaublitz Akita in the first round of the third-division season on March 12.

Arigatou Service Yume Stadium in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, is another that will be built this year. The construction for the stadium, which may seat 5,000 fans, is expected to be completed by this summer. The Japan Football League’s FC Imabari, which aims to be a J. League club, will use it.

Kyoto Sanga F.C., a second-division J. League club that is currently playing at the spartan Nishikyogoku Stadium in the city of Kyoto, is scheduled to move to a new stadium many other teams would be jealous of in Kameoka in the same prefecture. The new stadium, whose official name will be announced later, will have more than 20,000 seats as well as a roof covering the seating areas.

The Kameoka stadium, whose construction is expected to be finished by the end of 2019, will be built right next to JR Kameoka Station.

Neither Arigatou Service nor Kameoka will have tracks around their soccer fields.

There will be new stadium in Naha for FC Ryukyu that will be built around 2022 as well.

According to the league, many other cities are currently discussing the prospect of building new soccer stadiums, including Akita; Omiya, Saitama Prefecture; Yokohama and Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture; Kofu; Nagoya; and Nagasaki.

Sato insisted that the new stadiums will have wide-range benefits on local communities, such as creating more job opportunities, enhancing consumer markets, inspiring greater public transportation usage, uniting local citizens in the same communities and reinvigorating urban districts, with proper construction schemes.

“We believe that stadiums may help solve issues in local societies,” Sato said. “Building stadiums is not the J. League’s main goal. Our goal is to help the society and as stated in our ‘100-year vision,’ we believe it will help make (Japan) a happy nation.”

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