It didn’t take long for reigning J. League 1 champs Kawasaki to pick up exactly where they left off after last year’s record-breaking season, reports Dan Orlowitz, with a convincing derby win over Yokohama F. Marinos.

In other opening weekend action, FC Tokyo salvaged a last-minute draw against Urawa Reds, while Nagoya Grampus got off to a winning start Sunday with a 2-1 away win over newly promoted Avispa Fukuoka.

At their COVID-19 task force meeting on Feb. 22, the J. League and Nippon Professional Baseball called on the government to ease up on the current cap of 5,000 fans per game, given how much both circuits have learned about operating safely in the pandemic over the past year, reports Kaz Nagatsuka.

VfB Stuttgart — FC Schalke 04 | 5-1 | HIGHLIGHTS | BUNDESLIGA
VfB Stuttgart — FC Schalke 04 | 5-1 | HIGHLIGHTS | BUNDESLIGA

At the task force’s previous meeting, officials from both leagues revealed that dozens of players, coaches and family members had been affected by the country’s entry restrictions, reports Dan Orlowitz. With the state of emergency now declared over in six prefectures outside of the Tokyo region, the leagues will be pushing for more flexible quarantine rules going forward.

Meanwhile in Germany, where an increasing number of Japanese players are plying their trade, Samurai Blue midfielder Wataru Endo opened his Bundesliga account with a brace and had a hand in two more goals Saturday as Stuttgart hammered relegation-threatened Schalke 5-1.

This Saturday, Endo’s Stuttgart will face off against former Japan captain Makoto Hasebe’s Eintracht Frankfurt. A week ago, Samurai Blue attacker Daichi Kamada scored the opening goal for Frankfurt and helped set up the second for a memorable win over league leader Bayern Munich.