Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crowds Gather in Japan for World Cup Final

TOKYO — While Japan is ready for its first appearance in the final of the Women’s World Cup in Germany, fans at home are preparing to stay up all night to cheer the national team team on.

In Kabukicho, one of Tokyo’s most crowed entertainment districts, fans were already filling bars and pubs several hours before the game, which started around 3:30 a.m. Japan time. Some fans expected Nadeshiko Japan, as the team is known, to upset the United States and lift the spirits of a country still reeling from the multiple disasters that struck in March.
“I really feel sorry for America but we’re going to win tonight,” said Ryo Takaya, 24, who was visiting his hometown of Sendai when the earthquake hit. “It’s going to be a historic moment.”
Sports and politics are different, Takaya said, when asked about the United States, Japan’s opponent in the game, but also its close ally. Takaya was wearing the blue jersey worn by the national team and was with a half-dozen of his teammates from a club soccer team he plays on. They were drinking beers and cocktails at a British-style pub which was hosting a special party for the game.
Takaya’s friend, Hideki Sakurai, 22, from Gunma prefecture, said the Japanese team’s success had helped boost morale in the country. When asked how, he pulled out his cellphone and showed a text message he received from his mother, who is not particularly interested in sports. The note read, “You should take a nap because you have to watch the final game.”
A few train stations away in Shibuya, a neighborhood popular with young people, some fans were spotted wearing blue team jerseys on the street. Many Japanese pubs had signs outside their doors advertising “Nadeshiko Specials” to entice customers. Some restaurants planned to stay open late.
At M-Spo, a popular sports bar, the manager, Yoshinori Akiyama, expected a full house of 220 customers. All seating is reserved and sold out. He shut down the dart boards for the night so he could add an extra big TV screen for viewers to watch the action. The crowd was typical in size to what Akiyama normally draws for a men’s World Cup game.
“I expect the U.S. to win, 2-0, but I really hope Japan will do its best, especially the workers who played for Tepco’s team and the players who suffered because of the disaster,” said Akiyama, who had the Japanese team’s shield painted on his cheek.
Shuji Nishikawa, 37, was visiting Tokyo on business from Yamada-cho in Iwate prefecture, which was hit hard by the tsunami. He was looking for a sports bar because he was turned away from M-Spo.
“If the team wins, it will cheer up the country,” he said. “But it is weird to see the gap between the people in Tokyo and people suffering in the disaster zone.”
Regardless of whether the Japanese team wins, they will return heroes. And if the team comes home with a gold medal, the government plans to present the People’s Honor Award to the players, according to the Nikkan Sports newspaper.

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