The Awakening of Japan as a Football Nation
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
European newspapers have called it the "awakening of Japan". The world had written Japan off after seeing its dismal performance in World Cup 98. As a result the future of football in Japan was put into question. However, today the world's football greats such as France, Germany, England and Spain are describing Japan's success in the 2002 World Cup as its incorporation into "the great fraternity of nations consecrated by the religion of football".
Most interesting of all was that this welcoming has come from football fans and nations who were originally skeptical of the idea of holding the World Cup in Asia (see Media Review No. 50). However, Spain's El Pais now says that there is no turning back. Japan has achieved a rank of importance in this the highest level of football and all knowledgeable football fans and writers are praising Japan for its ability to develop into a great football loving and performing country in such a short period of time.
When Spanish reporters first heard the Japanese national anthem ahead of Japan's World Cup matches they called the anthem the most boring in the world. However, what followed the anthem they described as a truly euphoric rendition of Beethoven's Oda a la alegria. Japan's performance against Belgium, Russia and Tunisia was music to their ears.
Most surprisingly of all was Europe's discovery of Junichi Inamoto. People here recognize names such as Nakata and Ono who both play regularly in European club matches but were unaware of Inamoto who did not appeared in one Premier League match. His performance in this World Cup, however, has caught the attention of all. Spanish and British news sources who held Inamoto up as a hero equal in status to those such as Owen, Vieri and Raul. Not only did they praise him for his excellent goal against Russia, they evaluated his performance as the best on the field by a long shot. To them he was the hardest working, the bravest, the most creative and opportune player. In fact, if one were to give a prize today as to who is the best player in this World Cup El Pais said they would give the honor to Inamoto!
The world's sports pages have introduced Inamoto as an excellent player who after experiencing obscurity on the benches of the Premier League has exploded like a volcano onto football's most prestigious stage.
Nakata's hegemony over the Japanese football market has now been ruptured and Japan is no longer a "developing country" in the world of football. It has emerged onto the world stage as a contender that must be reckoned with. The future of football in Japan is thought to be bright.