On October 17, 2012, I had my first free Saturday in a long time. It was time to take this rare opportunity to head out and watch some football. As many of you know, I love to watch sports of any sort, and have really grown to love it here in Japan. I became a big supporter of the Hanshin Tigers but in Japan, my first sporting passion is football. While I do go to more baseball games, it is more about drinking and cheering than it is about the sport itself. When I go to watch a football game, it isn’t primarily about cheering; rather it is more about the technique and skill of the teams. I am analyzing the play and determining if the team is playing well or not. In baseball, it is just me, a beer, and shouting at the top of my lungs. On this rare Saturday off, I decided to head up to Saitama to see an old friend who is an avid supporter of the Urawa Reds. I wrote about my previous experience watching a Reds game in 2010 and we both headed to the game together for the second time. Watching sports for the first time is one thing, but by the second time, you learn a lot more compared to the first time when you are just trying to absorb everything. The second time it is a lot easier to just enjoy yourself and notice many things that you just couldn’t catch the first time.
I mentioned in my previous post that going to the Urawa Reds stadium and the game is pretty easy. The stadium is located 1km away from Urawa Misono Station and tickets can be purchased at the gate. Urawa Misono Station has a lot of things to see but not a lot to do. Along the path to the stadium, you will run into several street vendors who are hawking their foods. While the prices may seem expensive, 500-1000 yen a dish, it is still relatively cheaper than going to the stadium itself. There are only two gates into the stadium. The gate most people will enter will be the south gate. Outside of the south gate, there is a festival type atmosphere where you can participate in a few activities that are mainly focused for children. There are sometimes bands playing and there are various shops selling Urawa Reds merchandise. It is a fun place to check out the casual fans because all of the hard core fans skip the show outside and prepare for the long game instead.
The north gate is pretty subdued as it is an access for people using buses, cars, and bicycles. It is a quiet area with little going on, but it also makes it a lot easier to get into the stadium. The stadium itself is pretty boring. There are relatively few things to see or do. It is a huge stadium, by football standards, and there are few places to get food and drink. I highly recommend getting food at the station or on the way to the stadium rather than at the stadium. This is more about variety than it is about price. When deciding what to eat for lunch at the stadium, I was struck with the problem that there really wasn’t anything I wanted to eat. It may be due to the fact that my seats were in the upper deck rather than the lower bowl, but I doubt the lower bowl was much better. We did have a quick walk through the lower bowl and it was also pretty empty. It is pretty difficult to access other areas of the stadium if you are in the upper deck, but the view of the pitch is still pretty good.
The entire experience at the game was still very good. The Urawa Reds, currently in 3rd place in the standings as of the writing of this post, have the most die-hard fans of the entire J League. They are reputed to have the best attendance and the most fanatic fans in Japan. They are often likened to the Hanshin Tigers because of the loyalty of their fans. You will never see an Urawa Reds fan sitting in an away stadium in the wrong seats. They will always push and shove until everyone is sitting together. When I went to an Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo game at Ajinomoto Stadium, the number of Reds fans was the largest I had ever seen for an away game at Ajinomoto Stadium. Even during the Tokyo Derby, there were less Tokyo Verdy fans in the stadium. Unfortunately, we were sitting in the upper deck because there were no seats left in the lower bowl.
Whenever I went to an FC Tokyo game, I was never worried about getting a seat and the free seating area was always free. When going to a Reds game in Saitama, you are better off getting tickets ahead of time, especially for games against the big hitters and major rivals, but it isn’t always necessary. The Reds fans are also the loudest of all Japan. They are constantly jumping and cheering. They are also one of the most aggressive fans as they will boo and whistle at the opposing team or the officials if there is a call that goes against them. They sometimes even scold their own players when they make a huge mistake, which does happen from time to time.
The opposing team for the game was Cerezo Osaka. Cerezo is one of two teams in Osaka, the other being Gamba Osaka. Cerezo takes its name from the Spanish word for cherry tree. They are currently in the lower half of the J1 standings but they are relatively safe from relegation into J2. While things can go wrong, they seem to be safe for now. Cerezo is generally not a big team in the J League these days but they are a very important farm team for Japanese talent. I was told that they have a very good eye for getting talented players, but holding on to them is proving very difficult. A lot of their young talent often leave the team, and Japan, for Europe. It is a bit of a shame to see some of their best players leave, but it is also a testament of their trainers and scouts that they can easily recognize talent. The most notable player to come from Cerezo is Shinji Kagawa. He was originally in Cerezo but after a few years, he was transferred to Borussia Dortmund, in Germany. He then went on to be a major star in Germany before signing a contract with Manchester United this year where he continues to be a shining star both in England now and Japan. It is sad that Japan tends to lose their best players to Europe, but in reality, football in Japan is still not at the level it is in Europe but it is closing in on the lower leagues of Europe.
The game itself was a bit boring. It started with the Urawa Reds coming out slow. They didn’t put their best game on in the first few minutes but there were chances by both sides. I was expecting Urawa to be playing a lot harder but they seemed to be cruising a bit at times. While they did have several opportunities, there really wasn’t anything amazing with the game. Several shots by the Urawa Reds were just outside the goal or even hitting the posts or crossbar. It was a shocker to see the ball bounce away from the goal because it hit the goalpost but that is the problems of football. You can’t easily score. The first half ended 0-0 and the fans were still patiently waiting for their beloved Reds to score. In the second half, there was even more drama as everyone watched the ball go in for the Urawa Reds. The crowd jumped to their feet in jubilation, but less than a split second later, when people were standing, you could hear the official’s whistle blaring signaling that an offside had occurred. A lot of people were upset but without a replay we could only guess that it was true. From the sounds of things, I assume that enough people knew the player was offside so we never gave it much fault. Upon watching the replay, it was pretty obvious that the player was offside and the game returned to its natural quiet state. This continued and even with 5 minutes of extra time at the end of the match, neither team could win it as neither team could score a single goal. The game was a bit boring, but the cheering from the fan section did make up for it.
While my favourite football team in Japan is still FC Tokyo, the Urawa Reds are a close second. I don’t mind going to Saitama to watch a Reds game as it is fun to go to Saitama Stadium. While I don’t have any real reason to like FC Tokyo, other than they are in Tokyo, I have more reasons to like the Urawa Reds. It can be hard to go to a Reds game due to the rivalry between most teams and the Urawa Reds, but it isn’t hard to enjoy their play. If you ever had a choice between an FC Tokyo and Urawa Reds game, I would recommend the Urawa Reds for the noise alone. FC Tokyo is more typical of what I think a football game in Japan is like, but for the Urawa Reds, that’s just a different level of fandom. I highly recommend going there but do be aware that sitting behind the home goal is a bit difficult as it is almost always packed with the most ardent supporters. I hope to someday go there but I doubt I would be allowed to take many photos as they would egg me on to cheer for their beloved Reds. Who knows, maybe I’ll switch allegiances due to the hard-core fans.
Japanese Football aka Soccer (Cerezo Osaka VS Urawa Reds) (2012) is part of a series of posts talking about the football games that I have attended. To read more about these games and football in Japan, please follow the links below:
- Japanese Women’s Football aka Soccer aka (INAC Kobe VS JEF Chiba) (2012)
- Japanese Football aka Soccer (Tokyo Verdy VS FC Tokyo) (2011)
- Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kyoto Sanga VS Urawa Reds) (2010)
- Japanese Football aka Soccer (Urawa Reds VS FC Tokyo) (2009)
- Japanese Football aka Soccer (Kashima Antlers VS FC Tokyo) (2008)
Game Day Videos:
Urawa Reds Information:
Access Information: http://www.urawa-reds.co.jp/english/saitama.html