World Cup: Japanese fans a hit in Qatar with Samurai, bowling pin costumes

Japanese fans posing for photos outside the Khalifa International Stadium before kick-off of Japan's game against Germany on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
Japanese fans Keisuke Ozawa (left) and Hiroki Yamamoto posing for photos outside the Khalifa International Stadium before kick-off of Japan's game against Germany on Wednesday. ST PHOTO: SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ
Japan fans celebrating outside the stadium after the team's victory over Germany, on Nov 23, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Japanese fan Tatsuki Yoshikawa clearing trash after Japan's 2-1 win over Germany at the Khalifa International Stadium. ST PHOTO: SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ

DOHA – They came with painted faces, masks and even elaborate – some downright silly – outfits.

Many of the Japanese fans had travelled more than 12 hours to back their team at the World Cup in Qatar and they were determined to make sure their compatriots on the pitch could see and hear them.

Their unwavering support for the Samurai Blue were rewarded by the team pulling off a sensational 2-1 win over four-time champions Germany in their opening Group E match at the Khalifa International Stadium on Wednesday.

“Nippon!” screamed their Ultras, whose drums provided a metronome for those in the stadium – it appeared more than half the 42,608 in the stands were decked out in blue – to sing and chant non-stop.

Outside the stadium before the game, they were also a star attraction as local residents and even German fans lined up to take photos with some of the more eccentric-looking supporters.

Among those spotted were fans dressed up as samurai-wielding balloon katanas (swords) and men wearing rubber chonmage (a traditional Japanese top-knot hairstyle) on their heads.

One man, who was among a group decked out in bizarre giant bowling pin costumes, obliged a German woman’s request for a photo and said with a grin: “Three-zero Japan, later.” He may as well have been dressed up as a fortune teller, even if Japan’s winning margin was not as handsome.

Even after the final whistle, the Japanese fans have garnered attention.

Following Sunday night’s tournament opener between Qatar and Ecuador, they were spotted staying behind after the final whistle to pick up discarded food wrappers and bottles from the stands.

The Japanese also took extra care to set aside flags tossed away by Qatar and Ecuador fans, claiming the national flags “commanded respect”. They were seen doing the same after their win on Wednesday.

Piling up neatly tied bags of trash, Tatsuki Yoshikawa simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders when asked why they would go the extra mile with such civic-mindedness.

“It’s just what we do,” said the 28-year-old. “We like to volunteer to do this to show we appreciate (the hosts).”

SPH Brightcove Video
Sports correspondent Sazali Abdul Aziz speaks to fans and gets some very close predictions ahead of Japan beating Germany 2-1.

Keisuke Ozawa, 29, said: “In Japan, cleaning after stadiums is ordinary.”

“It’s routine,” added his buddy Hiroki Yamamoto, 28.

Yutaro Takei, 32, said it was not so much a matter of respect that made him and his compatriots do what they do after games.

“We grew up with that culture,” he said. “We aim to keep a place the same way we entered it, when we exit. That is all.”

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