According to the FIFA Soccer ranking Japan is ranked 10 for women and 28 for men. Soccer wasn’t actually introduced to Japan until 1873 when the British military hit the shores. Up to this point, Japan was closed off to the Western world for more than 200 years in order to maintain their culture and Edo ways. Once it hit the shores, it spread quickly – first in towns more populated by foreigners and then to the Japanese college students. It wasn’t until 1929 that Japan became affiliated with FIFA. Since then soccer has grown to be one of the most popular sports in Japan.
Considering this rich history and the recent elevation of the sport because of the successful Women’s National team, I knew I had to play some ‘footy’ while I was in Japan. I researched the more popular cities and venues to play – two immediately popped up. First, the Adidas Fustal Park in Shibuya and Yoyogi Park Futsal Court.
I did some research on reservations and open pick up hours to make sure we had something guaranteed to play. Both locations sites don’t have an english version. Google Translate did not help either – parts of the site weren’t recognizable. When I searched on Google, most of the articles were written over 5+ years ago. What I was able to find were Google Reviews, although not recent, and a Reddit post. The reviews said you could show up and find pick up at any time of day.
So on this Thursday we set forth on the Yamamote Line from our capsule hotel to the Adidas Futsal Park. Chancing it because why not. I’ve played enough games of pick up across the globe to know the etiquette of pick up – find a team and call out “next game, we play winner”. It’s rare for you to get denied a game – even if you’re new to the field. Soccer is a beautiful and inclusive sport.
When we finally found the roof where the Adidas Fustal Park it was empty. Walking to the soccer office, we asked about pick up. They pulled out a laptop and piecemealed together the next open pick up period would be 3 days from now. But, the field was empty and wide open with an hour to go before closing. I immediately asked if we could just pass around. We were met with a NO! I couldn’t accept that we traveled across the globe to hear no. So I asked if we could at least take some photos. That they were comfortable with but asked us to be quick.
Kenny grabbed one of the soccer balls and walked to center field. This is where things turned. One of the employees came running out of the office screaming “NO, NO, NO BALL”. We were shocked as to how rude and non inclusive Adidas employees were but really what this meant about the culture of soccer. After that we took some quick pictures and left. We weren’t really excited to be there anymore and that’s obvious in our facial expressions.
Again, we couldn’t accept that we travel long and far to hear no. We need some pick up! Now we re-routed to Yoyogi and embarked on the 30 minute walk. Staying positive and playing some Pokemon Go on the way.
The sun has now set as we enter the park. Street vendors are packing up their stands for the night as we’re asking around for the entrance of the futsal field. We see the field lights on and hear the sound of a ball being kicked around.
Kenny finally gets in and finds someone that is about to play pick up. He asks if we could both join. Again, the players told us the field was currently closed. I was shocked because there were men kicking a ball around and stretching. Basically, the Yoyogi wasn’t closed. They were able to play some pick up. Kenny tried again to communicate – now using Google Translate. Hoping that the no was a result of miscommunication.
This time they laughed at Kenny and repeated we’re closed. Kenny attempted again. “I will pay you” and “when are open hours to play” Again laughs and no responses. At this point they walked away to finish stretching before their pick up game.
Now, huge disclaimer, this is my opinion. By no means am I generalizing for all Japanese soccer or culture or people. This is my personal experience.
Unfortunately, I did not have a great experience trying to find a community of soccer in Japan. I’m actually pretty down on the fields and the community altogether. Use me as an anecdote. I still recommend anyone going to Japan to try and get involved in the soccer community. But don’t be offended if you’re rejected (multiple times).
Continue to be open and inclusive. If you play soccer even more so. In a time like now, soccer is a way for us to come together as humans.
— For more on Japan and travel click here.