The Embassy of Japan missed its chance to host a live screening of the country’s historic first World Cup victory. The nation’s surprising advancement to the knockout round, meanwhile, calls for serious fanfare. Special correspondent Alex Burchfield reports from the Japanese Information and Cultural Center in Dupont Circle, where guards seized his water bottle shortly before this morning’s match between Paraguay and the home side “Blue Samurais.”
1st Minute-Almost everyone in the room is clutching a Japanese flag (distributed freely at the entrance) or has the red-dotted flag painted on their faces. The excitement is palpable. With few exceptions, virtually everyone is speaking in Japanese. Despite the x-ray machine and a metal detector at the entrance – where my water bottle was inexplicably confiscated and thrown in the trash – the atmosphere is jovial.
8th Minute-Incessant flag waving produces an obnoxious rustling noise. No one has brought any food or drink; judging by my confiscated water bottle, I can see why.
16th Minute-The women who work at the JICC are all standing in the aisles, like chaperones. One starts urging on her team, putting her hands on her knees while her co-worker glances over and giggles.
20th Minute-Near goal by Paraguay causes fans to jump out of their seats. Every near miss is followed by a crescendo of shrieks.
34th Minute-A shot by the homeside “Blue Samurais” doesn’t even come close to the net, but the emotion remains intense.
Halftime-Food and drink is allowed! Fans file out of the auditorium and line up for sweet granola chunks, crackers and iced tea – delicious. A true cultural experience: the iced tea bottles mystify myself and many of the non-Japanese in the room. A friendly JICC employee has to open the bottles for us. Stupid Americans!
49th Minute-Hey, the white guy behind me speaks Japanese! Pretty cool.
51st Minute-One lady, who hasn’t sat down the entire match, is wearing an “I heart Tokyo” t-shirt. She has been jumping up and down a lot. But the game is still scoreless.
62nd Minute-The woman in front of me has abandoned her seat four or five times, each time jumping an impressive distance into the aisle. Now she has taken to the floor – squatting with two flags jammed in her shirt.
86th Minute-Fans of the Samurai are chanting something repeatedly in Japanese that sounds a lot like…napalm? If only I spoke Japanese. Maybe they want to attack with flaming soccer balls.
90th Minute-Game is still scoreless; we’re heading into overtime!
97th Minute-Another “napalm” chant begins.
116th Minute-Fans’ stress levels seem to be bursting. One woman says to her friend sitting next to her, “This can’t be good for our health.”
120th Minute-We’re going to penalty kicks! Japan scores it’s first two goals. Each one is met with an eruption of emotion from the fans. People scream and hug one another, waving those flags even more furiously. But Paraguay matches each of Japan’s goals. And Japan’s third shooter hits the crossbar. Silence. Paraguay scores two more goals to win the game, and the crowd is left despondent – alas.
Photo by MASA/Creative Commons Attribution License