Travelling to Brazil to cheer on Japan all in day’s work for Masaki Toda

The most popular sport in Japan is traditionally baseball, but that changed when the country co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea.

Football is matching baseball as Japan’s favourite sport. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Masaki Toda loves his job as much as he loves football. Luckily for him the two combine perfectly this summer.

“I joined Emirates crew so I can go to the World Cup in Brazil,” said Mr Toda. The 28-year-old from Japan made a pact with friends when he graduated from University in the US to meet in Brazil for the tournament. “We graduated in 2010, but as fresh graduates we had no money to go to South Africa, so we promised to save up for four years and meet in Brazil.

“I will go to see a few games live, but not the Japan games. I want to watch those on TV, maybe somewhere close to the stadium. You don’t get all the information when you watch it live, and there can be many distractions. You get a better idea of what is happening when you watch it on TV.”

Mr Toda’s friends come from all over the world and each support their own home country. “The toughest match to watch will be Germany and Ghana. I have a friend from Germany and another from Ghana who will both be there.”

Mr Toda has always loved football and played for his junior high school and high school teams.

“It is great exercise and a social sport, you form very strong bonds to your teammates. Also for someone like me who travels a lot football is a universal language, even if you can’t speak the same language, you can always talk football.

“I really want Japan to get to the quarter finals, we’ve never managed to get that far, so I hope we can get there this time,” said Mr Toda. “I remember in 2010 when we played Paraguay. We could have won that game, but it went to penalty shoot-outs and we lost, it was really heartbreaking. That was the saddest moment in football for me.”

Ryo Nakamura won’t be able to make it to Brazil to watch Japan, but will watch all the games on TV.

“We have lot of good players, I would say we have a good chance to make the quarter final,” said Mr Nakamura, 30, who coached youth teams last year as part of the UAE Japanese Football Association.

“I had planned to go to Brazil this year to watch the matches, but unfortunately work obligations prevented me.”

Mr Nakamura’s love for the game was kick started when he was 10 years old and living in the US.

“Somehow my father managed to get tickets for the 1994 World Cup Final, we all went to see the match. The seats were great too, we were close to the field and could see the players faces clearly. It was an incredible experience. That game got me to start playing football and love the sport.”

The most popular sport in Japan is traditionally baseball, but that changed when the country co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with South Korea. “It was like a new page in Japanese history,” said Toda. “For the first time football had surpassed baseball in Japan.”

“There was a movement after the 2002 World Cup to get people to play football in Japan,” said Mr Nakamura. “I remember when we played Russia in our group match. Beating them would secure our advancement to the second round. When we won it was crazy. Everyone was out in the streets in Tokyo, wearing the team colours and hugging and dancing with joy. You have to understand, Japanese are not used to showing emotions in public. That was the first time I knew that Japanese people can show their feelings.”

For Nobutake Kihara the biggest draw for the World Cup it is not the sport, rather it is all about the stadiums. His company has been involved in building World Cup stadiums since 2002.

“We did the roofs for eight stadiums in 2002. Two for Germany in 2006 and four for South Africa in 2010. This time we have done three in Brazil, and I really want to see the aerial shots of the stadiums in Brasilia, Salvador and Belo Horizonte.”

“Unfortunately Japan will not be playing in those stadiums,’ said Mr Kihara. “I will still watch the national team play, it is the World Cup after all. The first match will be the most crucial and exciting I think.” He predicted that Ivory coast would be a tough match, and he was right: Japan lost 2-1.

“Colombia will be our toughest match,” said Mr Nakamura. “A draw for us will be like a win.”

“I hope Japan make games that we can remember and inspire future generation to play football. That is my dream for Japan,” said Toda.