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Japan Comment: The Standard Of Football Is Rising In Japan - Time For The Media To Follow

Japanese TV shows, magazines and newspapers celebrated the great spirit of Nagoya Grampus after they managed to come back three goals in their home game versus Jubilo Iwata last month.

The only detail the media failed to point out is that Stojkovic’s men, besides getting help from a tragic own goal, tied the game on a penalty generated by a shameless dive by one of the specialists in simulating, Keiji Tamada.

Japanese journalists completely ignored the issue and I find the attitude extremely disturbing, especially since we are talking about a National Team player, who, with similar behaviour, might very well leave Japan one man down in an important game.

I understand how the game in Nagoya is easy to sell as a dramatic comeback but journalism is about reporting facts, not necessarily happy endings.

Keiji Tamada In Upright Pose

Whoever commentated on that game and did not point out to the fact that Tamada took a dive, is not doing his or her job fairly. Not fair to the game, not fair to the fans, and horribly unfair to Jubilo Iwata.

 I am using this example to point out to how, while Japanese soccer has come a long way in the last two decades, most of the domestic mainstream journalism in Japan is still at a jurassic stage, where sport intermingles with fiction, romance and drama.

Here are a few aspects of Japanese football popular journalism I find particularly irritating:

1) The most serious problem is the one I exemplified above: Japanese journalists in general have a problem of stating the obvious if they are afraid it could be somehow controversial. Tamada’s case is emblematic, but there have been countless stories like his during this season.

2) Since football is not the main sport in Japan (baseball is still much more popular), some journalists seemingly are on a mission to popularise the J.League and the national team at any cost. Sadly the way they do it is by making comments that can surely be understood by a third grader and his grandmother, but also annoying those who actually do understand something about the sport.

3) The idolisation of the young, cute and famous players (or clubs) is often too extreme. It is also damaging to the players portrayed more as models than as sportsmen and unfair to other players who get systematically ignored if they don’t fit the required cliches.

When Urawa Reds’ Naoki Yamada debuted with the top national team, every single time he touched the ball we were reminded by the commentators that he was 19 years old. Well, so what?

4) Japanese media like to embody one team into one player or the manager. Thus we have “Okuda-Japan,” “Finke-Reds” while Ishikawa is the one and only poster-boy for FC Tokyo and Yanagisawa allegedly the only players at Kyoto Sanga. Well, perhaps I am stating the frightening obvious, but I still think that football is a team sport.

5) There is a ludicrous accent on disappointment and sadness in soccer. Glorious defeats are celebrated just as much as victories, and the necrophiliac passion for teams being relegated, falling heroes and tears after the games is endemic.

Now, while suffering is a part of sport, I personally see no need to celebrate it. Somebody please explain to me why every time Urawa Reds concede a goal, the camera prefers to indulge on Marcos Tulio Tanaka’s disappointed face than on the player in the other team who has actually just scored a goal.

Rare Picture Of Tulio Smiling?

Truth to be told, there are some good sport journalists in Japan. Soccer Weekly Digest and Soccer Magazine are for example very professional weekly magazines discussing soccer in a mature way.

SkyPerfecTV features among many competent female commentators an ex J.Leaguer, Yoshikazu Nonomura, who is clearly not afraid to tell it like it is.

Sadly, on more popular networks, we’re left in the hands of commentators such as Yabecchi, a comedian and the star of cheesy Japanese dramas for bored housewives. Having played soccer in his youth, Yabecchi (whose real name is Hiroyuki Yabe) is entitled to run a TV show that celebrates only famous clubs and players, consequently ignoring most of what happens in J.League.

He is so 'competent' that when the weekly’s highlights are shown, a camera follows his face, which is shown in a corner of the screen, so that viewers can study his reactions to the best plays of the week...a perfect example of soccer sold cheaply.

The general picture is not rosy, but I hope that in Japan sport journalists will be able to improve as much as the players have. That because I believe that for a sport to grow as a movement, media coverage must not only be enthusiastic but also honest and mature.

Cesare Polenghi