Who needs football? In the early 1990's, the Japanese decided they did. After treating it as an irrelevant sport for over 100 years, they launched a national project aimed at enrolling themselves as one of the world's football powers. This title examines Japanese culture through football.
Who needs football? A little over 10 years ago the Japanese decided they did. After treating it as an irrelevant sport for over 100 years they launched a national project aimed at enrolling themselves as one of the world's football powers. In true Japanese style, they were determined to get everything right and money was the least of their problems. When the professional J.League was set up in 1993, it was hyped and financed by some of the country's most high-profile organisations, while world stars such as Zico and Gary Lineker added colour. Foreign coaches from Arsene Wenger to Ossie Ardiles were brought in to pass on their experience, and Japanese players wanting greater immersion headed for Europe and South America to learn for themselves. Even the fans studied, scrutinising the crowds in satellite TV broadcasts to learn the best way to support their teams. But, Japan didn't just want a new professional sports league to provide entertainment. Football was a way to change the country itself, to make it more like what the Japanese call "the world" - the world outside Japan. Football would make the Japanese internationally-minded, creative, expressive - everything they were not, but felt they needed to be. J.League founder Saburo Kawabuchi described the league as an attempt at "social revolution". The climax of these efforts comes in June 2002, when Japan co-hosts the World Cup. As the world counts down to this historic competition - the first to be held outside Europe or the Americas - Japanese Rules shows what worked, what didn't and why.