Articles Japan Japan Futures

Facing the World, Facing the Future: How Japan is Working to Represent Itself as a Nation at Sport Mega-Events

Written by geadmin

Wolfram Manzenreiter, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna


The 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan was the first to be staged on the world’s most populous continent, Asia, and it was the first to be co-hosted by two nations. Watched by 2.7 million spectators, who followed the performance of 32 national teams in Japan and Korea’s twenty brand-new stadiums, and nearly 30 billion TV viewers all over the world, football proved once again its status as a global sport and the world cup finals its unrivalled lead in terms of cultural reach and global sponsorship attractiveness. Both host countries witnessed an unforeseen ardour about football and the performance of the national team. Every time the Korean selection appeared in a match, millions of “Korligans” took to the streets, all dressed in red, the colour of the Red Devils, the official fan club of the national team. As a journalist of the Asia Times (25 Jun 2002) noted, Mao Zedong himself may never have seen anything like the sea of red that engulfed South Korea – even during the Cultural Revolution. In Japan, the massive display of the hinomaru, Japan’s long time de facto and since 1999 de jure national flag, was a similarly unprecedented incident. In the stadiums, the image of a “blue heaven”, consisting of Japan supporters dressed in some kind of replica uniform of the national team’s blue jersey, dominated the grand stands that seemed to tremble every time the chants of “Nip-pon! Nip-pon!” roared through the arena. The colorful revelation of a collective identity rooted in a seemingly new and newish nationalism attracted the attention of mass media and academic writers alike (e.g. Mōri 2003; Ushiki and Kuroda 2003; Whang 2004).

Questions of national identity, sport, and the nation are often interlaced because in modern times sports have come to provide a stage for the symbolic contestation between nations and the public display of collective virtues and national achievements. The coeval institutionalisation process of modern sports and the emergence of the nation-state as a standard model for state development during the 19th century are far from coincidental. Both formations are manifestations of the modernity project, and the successful implantation of both notions equally relied on, among others, bureaucratic control, the oppression of physical violence, and a functionalist world view based on rationalism and accountability. Hence since modern sports started to spread globally in the 19th century, sports as well as their central tournaments often came to play a useful role in aiding and abetting state sponsored nationalism. Major sporting events focus the world’s attention on a particular nation and its success thereof, in either hosting or performing well in an event. With such concentrated media attention on the hosting nation, it would be surprising if the nation in question did not take advantage of this opportunity to assert its identity.

History has repeatedly shown how states and political actors on a national level have been prone to utilize sports as a vehicle for inward unification or outward representation, most noteworthy at the infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Exploiting the appealing symbolism of the world’s first mass spectacle for global consumption, the totalitarian Nazi regime tried to legitimize itself and its anti-human ideology by presenting the sporting event dressed up in the imagery of the aesthetics of fascism (Alkemeyer 1996a). Yet this has neither been the first incident of ruling elites immersing themselves in the symbolic politics of sport spectacles nor the last. Particularly since sport turned into a leading content for globalizing media markets, sports mega-events were hijacked not only by political elites and their contenders, but also by global capital and multinational business corporations. Studies of singular events (cf. Tagsold 2002 on the Tokyo Olympics 1964, Ahn 1990 on the Seoul Olympics 1988, Horne and Manzenreiter on the Football World Cup 2002) as well as anthropological accounts of the timeless ritualism in the Olympic Games (MacAloon 1984) or the sociological analysis of a century of world exhibitions and the Olympics as modernity’s most significant large-scale spectacles (Roche 2000) provide ample evidence of the susceptibility of sport and its ceremonies and rituals to political, ideological and commercial purposes.

Yet the relationship of sport and national identity is seldom straight forward, and its nuances are only revealed when looking at sportive nationalism as “a complicated sociopolitical response to challenges and events, both sportive and non-sportive, that must be understood in terms of the varying national contexts in which it appears” (Hoberman 1993:18). In the case of Japan at the outset of the 21st century, the hegemonic notion of the Japanese nation as a cultural monolith has come under immense pressure to accommodate the growing heterogeneity of the Japanese people and the closer integration of the Japanese state within the East-Asian region. Yet because of the sense of ambiguity about what the nation is, and how it should be in the future, the conventional assertion of the media joining hands with the ruling elites in actively steering the image of the nation cannot pass unchallenged. The display of “future Japan” on the occasion of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan sports mega-event could be read as the outcome of negotiations between official drafts of “Japan’s future”, varying scenarios designed by both public and private corporate actors, and counter-drafts of civil society stakeholders.

Empirically, this article is based on four years of fieldwork and desktop research on the acculturation of football in Japanese society. For various purposes, I collected data provided by the national organizing committees (JAWOC and KOWOC), the regional football associations (Japan Football Association, JFA, and Korean Football Association, KFA), football’s world governing institution (Federation Internationale de Football Association, FIFA), local and international media accounts, academic studies, and I conducted interviews with members of national football associations, local organizers, voluntary workers and football fans. On a theoretical level, this article is concerned with the role of mega-events in late-modernity and contributes to my long-lasting interest in the dynamics of cultural globalization. Theorizing mega-events thus is the first issue to turn to, followed by brief sketches of the multitude of visions of future Japan. I will show that depending on the actors involved, communicative situations, time horizons and the idea of what Japan is standing for, the resulting blueprints largely differ.

Mega-events, late-modernity and identity

The sociological significance of mega-events has been most clearly elaborated by Maurice Roche, who presented the rise of these ‘festivals of modernity’ as a response to the tensions between nationalism and internationalism in the late 19th century. Although Roche limited his study on the interwoven histories of World Exhibitions and the Olympics, the Men’s Football World Cup is equally to be understood as a large-scale cultural event having a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance (Roche 2000:1). Situated at the crossing of particularities and universalities, these mega-events were designed to provide important resources for the collective orientation of nations toward international society. Hence sport mega-events have always been a significant element of public culture.  At the same time, they are also celebrations, a particular form of ‘cultural production’ (Manning 1983), or ‘cultural performance’ which John MacAloon (1984:1) described as occasions in which cultures and societies reflect upon and define themselves, dramatize their collective myths and history, present themselves with alternatives, and eventually change in some ways while remaining the same in others. In a similar vein, Manning (1983:5-6) conceptualised the celebration as a phenomenon of modernity, a performance to the public entailing the presentation of cultural symbols, which entertains and educates participants about an embodied ideal of society. A mega-event such as the World Cup articulates, for example, “the national with the universal but it permits anchoring the dramatic on the local level without losing sight of universal rules” (Da Matta 1987:59).

Mega-events also provide people with enduring motivations and special opportunities to participate in collective projects that are non-routine, extraordinary occurrences clearly separated from everyday life. Taking place in cyclical intervals, they develop an ‘event-ecology’ (Roche 2001:3) of their own, structuring time in international public culture similarly as the conventional event-calendar does for a year on a local or national level. Particularly in a world in which time and space arguably have become increasingly compressed (Harvey 1990; Giddens 1990), the periodicity of the four year cycle fulfils a distinctive role in “providing some significant cultural resources and opportunities for people … to address their basic human needs for individual (and also group) identities and agency” (Roche 2000:218). Involved as volunteers, spectators or engaged television viewers, people experience the dramatic and symbolic possibilities of organized and effective social action, and gain reaffirmation of embodied agency as individual actors.

From a macrosociological perspective, Roche (2001:223) wisely suggests to interpret mega-events as temporal hubs linking individual agency, social structure and collective orientations. Giving consideration to the way these are linked with three different levels of temporality is particularly helpful to understand the social effects of mega-events. On a short-term dimension, mega-events intensively use space and place for a limited period of time during which the space is transformed into a special place. Participants thus experience the event as historic and unique occurrence. The corporeal quality of ‘being there’ sharpens the awareness of time and spatial distances of a world which is argued to be in danger of diminishing cultural heterogeneity. At the same time, the onsite interplay between organisers, actors and spectators fuels the ‘somatisation of the social’ (Bourdieu 1992).

The events as cultural productions embody objective conditions such as physical, social and symbolic structures, and they also perform embodied attitudes, world views, which Bourdieu called cultural dispositions. Events thus produce and reproduce the experience of exclusive community, because their cultural symbols have the power to assemble groups of people for a clearly demarcated place and time (Gebhardt 2001:21). On a medium-term level, mega-events include the planning periods that precede them and impact periods, sharpening awareness of their cyclic event ecology. In long-term perspectives, mega-events are important points of reference for processes of change and modernization within and between nation-states (Roche 2001:7). The imaginative techniques of memorizing, recording and projection generate collective images of past and futures. In retrospect, they are a prototype of Pierre Nora’s lieux de mémoire, or “places of remembrance” (Nora 1989), and the knowledge that these entities are not a fixed reality but constituted within rearranging social, political, cultural or imaginary spaces, connects the present with the future. Mega-events thus constitute investments into the future, as we can read them as mid-term projects of planning a short-term occurrence for a particular reading of the past from a distant point somewhere in the future.

Not least, sport mega-events create official points of reference because states and governments, usually in close cooperation with international non-governmental organizations, play an active role in their planning and management. Both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and FIFA explicitly require the public commitment of host governments before a bid for their flagship events is finally accepted. Given the scale of these games, government involvement seems to be inevitable to secure the smooth running of the operation. But government officials often already join the steering committee of bidding campaigns – of which the huge expenses are usually covered by public funds – and public employees are frequently assigned to work with the organization staff, giving the state a much tighter grip on the event. Being directly involved in onstage and backstage operations, the state and its actors are capable of manipulating the image of the nation presented at the actual event. However, taking the sports mega-events for the proliferation of state-nationalism does not necessarily yield the desired or foreshadowed results. On the one hand, new forces such as multinational business corporations, civic movements and partisan interest groups that challenge political and economic elites have joined the circle of actors competing for access to the network of ‘primary definers’. Their material and ideological relevance to the sports mega-events has a direct bearing on the shaping of narratives as well as the production of the events and their regulation.

On the other hand, official organizers and governmental representatives have to pay deference to the script issued by the international sport organizations. The screen play of the Olympic ceremonial, for example, is much more elaborate than the Olympic Charter, precisely because Pierre de Coubertin devised the Games as a “counterdraft to the fragile societal condition of modernity, as a ‘sacred’ counter-space to the ‘secular’ civil market” (Alkemeyer 1996b:76). The composite form of sports mega-events, consisting of a communal festival, a highly elaborated stage production, spectacle, functional social ritual, and bureaucratically managed ‘public event’, contributes to the inherent difficulty of streamlining and controlling the message they are about.

In that regard, our discussion of the Football World Cup will follow Handelman’s differentiation between public events that present (e.g. state spectacles as the dominant form of occasion that publicly enunciate statehood, nationhood, and civic collectivity), events that re-present (e.g. popular festivals which indirectly present the existing order) and public events that model (affecting change of social order or phenomena in a determinate and controlled way), since each and any of these functions are an integral component of this public event. The conceptual framework of the mega-event reconfigures the World Cup as a performative spectacle, involving the use of cultural symbols, multi-layered communication structures and differing time horizons. Depending on the arrangement of social actors, time levels and envisioned audiences, the display of “future Japan”, or how we must call it now, “future Japans”, at the occasion of the 2002 World Cup, inevitably varies. The next section will discuss a selection of Japan images that were presented, represented and even modeled by the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The selection is by no way exhaustive, but sketches the most important discourses of Japan at this particular occasion.

Efficient Japan

Facing the watching world, Japan was eager to present itself as a capable host of the world’s greatest singular sport spectacle. This ultimate aim involved major efforts on national and local levels, by officials, individuals, institutions, and other corporate actors to cope with the technical difficulties of managing an enterprise costing in the hundred-of-millions of dollars. Backed up by a well-developed infrastructure, political stability and a traditionally close working relationship between governments, bureaucracy and the private sector, the Japan World Cup Organizing Committee (JAWOC) envisaged no major problem in realizing this goal. The Japanese government monitored the progress of government support for tournament preparation through the meetings of the Vice Ministers World Cup Council and the relevant liaison council established under it with JAWOC representatives. Ministries also provided support for tournament preparation and management through holding discussions independently with relevant regional bodies with regard to immigration (immigration, customs, quarantine), security, travel, transport, accommodation, medical care, disaster prevention and so forth.

Yet prior to the tournament, the organizers experienced various moments of crises. The 1990s witnessed both the aftermath of Japan’s bubble economy and the Asian currency crisis, which impacted upon World Cup preparations. Currency fluctuations towards the dollar threatened to devaluate revenues from international ticket sales and FIFA’s lump-sum payment, which together amounted to roughly 60 per cent of forecasted revenues. Stagnant business performance caused by the recession bit into corporate sponsorship and severely cut into revenue streams of the government. In early 2002 only JPY 700 million out of an expected JPY 4.1 billion of sponsoring grants had been secured. To make ends meet, JAWOC was granted large subsidies from the local governments of the ten venue cities. Even though their treasuries were already exhausted from the expenses of building the stadium infrastructure (for a total of JPY 3.4 trillion), they were urged to spend another JPY 10 billion each for the JAWOC budget in 2001. Consent was enforced by stressing the importance of the operation: the Office for 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan in the Sports Bureau of the Ministry of Education put it as follows: “As with the Olympics, the understanding and cooperation of the people of Japan is vital to assuring the success of the tournament, an event of national importance”.

In order to prevent the national disgrace of disorganized games, JAWOC was also granted revenues from World Cup memorial stamp sales and a third of the entire allocation of Japan’s national football lottery. The toto scheme for the purpose of supporting local sport financing was formally introduced in March 2001 after long disputes on the moral effects of public gambling. JAWOC operated on a tight budget, cutting employee expenses and projects to the essential minimum, and it actually succeeded in making a surplus of JPY 5.5 billion (JAWOC 2003:54). In a joint statement issued in the last week of the tournament, the organizing committees of Japan and Korea and their national football associations expressed their satisfaction that the hosts “have been able to fulfill their responsibilities and to produce results as the host country”. In both countries, whereas the state was struggling with the repercussions of economic globalization and its neoliberal solutions, the success of staging the World Cup was interpreted and presented as an impressive model of effective collective action.

Hospitable Japan

The operational problems ahead of the tournament went by largely unnoticed by the distant observer. What the foreign visitors saw when the curtain was lifted for the kick-off, was what they probably had been expecting to see from Japan: ten impressive stadiums, representing the state of the art in stadium design and technology, a smoothly functioning domestic and international transport infrastructure, a well-trained staff of volunteers, smiling, patient, supportive. No wonder that FIFA was full of appreciation for the Asian display of hospitality and loudly applauded the “World Cup of Smiles” (JAWOC 2003:4-5), as it was later dubbed by FIFA president Blatter in bluntly orientalist rhetoric. Most host cities staged a number of cultural events for the visitors, and English language pamphlets were on display explaining regional highlights, event schedules and how to get around in town. When a group of German fans found themselves stranded in Shizuoka after the night’s last scheduled train to Tokyo already had left, a special late-night shinkansen train made an unscheduled stop-over to pick them up. Welcome desks at major transportation hubs and translation services at crucial points provided the necessary assistance to avoid such incidents.

Hospitality at large was at display in the stadiums. In all venue cities, seats were reserved for local school children who joined the adult residents in dutifully cheering for the guest team. This rather uncommon style of friendly football support was also prearranged by the municipalities. The rare opportunity of international encounters was one of the main motives for 84 municipal governments that offered themselves as candidates for base camp venues. The Japan Times (15 Jun 2002) quoted Takahashi Kōichi from the Tokamachi City Resort Promotion Office, which finally succeeded in attracting the Croatian team, saying, “How many times do you get a chance to host the World Cup in your country? We don’t want to miss this opportunity to give our children and people the chance to actually see great players in the world close-up. That, we believe, will become an asset for them and us. That’s more important than economic benefit”.

But as the Japanese press noted, many cities went to great lengths and expense to invite World Cup teams. A number of cases have been reported in which camp cities actually bought their guest teams, hoping that the investment would prop up the local economy. Kuroki Kazuyuki of the Saikai City World Cup base camp bidding committee commented, “We are hoping we can publicize our city to the nation and then in the future can invite J. League teams to our city for their training camps. But we should keep our budget within a range that people can comfortably accept as all the expense will come from our people’s taxes. Otherwise this will end up as a failure” (Japan Times, 15 Jun 2002). The expected economic benefits (cf. Harada 2002) never did arrive, but the governments did gain “human networks, football facilities and good memories” (Asahi Shinbun, 14 Jun 2002).

Many of the municipal government officials involved in the hosting of base camps for World Cup teams were dealing with non-Japanese people for the first time in their lives. Foreshadowing the intricacies of intercultural communication, they organized language courses, slide shows about their visitors’ home country, cultural courses like salsa dancing or African cooking. As plans in Japan tend to go down to the smallest possible detail, deliberate changes on part of the guest team made the experience frustrating at times. The case of the tiny village Nakatsue in Oita prefecture, which had secured the visit of the Cameroon squad, gained wide attention. As the guests’ arrival was delayed for some days, the entire population of 1,400 eagerly awaited the squad, as did the entire Japanese nation thanks to the media that had taken to the slightly absurd yet heart-warming story. As Fan’s thematic analysis of TV wide show coverage of the World Cup event has shown, this focus arguably served to reaffirm the sense of hospitality as a specific cultural trait of the entire Japanese nation among the TV audience, expanding by far the frontiers of little Nakatsue (Fan 2003).

In addition to the official welcome programs, numerous grass-root activities provided a particular atmosphere of hospitality catering to the needs of the international football traveler. All over Japan, voluntary organizations were founded by avid football lovers, among them many students and also foreign residents. “Salon 2002” was founded in 1997 as an information exchange network in Tokyo. “Spirit of Niigata” was established in the same year as a volunteer group to support the local football team Albirex. This group initiated the foundation of “Alliance 2002” which unified five other supporter groups. In their own words, “Alliance 2002” is a movement that has been organized to raise enthusiasm for the World Cup among people in Niigata through grass roots activities”. Other member groups include “Ultra Niigata” of which the primary concern is giving support to the National team, Niigata Shūyūkai (“Niigata Soccer Friend Club”) that plays in the Amateur Football League, and “Mokuhachi” (“Thursday 8 o’clock”), an open group of ever-changing people that meets every Thursday at 8 p.m. for a game of indoor football (futsal). One of the masterminds behind Alliance 2002 who works for a national financial company was quoted as saying: “I don’t want to be a mere ‘behind the goal’ fan, but a supporter who plays and enjoys soccer as sporting culture. We actively participate in it. And I wish such concepts and practices to establish roots in Niigata after the World Cup, even if my company moves me to another prefecture.” “Support Sendai” was established by a group of students particularly for the purpose of giving foreigners a memorable time while in town. Activities of these organisations included lecture series, discussion groups and networking with other groups. During the World Cup they initiated mini-football matches, a pace-fainting service, amateur stage presentations, intercultural exchange events like Karaoke or Niigata’s legendary Samurai Night, which attracted large crowds for a late-night post-match techno dance club.

While JAWOC made excessively use of its own 16,500 official volunteers, it balked at the idea of close cooperation with the fan networks. Ogura Junji, deputy general secretary of JAWOC, once said that “network members can support some small areas that JAWOC volunteers can’t cover, such as interpreting at convenience stores. I expect the official volunteers and the network volunteers to cooperate with each other”. But the strict organizational structure of JAWOC’s official volunteers forestalled the integration of the network members’ know-how. In how far intra-cultural differences in representing Japan are also at the root of this decision cannot be adequately assessed. Certainly the representation of global techno is in striking contrast to the official presentation of Japan’s cultural heritage.

Culturally rich Japan

In many venue cities, but also in central tourist spots such as Tokyo and Kyoto, museums and historic sites under the responsibility of the Ministry of Education were opened free of admission to foreign passport holders. In order to enrich the aesthetic experience with educational elements, pamphlets or captions in English were added to the Japanese description of the objects on display. In Ōita prefecture, shuttle busses took tourists to Hosenji Onsen, where they could watch the dance of the Genji and Heike fireflies that are raised locally. Kōbe’s famous flower clock tower was decorated with the tournament’s motif. In Ōsaka, visitors were invited to stroll through Shirokita Park to appreciate a unique collection of more than 13,000 hana shobu (Japanese irises) of 250 varieties. In Sapporo, the 2002 FIFA WORLD CUP Fan Village provided information about Japanese culture and staged various cultural events. Famous swords were at display in Saitama, pottery in Ibaragi, woodblock prints in Kamakura, pop art in Yokohama, Nō and Kyōgen in Niigata, and the library at the Kōdōkan in Tōkyō exhibited precious documents and photos dating from the founding of the Institute that laid the foundation for the advancement of judo. Some of these events were especially planned for the occasion of the World Cup, and some, like the traditional Japanese garden within the precincts of the International Media Centre in Yokohama, were installed only for the duration of the tournament.

Even though many of the cultural presentations were directed towards international travellers and the gaze of global broadcasters, their repercussions were much more effective among local audiences. It certainly needed more than a football fiesta to redirect global tourist streams; but four weeks of media advertisements were enough to redefine the local image of a host city competing with other regions for domestic visitors, long-term residents, central government expenditure and private investments. It was actually the culturally literate Japanese that fully appreciated the variety of local festivals, customs and costumes at display, whereas the subtle differences and variations inevitably escaped the mind of the uninitiated observer.

The most comprehensive presentation of a culturally rich Japan, however, took place at the final day of the tournament in front of 1.5 billion TV viewers. Immediately before the final game between Brazil and Germany, a show was staged in Yokohama International Stadium with Japanese drums, kimono-clad performers, mikoshi-shrines decorated with the national flag of the 32 participating countries, and a giant replica of Mount Fuji. A dramatic climax followed Brazil’s snatching the title crown when millions of colorful “dream origami cranes” poured into the arena. Under the guidance of the Ministry of Education, thousands of children from fifty elementary and junior high schools, together with boys and girls’ scouting organizations, the youth hostel association and the general public, had participated in folding the paper cranes, which are understood as a universal sign of goodwill and nowadays also as a symbol of peace. According to JAWOC’s final report, the “Wings of a dream project” was selected “because it enabled many citizens of the host country to participate in an event unique to Japan that would remain in the memories of people throughout the world. At the same time, it embodied a message of hope for humankind and an image of Japan as peaceful nation.”

Safe and safety-guarantying Japan

The peace motif was one of the few occasions in which Japan overtly brought political issues on the agenda. The only political element of the Japanese bid was the inclusion of Hiroshima as one of the host cities. The “city of peace” was, however, never put at the forefront of the Japanese bid. When the co-hosting decision afforded the reduction of venue cities, Hiroshima was among the five candidates marked out from the original list of fifteen. The city that will always be associated with the inhumanity of atomic warfare certainly was not in need of re-branding its image, and as it had hosted the Asian Games in 1994, it also was insignificant for the urban development plans of Japan’s construction industry lobby.

Football hooliganism, which was a major security issue in 1998 and at other previous World Cups, is only of minor importance to Japan where hardly any football fans go on the rampage. Rather, it was the fear of foreign hooligans stampeding through Japan’s suburbs that became a major concern to the organisers and riot police units. To improve on tactics for the unexpected, the Metropolitan Police Agencies in Seoul and Tokyo invited British police experts to assist with training in spring 2001. The Asahi Shinbun published a photograph of some dozen members of the riot police squad, dressed up as fanatic soccer hooligans, waving little Union Jack flags. The British Embassy in Tokyo was less amused and demanded an apology for the unfortunate use of a symbol of hooliganism. A writer for the Japanese boulevard magazine Shūkan Taishū likened the Japanese special police forces to the Japanese army as equally “lacking experience in combat”. In case the police failed to reassure their own people otherwise, shopkeepers in Japan could take out a special insurance policy against hooligan damage.

After September 11, 2001, a less visible yet much more violent threat to the finals came to the forefront. With the heavy reliance on air travel, security at airports and immigration procedures were planned to tighten, as well as an increase of security personnel, including armed forces, and the establishment of no-fly zones over the stadiums. The situation became even more earnest when the USA and China qualified. Seventy-nine per cent of Japanese respondents to a survey were somehow or very much concerned with the possibility of a terrorist attack, compared to 42 per cent in Korea who were not at all afraid (Asahi Shinbun, 1 Jan 2002). Japan finally boosted its security budget by 25 per cent to US$ 18.5 million. In February 2002, JAWOC’s Endō Yasuhiko said to the Asahi Shinbun that hooliganism and the threat of terrorist attacks still were the two most pressing problems the organizers had to tackle. JAWOC totally revised security measures inside the stadiums. People entering the stadium were appealed to bring as little as possible to the stadium and come three hours before kickoff to guarantee that everybody could arrive at their seats well in time despite safety checks with X-ray machines and metal detectors. JAWOC’s “rules for spectators and visitors to stadia and other facilities” included a detailed 17-point inventory of prohibited items, a list of 22 banned activities and information on recommended behavior in stadiums.

Thus the 2002 World Cup event was inextricably tied up with the intensification of security controls and the regulation of immigration in the name of counter-terrorism. Emphasising stadium security and venue security concerns allowed the Japanese police to openly introduce strict security acts under the pretext of ‘hooligan control’ at airports, public venues and amusement quarters in Tokyo’s metropolitan area. At the same time, authorities not only extended the Immigration Control And Refugee Recognition Act (Shutsunyūkoku Kanri oyobi Nanmin Nintei Hō) to enable the deportation of ‘hooligans’ (Asahi Shinbun, 13 Sep 2001), but also considered exercising control over ‘violent foreign NGOs’ (Asahi Shinbun, 14 Sep 2001). The latter action would have made it possible to prohibit the entry of certain organisations into Japan depending on how the history or background of an organisation was interpreted. For neighboring Chinese fans, visa restrictions also hampered travel to the World Cup. Japan exempted only the people of two Asian states from visa requirements compared with visa-free entrance to Korea for 22 countries from the same region. Ueno (2003:117) thus concludes that “behind the spectacle of the World Cup 2002 we find a relentless chauvinism, authoritarianism, xenophobic reaction and excessive security paranoia”. As neither football hooligans nor terrorists provided negative headlines, the Japanese state managed to communicate successfully its image as a strong and capable partner in security issues.

“Normal state” Japan

For decades, conservative politicians had pushed hard to rearm the country literally and symbolically. While their attempts to secure Japan a permanent seat at the United Nation’s Security Council failed, they succeeded in expanding the power and legitimacy of the Japanese Self Defense Forces. The desire for normal state status was partially stilled when in August 1999 the Japanese Government, still facing fierce opposition, passed legislation that formally designated kimigayo as the national anthem and the hinomaru as the national flag. The World Cup became the testing ground for a massive symbolic display of state-sponsored nationalism in the face of international media. But in contrast to the highly disputed usage of these symbols at schools, public ceremonies and domestic sport events, singing the kimigayo in the stadiums and waving the hinomaru in-midst of thousands of excited fans, all dressed in the blue national team jerseys, was considered an expression of a safe and sound form of nationalism. Particularly for young adults and teens, Japan’s most important segments of football supporters, the World Cup provided an opportunity to overcome the diffidence many people had felt about overt displays of nationalism and expressions of national identity since 1945.

Particularly in comparison with their South Korean counterparts, who aggressively sought to celebrate Korea’s coming-of-age as a mature and technologically developed society by fully supporting the national verve in the streets, local authorities in Japan showed a rather appeasing attitude as if embarrassed by the all-too straight-forward display of patriotism. Whereas millions of Korean football fans were provided with public viewing areas by their government, occasions for mass celebration were limited to selected and secluded areas in Japan, even though demand was sky-rocketing. Massive squads of riot police, who had been dispatched to cope with foreign hooligans, showed some signs of irritation in dealing instead with the young Japanese that easily acted out the transnational rituals of victorious football fans: pouring into the streets, ignoring (and sometimes climbing on top of) traffic signals, waving flags, fraternizing with complete unknowns, and chanting “Nippon! Nippon! Nippon!” through the night. Without the direct involvement of the state, whose representatives later praised the young generation’s patriotic sentiments, football had become a symbolic battleground for a “new Japan”.

On a very practical level, the co-hosting decision inevitably pushed the government toward renegotiating Japan’s relations with her former colony Korea and, in a long term perspective, toward repositioning Japan’s image among the Asian nations. In his first press conference after being nominated general secretary of JAWOC, Endō Yasuhiko stated that unless both nations succeeded, the World Cup could not be declared a success. Only close cooperation would reach this goal, and by way of working together, the interchange between the countries was expected to deepen (JAWOC 2003:48). Meetings between the organizing committees were held once every other month from January 1999. Similarly, on a working group level the staff in charge of particular areas met frequently at the respective secretariat offices in Tokyo and Seoul. Governors and mayors from the host cities in Japan and Korea attended two conferences in 1999 and 2000. On this occasion, they adopted a joint communiqué encouraging increased solidarity, closer cooperation and intercultural exchange.

Bilateral relations started to improve after South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung’s “sunshine policy” de-iced the frosty relationship with the former colonialist. In consequence, South Korea opened its doors to some aspects of Japanese popular culture, and both countries sported a successful rapprochement policy at the diplomatic level. Since the Seoul Summer Olympic games in 1988, an increasing number of Japanese and Korean local governments had started exchanges. By the end of March 2000, seven prefectures and 75 municipalities in Japan had signed sister city agreements with South Korean regions. Tourist flows between the countries intensified, reaching all-time highs in the years prior to the World Cup. In 2000, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications started a three-year subsidy program for exchange activities. Among others, it subsidized exhibitions of fine arts, kendo and demonstrations of traditional Japanese culture in Korea and Korean festivals in Otsu and other Japanese cities. Both parties understood well that there was an opportunity to make effective use of the World Cup as moral leverage in diplomatic relations.

The Japanese policy of forcible prostitution of Korean women during the Pacific War, which became a hot issue together with the history text book issue and blunt right-wing jingoism among members of the political elite, all threatened to interrupt the short honeymoon period, particularly as Chung Mong-Joon, chairman of the Korean Organizing Committee and FIFA vice-president, was always quick to retaliate and criticise Japan for being insensitive to its former victims and for not doing enough to mend diplomatic ties. Because South Korea was equally locked into co-hosting, for Japan the World Cup presented a highly welcomed means of re-orienting Japan’s relations with its neighbour toward the future without having to make the apologies and compensation that South Korea formerly demanded as a prerequisite to such development. Even Chung Mong-Joon finally abandoned his instinctive retaliations against Japan and expressed his deep gratitude to the Japanese “that greatly helped promote and build the atmosphere of friendship between the two countries” (JAWOC 2003:25). Indeed, the bilateral impact of the World Cup may yet turn out to be its most pervasive heritage.

Various opinion polls conducted in both countries since the co-hosting decision have revealed that the gap between Japan and its nearest neighbour has narrowed. In 1996, hostile feelings (kirai) towards the other were more prominent among Koreans (65 per cent vs. 17 per cent), though more than half of the Japanese sample said that they did not feel close to Korea (shitashimi ga nai). One out of three Japanese, but only every sixth Korean, expected an improvement of the atmosphere (Lee 1997:146). Five years later, 57 per cent in Korea had an unfavourable impression toward Japan, compared to 15 per cent in Japan, and 64 per cent of respondents in Japan and 48 per cent in Korea expected the event to benefit bilateral friendship (Asahi Shinbun, 1 Jan 2002). Whereas the overwhelming majority in both countries explicitly stated no interest in active interaction with the other’s cultural products in 1996, the popularity of Japanese popular culture products in Korea and the Korea boom in Japan from 2004 (see Gossmann and Kirsch, this volume) clearly indicate how important the World Cup has been in improving relations.

Harmonisation took place even on the football ground. For Korea, football always enjoyed a special position as a sport at which they could regularly defeat the Japanese, and thus sustain some national prestige (Lee 1997). Occasional defeats by Japan were even reported to impact on productivity and workers’ susceptibility to manufacturing errors. When Japan was eliminated from the second round of the World Cup, and South Korea marched on, the Korea Herald ran the headline “Korea makes history, Japan is history”. But many dissenting voices offered their sympathy for the co-host. “I hoped that both Japan and South Korea would advance to the second round to prove that Asian soccer is not weak any more. I wished that Japan had made it to the semifinals as well,” said one South Korean after his team lost to Germany in the semifinal. In Japan, support seemed to have been redirected toward Korea when the Japanese national team dropped out of the tournament. Matches of the Korean squad were closely followed by mass television audiences recording rates of up to 48.3 per cent for the semi-final. While the media played a crucial role in hyping the “Asian football identity”, the willingness to take sides with the Korean underdog fighting the powerhouses was another illustration of the apparent plasticity of Japanese loyalties.

Diversified, polycentric Japan

Japan came to its patriotic revival over night, even though there is some evidence that nationalist-minded lobby groups like the Shinto Youth Association have been involved in the production and preparation of “petit bourgeois nationalism”. In contrast to the South Korean marketing campaign that took the World Cup as an opportunity to re-brand the nation as an advanced (post-) modern society and sophisticated economy, Japan’s officials seemed to be content with celebrating a coming-of-age ceremony for Japanese football. For them, hosting the World Cup was the ultimate objective of a process that began with the formation of the J-League, the professional football league, in 1993. There was a sense of regional pride in that football’s world governing body, FIFA, had long intimated that the 2002 World Cup would be held in Asia, and so Japan having led the region economically inevitably wanted to lead Asia in this particular sporting field. The surprising co-hosting decision severely limited any hopes that Japan and South Korea had adopted in this regard, and Japan concentrated its ambitions on the playing field. As no host so far had been eliminated in the first round, advancing to the second therefore was a matter of national importance.

The media certainly played a key role in this respect since they bombarded the Japanese public with various discourses that constructed distinctive conceptions of “the nation” and “the people” through comments relating to football playing styles and match results. Various connotations coining the “inbound orientation” – including widely used phrases such as wareware no kuni (our country) and wareware Nihonjin (we Japanese) – surfaced in media reports and were projected on discourses of football, politics and national identity, when they entered the football talk of connoisseurs and amateurs alike. Football folklore generally transforms athletes and teams into national symbols and the playing field into an arena, where international relations are expressed and experienced through the collective memories of national supremacy and competitive rivalry. Allying with the general image of efficient Japan, traditional and corporate cultures were mobilized as metaphorical repositories to capture the distinctive nature of Japan’s national playing style (Arimoto 2004).

Japan appeared to be satisfied with becoming a respectable part of the “football family“, which is the official FIFA jargon for nothing less than the world, and as soon as this goal had been achieved by finishing the group round, the Japanese national team seemed to lose direction and confidence. What followed then took many observers by surprise: the seeming ease with which football supporters were ready to shift the focus of their support from one country to the other. Such a plasticity of loyalty is very unusual among committed fans and particularly strange when issues of national identities and partisan spectatorship are invited to merge. “Doing Englishness” became the most evident example for “outbound orientation”. The Japanese enthusiastic support for England was partly caused by a cultural inferiority complex towards the motherland, the honba, of football, and partly it was elicited by the mediated hype about Beckham. Since donning a jersey with a St. George Cross had basically the same function as dressing in Brazil’s yellow shirt or the blue of Japan, the mass performance of blue-dressed Japanese supporters at the World Cup arguably did not signify a nationalist affirmation of the Japanese state but rather an uncritical adherence to the international script of football support (Manzenreiter 2006).

Hosting the World Cup as a rite de passage also involved bringing football to regions where previously no professional sports had existed. In the past, Japanese professional baseball had been concentrated around Tokyo, Osaka and few more major cities. JFA and JAWOC set out to re-define Japan’s regions through professional football. Throughout the 1990s, football in Japan was utilized as a prime mover for regional development. The launch of the J-League was inextricably linked with economic restructuring policies and the fostering of local identities as a counter-weapon against metropolitan concentration and rural depopulation (Hirose 2004). Inside Japan, the World Cup bid was communicated in identical terms, and JAWOC as well as the local authorities of the host cities emphasized regional economic regeneration and sports infrastructure development as two out of five of their major goals (Maeda 2001). In fact, the massive infrastructure investments in ten brand new stadiums with seating capacity that exceeded average league demand by far, was coined as the last vital signs of the Japanese construction state, defying the consequences of mounting public debt and dried out government budgets.

Thanks to the creation of the two-division football league and the World Cup, which provided the infrastructure, major but peripheral cities like Sapporo, Niigata or Ōita became home town of professional sports teams for the first time, and the teams soon acquired a central role of community life in these regions. Many more municipalities were keen on fostering hometown teams to promote their localities and to benefit from visitors and media attention. Ishikawa Yoshinobu, governor of the prefecture of Shizuoka, spoke of such value of sports as follows: “At the time of the World Cup, a number of citizens voluntarily planned and organized various events. Also, citizens worked together with government officials to jointly organize many events. The World Cup served as a kind of pilot project to see how the local government can and should cooperate with nonprofit organizations or other members of the private sector in coping with various problems in the future. This has been possible thanks to the overwhelming attraction of the World Cup that has enabled a number of people to share the same objectives and goals.”


Reconfiguring the 2002 World Cup as a mega-event, I have shown: first, how the World Cup has been put to specific usages for either addressing local or global audiences; second, the importance of mega-events for identity construction processes in late-modern societies; third, how the World Cup has been utilized by elites to promote dominant ideologies, to mark progress and progressiveness and to establish meaningful continuities with the past; and fourth, how publics employed the event for their specific needs, including the exploration of others’ identities and the celebration of new identities.

For official Japan, the World Cup served first of all as a coming-of-age ceremony in football terms. Hosting the world as equal among equals had already been an ideological determinant for Japan’s return to the community of nations at the occasion of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; four decades later, hoisting a sports mega-event promised Japan the desired global cultural citizenship status. Therefore, the World Cup was regarded as a useful meaning multiplier benchmarking Japan’s “eternal” qualities, such as organizational efficiency, hospitality, reliability, safety, and cultural distinctiveness. It still is open whether the 2002 World Cup actually will fulfill its role as a hallmark for future generations looking back to the point from where Korean-Japanese relations clearly acquired a new quality. Despite the mutual distrust and tepid sympathy between the nations having returned to normalcy from World Cup heights, the World Cup as a mega-event has the cultural power to symbolize the change of affairs in public memory even if these changes have taken place at some earlier time.

It is perhaps not unrealistic to assume that the struggles for international recognition, both in political and in sporting terms, the need for inter-regional repositioning of the nation and the construction and presentation of Japan’s cultural richness as its most enduring image presented to outsiders as well as insiders are not under any real threat of change in a consideration of Japanese possible futures. These anchors to negotiating nation in contemporary global life are deeply lodged in the relationship that the nation state has had with sport since the 19th century. Despite a largely changed geopolitical context, there are no qualitative changes in the 2002 world cup example that challenge the hegemony of the nation-state model. If anything, the story of 2002 is one of tired and well-worn maneuvers to find convincing and sustaining representation.

Despite this, the maneuvers gesture to struggles that reflect a new need to structure and find relative and legitimate place in an ever-closer set of international and inter-cultural contexts. After all, while the flexibility of Japan’s national image was not necessarily under challenge, the focus on improving bilateral ties between Japan and South Korea did represent a search for a new configuration of inter-regional positioning. The mega-event of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan can thus perhaps best be seen as going as far as it is possible to go, in a world of late-modernity, to manipulate real and perceived images, identities and relationships. Ultimately, however, its limitations in providing the raw material for individuals and groups to truly find common place despite their regional differences, may lie in the very blueprint of the function of the mega-event (dating back to the 19th century configuration) – to represent and ritualize a cultural nationalism. If Japan’s possible futures hold formulas to go beyond such representations, they will need to lead, and not to follow, the perceived dominance of international organizations, such as FIFA in this example, which themselves mediate such events based on ranked models of the world divided up into nations and East/West entities. Economically and managerially, Japan has the resources to begin to define and put into place the architecture for mega-events of the 21st century – events which may choose to find new forms of representation beyond the putting forward of a cultural nationalism. But whether it has the imagination, creativity and confidence to step out first into this unchartered arena of performance will be up to the people of Japan in the years and decades to come.


Ahn, M. S. 1990. The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games: a critical commentary. PhD, University of Illinois.

Alkemeyer, T. 1996a. Körper, Kultur und Politik: von der „Muskelreligion“ Pierre de Coubertins zur Inszenierung der Macht in den Olympischen Spielen von 1936 [Body, culture and politics: from Coubertin’s ‚muscular religion‘ to the staging of power at the Berlin Olympic Games 1936]. Frankfurt/Main: Campus.


Alkemeyer, T. 1996b. Die Wiederbegründung der Olympischen Spiele als Fest einer Bürgerreligion [The reestablishment of the Olympic Games as civic celebration]. In Olympische Spiele – die andere Utopie der Moderne. Olympia zwischen Kult und Droge, edited by G. Gebauer. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 65-100.


Arimoto, T. 2004. Narrating football. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 5(1): 63-76.


Bourdieu, P. 1992. Programm für eine Soziologie des Sports. [Outline of a sociology of sports]. In Rede und Antwort, by P. Bourdieu. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 193-207.


Da Matta, R. 1987. Hierarchy and equality in anthropology and word sport: a perspective from Brazil. In The Olympics and cultural exchange, edited by S.P. Kang, J. J. MacAloon and R. da Matta. Hanyang University, Seoul: Institute for Ethnological Studies, 43-66.


Fan, S. 2003. W-hai to Nihon no jigazō, soshite Kankoku to iu tasha [Japan’s self-image, Korea as Other and the World Cup]. Masukomyunikēshon Kenkyū, 62, 23-39.


Gebhardt, W. 2001. Feste, Feiern und Events: Zur Soziologie des Außergewöhnlichen [Festivals, celebrations and events: concerning the sociology of the extraordinary]. In Events. Soziologie des Außergewöhnlichen, edited by W. Gebhardt, R. Hitzler and M. Pfadenhauer. Opladen: Leske + Budrich, 17-31.


Giddens, A. 1990. The consequences of modernity. Oxford: Polity Press.


Handelman, D. 1990. Models and mirrors: towards an anthropology of public events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Harada, M. 2002. Supōtsu ibento no keizaigaku: mega ibento to hōmu chiimu ga toshi o kaeru [The economics of sports events: mega-events and home teams change the city]. Tōkyō: Heibonsha.


Harvey, D. 1990. The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.


Hirose, I. 2004. The making of a professional football league: the design of the J. League system. In Football goes east: business, culture and the people’s game in East Asia, edited by W. Manzenreiter and J. Horne. London: Routledge, 38-53.


Hoberman, J. 1993. Sport and ideology in the post-communist age. In The changing politics of sport, edited by L. Allison. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 15-36.


Horne, J. & Manzenreiter, W. (eds) 2002. Japan, Korea and the 2002 Football World Cup. London: Routledge.


Japan World Cup Organizing Committee (JAWOC). 2003. 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Tōkyō: JAWOC.


Lee, J. Y. 1997. Wārudo kappu kyōsai to Kankoku shakai. Kokusai kankei ni dono yō na eikyō o motarasu no ka. [Co-hosting and Korean society. Questioning the influence on international relations]. In Henyō suru gendai shakai to supōtsu, edited by Nihon Supōtsu Shakai Gakkai. Kyōto: Sekai Shisō Sha, 138-147.


MacAloon, J. 1984. Introduction: cultural performances, cultural theory. In Rite, drama, festivals: Rehearsals toward a theory of cultural performance, edited by J. MacAloon. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1-15.


Manning, F. 1983.  Cosmos and chaos:  celebration in the modern world. In The celebration of society:  perspectives on contemporary cultural performance, edited by F. Manning. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 3-30.


Manzenreiter, W. 2006. Sport spectacles, uniformities and the search for identity in late modern Japan. Sociological Review, 54(2): 144-159.


Mōri, Y. 2003. Wārudokappu to nashonarizumu. Kankoku to Nihon no genron no hikaku kara [The World Cup and nationalism. Comparing statements from Korea and Japan]. In W-hai sakkā no nekkyū to isan. 2002 nen Nikkan Wārudokappu o megutte, edited by S.H. Whang. Kyōto: Sekai Shisōsha, 120-141.


Nora, P. 1989. Between memory and history: les lieux de mémoire. Representations. 26: 7-25.


Ogasawara, H. 2003. The Banality of Football: ‘Race’, Nativity, and How Japanese Football Critics Failed to Digest the Planetary Spectacle. In Football goes east: business, culture and the people’s game in East Asia, edited by W. Manzenreiter and J. Horne. London: Routledge, 165-179.


Roche, M. 2000. Mega-events and modernity. London: Routledge.


Ueno, T. 2003. Toward a trans-local comparative analysis of the 2002 World Cup. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 5(2): 115-123.


Ushiki, S. &  Kuroda, I. (eds.). 2003. Wārudo kappu no mediagaku [Media studies of the World Cup]. Tōkyō: Taishūkan Shoten.


Tagsold, C. 2002. Die Inszenierung der kulturellen Identität in Japan: das Beispiel der Olympischen Spiele Tokyo 1964 [The production of cultural identity in Japan: the example of the Tokyo Olympics 1964]. München: Iudicium.


Whang, S. H. 2004. Football, fashion and fandom: sociological reflections on the 2002 World Cup and collective memories in Korea. In Football goes east: business, culture and the people’s game in East Asia, edited by W. Manzenreiter and J. Horne. London: Routledge, 148-164.


About the author



Leave a Comment