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NUFC in Japan Part I
In his first of an exclusive series for, We are Nippon author Simon Moran charts the lot of the Japanese Mag.

WBOB - Whitley Bay Osaka Boys

It's raining heavily as a summer downpour increases in intensity. What started off as a lark in the park with a few beers, a ball, international bon homie and an assured thrashing, has turned into an all-too-familiar, lifelong-felt disappointment.

We're trailing 0-3 away to unfancied opposition.

With three minutes left, a friend wonders if anybody in Newcastle is out on a balcony, tuned into a crackly short-wave radio, listening to the scores on BBC World Service, to complete the sense of role reversal.

With just one minute left, Keith Gillespie suddenly jaunts down the right, crosses and Les Ferdinand puts it away.

Drunk on Asahi Super Dry and cheap happoshu, we're a happy lot. The final whistle sounds and we crowd above the tunnel encouraging the lads, telling them it all starts proper next week.

We get waves, nods, rounds of applause and Les Ferdinand mouths, "It's hot. It's hot," as he goes off.

Gamba loves Newcastle. A bit. Attendance 6,949

It's August 4th 1996 and we have just watched Newcastle United, who finished second in the Premier League and then signed Alan Shearer in an attempt to win it, lose 1-3 to Gamba Osaka, hitherto perennial J.League also-rans.

This was the great Newcastle United we had told our friends, colleagues, students and teammates about.

The Newcastle, before the advent of the Internet and satellite television, whose results would have to wait until the Monday morning Japan Times or Daily Yomiuri, unless we made an expensive call home. (The lad with the costly short-wave radio was actually an Arsenal fan.)

Still, it's a world away from the last game I had attended, the 1992/93 promotion season opener, 3-2 at home to Southend United; Barry Venison no-back-pass shimmies and a Paul Bracewell belter. My friend's stereo was stolen from his car on Claremont Road while we were at the game and I left the country two weeks later.

I later arrived in Osaka in September, 1995. My friend had given me that season's iconic shirt as a keepsake and to arrive in style. When I wore it, no one other than my football teammates knew what it was.

I found a job and a room, bought a phone line (a land line; purchase required); begged and borrowed furniture and appliances and settled down to watch the season highlights I'd brought over on VHS before sharing with mates.

Black and white lines moved up and down the screen, the TV hissed, and high-pitched music and voices accompanied an unintelligible picture.

I had just learned Japan used the NTSC VHS format, and the UK, PAL, meaning my videos were unplayable without conversion by an expensive, specialist machine. The Arsenal fan apparently had one.

After the Gamba match, Keegan told the press: "It was poor. Simple as that."

Konbini happoshu happy shoppers

 In Osaka bedsit life, before the advent of the Internet and the mobile phone, I had no access to live football on TV, no highlights programme; the results were in Monday's paper, international calls cost over a Pound per minute and the only short-wave radio and VHS converter were in the hands of an Arsenal fan.

Keegan: "This was a tour before what we hope is going to be a championship-winning season."

Just what have a I let myself in for?


Happoshu (発泡酒) foaming liquor, is a low-malt, low-tax "beer" with less than 67% malt content, sold in 350ml and 500ml cans at the local konbini (コンビニ, convenience store).

There are many excellent real beers (ビール), including the all-malt Premium Malts and Yebisu; seasonal specials and one-off products abound in Japan. 

Family Mart (
ファミマ)your correspondent's konbini of choice, has recently released Grand Time, a 6% happoshu with an all malt beer feel for just over a quid per 500ml can. The local constabulary have been informed.

Konbini (コンビニ, convenience stores) are everywhere in Japan, and truly are convenient:
send and receive parcels, withdraw and send money, buy food and drink, pay bills, ship luggage and golf clubs, make prints and copies, buy concert, bus and movie tickets, iTunes and other gift cards; free Wi-Fi and delicious, fresh coffee at 50p a cup.

Those that sell alcohol (and not all do) have a large red
(sake, alcohol) outside and for 1980s Viz readers, たばこ(tabako) is tabs. Konbini are pricier than supermarkets.

Simon Moran caught the 308 from Whitley Bay in 1992 and settled in Japan in 1995, first Osaka, now Kyoto. Entrepreneur, publisher, former associate editor of the Kansai Time Out, and occasional freelance journalist, his byline has appeared in the Japan Times, Four Four Two, the Guardian, and Scootering. 

Simon's blog is here: 

Simon's book "We Are Nippon" is available for GBP 8.99 with free P&P (UK and Japan) and GBP 1.50 donations each to the Newcastle West End Foodbank and Wor Flags. Also available worldwide. Order here:



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