Main Page An Auspicious Formation
NUFC in Japan Part III
In his third exclusive story for, We are Nippon author Simon Moran struggles to keep up with The Entertainers after reaching Osaka. 

I have two rooms in a rooming house, a six-mat tatami room with an adjoining kitchenette. Tatami mats are modern versions of rice straw and rush matting, measuring approximately 6 by 3 feet, and laid out auspiciously to form a T at the junction, rather than an inauspicious grid.

I have no shower or toilet of my own, they are all shared. Old-fashioned squat toilets and an honesty box system for the shower at 100 yen (63p) a time.

I've secured a job teaching English at a small, private school up the road above a flower
shop. I'd planned on doing my CELTA before I arrived, but then wouldn't have been able to afford the airfare.

My lack of paper qualifications aren't a hindrance and expectations appear low. Training
consists of being shown the cupboard where the textbooks, the schedule and my file are kept and I'm then left to my own devices. Neither I nor my new students know on earth what we are doing. I make a plan to observe the outgoing teacher.

Before arriving, I'd borrowed a BBC travel Japanese book and cassette from the library and learned:

"Arigato gozaimasu."

"Here You Are."
"Thank You."

"Are wa nani desu ka?"
"Are wa Tokyo Tawa- desu."

"What's that?"
"That's Tokyo Tower."

I've already been through immigration and Tokyo is 300 miles away. I have no chance to use the only other phrase I know. 

The television I inherited with the room is an old, 15-inch colour set but only has terrestrial channels. Naturally, they're all in Japanese and I can't understand a word. 

There are a couple of satellite channels I can't receive, but there's no football on them anyway. Firmly in the land of baseball, in late 1995, there is no football to be seen on any TV.

I'm in GMT +9. Games kick off at midnight. I don't have a radio, which I couldn't
understand if I did, but would realise there weren't any results broadcast if I had and I could.

It's bizarre, but for the first time in my life, connected to broadcast media in a modern
country, I still can't get a sniff of a live score or result. Occasionally, a friend contacts the Arsenal fan with the short wave radio. He's a good lad, but it's a bit cheeky calling him up at 2am for the results.

The choice of the local English newspapers is basically between the Japan Times or the Daily Yomiuri. The Japan Times says it has "all the news without fear of favor." This doesn't ring quite true, and though it's marginally better than the Daily Yomiuri, the latter includes UK newspaper articles on a Sunday.

I plump for a subscription to the Daily Yomiuri, ignoring its right-wing politics. On
Saturdays it comes with about four inches of free advertising pamphlets I can't read that go straight in the bin. It does, however, have the football results on a Monday morning.

I work Tuesday through Saturday and usually meet friends in town on Saturday night. This means either a rush for the last train home, just before midnight, or the occasional all-nighter, waiting for the trains to start again at 5:30 in the morning. It seems an awful extravagance to fork out for a taxi ride home, costing about 10,000 yen, 63 pounds, or about four hours' work.

The newspaper is delivered by a man on a scooter around 5am. I'm never up that early, but The Yomiuri reports things are going well. Very well. Ferdinand is tucking them away; we have Gallic flair and the indefatigable Peter Beardsley. Our very own auspicious formation.

A letter arrives from a friend; the opening greeting is, "We are top of the league!"
October and November pass, and we are still top come December. Another parcel for arrives Christmas. 

This one's bigger and it has a Toffs replica shirt, the 1970s Macdonald shirt. I wear it successfully once, for a delicious dalliance with a Brazilian dancer on New Year's
Eve in Moga - Modern girl - a bar and club frequented by foreigners. I don't really want to wash it after that, but when I do, it shrinks.

January arrives and I can't believe how cold it is. It gets as low as minus 3 and I have no
heating, save an inherited three-bar electric fire I wonder if I can afford to use. I can see my breath; the condensation on the windows freezes.

We see off Arsenal, Coventry and Bolton and unbelievably are 12 points clear at the top of the table. The tatami mats are doing their job and this must surely be the most auspicious of all years.

I pick up some extra work at a Sharp factory, which necessitates an early Monday morning departure. Running down the stairs at Korien Station on the Keihan Line, hungover, sweating and late for work, I stop in my tracks and teach the waiting salarymen and office ladies on the platform some Anglo Saxon instead of English as I learn we've gone out of the FA Cup at home to Chelsea on penalties.

February arrives and so does Asprilla! Really? This seems to be a fanciful rumour but is
confirmed on an expensive call home There's a problem with the water in my rooms. Investigating, I pull up the tatami, then the floorboards but can't find the pipes. 

I do find the skeleton of what must be a tanuki, the Japanese raccoon-dog, a common animal that also appears in folklore as a shape-shifting, mischievous, often drunk and carousing character.

I leave it be and replace the floorboards and tatami, as auspiciously as possible, hoping I've not disturbed the wa, or harmony.

In February, we wobble. In March, Cantona steals the points in a smash and grab. Results and reports show the gap closing. We're second when I make a short trip to Guam and finally get to see a live game. Liverpool away. We're 2-1 up at half time; Ferdinand and Ginola. Second half Liverpool peg one back but Asprilla makes it 3-2! I jump up and down on the bed, drunk on delirium and a cheap six- pack. 

This is it, surely, the most auspicious of years and I'm more than a little sorry I'm not
there to drink it all in. Then we lose. We're down to the last few games and I can feel the tension, even here. On the other side of the world, Batty puts his foot over the ball and in a broadcast we can't see, Keegan rants, loving it: They've got to go to Middlesbrough and get something. And we have to get something against Spurs.

A 4pm Sunday kick-off is midnight for us. I'm at a friend's, one of the WBOBs, and we've
managed to set-up a telephone relay system from the UK. There's nothing to watch or listen to, nothing to focus on; we just fret and wonder in silence, waiting for the phone to ring.

They're one up; two up. We're one down. We pull one back. We hope.

They're three up.

It's over.

The disappointment is awful, but worse, it's deathly silent. There's just me and a friend I've known since I was 12, half the world away, disconsolate, but with nobody else to share it with, nobody to commiserate with, no one awake around us, never mind anyone to understand. We can't go to the pub to drown our sorrows as there aren't any and it's 2 o'clock in the morning.

We get a couple of
cheap cans of happoshu from the nearby konbini.

Ah well, there's always next year. Cheers.

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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Page last updated 24 June, 2024