Main Page Broadcast Interruptus
NUFC in Japan Part IV
In his third exclusive story for, We are Nippon author Simon Moran struggles 
with broadcasts abroad.

Two weeks after the Gamba game, a new season starts. The challenges following the 96-97 season are repeated for 95-96, though with a couple of key changes.

I sign up for an international telephone call-back service. It works by dialing a local number, which connects to an international digital network, which then calls you back. You enter the country code and destination number, and viola, via late 90s VoIP, you're calling the Toon at 10p a minute, rather than a quid.

Now, not only can I bother family and friends cheaply when homesick or tipsy, but live
updates don't need to be saved for special occasions.

Though very special occasions do arrive. Top come October, we beat Man United 5-0, and as Albert chips in the final goal, the call is answered: "Pick a player, any player."

The Yomiuri reports are going well. Not only have I learned enough Japanese to ask for the flyers to be taken out, on rainy days the paper arrives wrapped in thin plastic to ensure my reading is unspoiled. Top throughout November, we wobble a little.

The author's living room, with kotatsu in summer setting, 1998

For winter, I've been given a kotatsu, a traditional piece of furniture, consisting of a low,
wooden table frame, standing around 18 inches high, with a heater fixed underneath. 

This is covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, with a table-top of about four-by-four feet placed on top. Sitting on a cushion atop the chilly tatami floor, legs snugly tucked underneath, it becomes difficult to move very far.

I celebrate a working, somewhat lonely Christmas. Here, it's really just Wednesday,
December 25th and my students don't grasp why I'm a little grumpy.

My fifth consecutive Christmas away from home, parcels have been replaced by token gifts and very welcome bank deposits.

Returning from work, I cook a solo Christmas dinner in an 'oven-toaster' and, having eschewed happoshu and taken to atsukan (heated sake) for the winter, I tuck myself under the kotatsu and keep my chokko (cup) topped up from the tokkuri (porcelain flask.)

When heating sake, the trick is to ensure the temperature of the bottom of the filled cup is the same to the touch as the earlobe. Luckily, my microwave has a setting for this.

A tokkuri and chooko, pictured recently

The Boxing day loss is followed by a thumping of Spurs and Leeds and all is well.

Over New Year, the main winter holiday, the temple at the end of my street, famous for road transport blessings, is packed. On the advice of a friend, I step out on the second Monday of the year, Seijin no Hi, Coming of Age Day, when those aged 20 celebrate reaching adulthood. The new young men gather in suits; the women in beautiful kimono and fur winter scarves, looking brightly to their future.

Fine Young Adults

It's freezing cold. I warm up on atsukan under the kotatsu preparing to go back to work on the 7th. On Wednesday the 8th, I arrive home after working late to see the light flashing on my answer machine. It's my dad: "Keegan says he's decided he doesn't want to be a manager anymore. What now?"

What, indeed?

Dalglish plays on with Keegan's team, but we hover off the top. Coming second again, the hurt is less keen than last year, somewhat expected and accompanied by much less fanfare. A 5-0 win over Forest at the end of the season puts us in the Champions League.

The next season brings the other significant change in following from afar: satellite

To date, I've only been able to access the occasional bilingual broadcasts of news, sports
events like Wimbledon and dross such as Beverly Hills 90210. The Wimbledon broadcasts
are often interrupted by the rainy season's heavy rains.

Perfect TV and J Sky B launch, Perfect TV showing the Premier League.

I spend around 25,000 yen (then 130 pounds/10 hours' work) on a tuner and satellite dish. I can get Sky News free and some live Premiership games, broadcast in English.

Some have Japanese commentary, necessitating learning new words such as midorushuuto (middle-shoot, long range shot), hedingushuuto (heading shoot, header) boranchi (defensive midfielder/sweeper, from the Brazilian Portuguese, volante) as I watch the raibu sakka (live soccer, sakka from the American English pronunciation of soccer, football.)

Still largely pre-Internet, I apply for the weekly broadcast schedule update service via fax. I get a fax each Thursday evening of that weekend's schedule. Newcastle are not often on it.

No one really knows who we are, and Japanese sakka fans follow star players and star teams. Still it's all a bloody revelation until I get the news our Champions League games are not broadcast. It's difficult to fathom. There's a list of significant cultural events I've missed since leaving home: BSE, the Manchester bombings, a Labour Landslide, the death of Princess Diana, and Tino's hat-trick against Barcelona.

Things seem to fizzle out after that, we're mid-table and the glamour has gone, replaced by unknowns and has-beens. We lurch from draw to loss, but with Shearer back we progress in the FA Cup.

For the semi-final, I have a small crowd round at mine. At half time it's 0-0 and as the second half kicks off, the phone rings. It's my dad: "How about that then!?"

Our broadcast is delayed, an hour behind real time. It was an unintentional spoiler, but the joy is undiminished at the result. We're in our first FA cup final since 1974, one I watched aged six. I'll have another gathering, including the Arsenal fan.

On the morning of the final, the Yomiuri is ominously wrapped in plastic. It's warm but grey as we meet later near the station for dinner and drinks. As we leave for the short walk to mine, the clouds are dark with ugly promise.

The game kicks off in bright Wembley sunshine, but we are poor. It starts raining a little, then suddenly turns very heavy, pelting down loudly outside. The broadcast stops. Resetting the tuner has no effect. It's as if a satellite has been knocked out of the sky by malign forces.

I dial, get the call back and the phone is answered impatiently. It's my dad. As he watches the game, leaning into the front room from the hall back in Whitley Bay, he relays commentary to me, and I to my guests. It's not easy.

Five minutes in, the rain eases and the broadcast comes back on.

Overmars; some promise, a flurry, the woodwork shaved; Anelka. We lose 0-2.

I've missed the emotion and joy of promotion, and now suffered a three-season succession of big losses - two Premier League second places, and now a Cup Final, and missed our best European night ever.

How does this keep happening? Was Keegan right? Is the solo Magpie on the badge a curse?

When things were going well, I used to joke I'd stay away to make sure they continued.
Perhaps I should go back. A friend finally reckons there is no correlation between his
superstitious wearing of certain shirts and actual results.

Trying not to gloat

I give the small bottle of champagne I'd bought to the Arsenal fan and congratulate him.
Outnumbered 10-to-1, he does his best not to gloat.

One day soon, surely we can celebrate as winners?

At the end of the season, the two satellite broadcasters merge, but my tuner will no longer receive UK football. They offer a 5,000-yen voucher as a discount to buy a new tuner, and I can't believe my further misfortune.

I decline to be sucked further into that game. Instead, I buy a PC and a modem and, in June 1998, connect to the Internet from home for the first time.

The world is about to change.

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"
a great guide to visiting Japan, drinking beer and watching
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 22 June, 2024