For almost my entire life, I was really interested in Japan and Japanese culture. It wasn't really a specific thing at the time. I was a little child being really interested in generally everything about the culture and what it had to offer. As I got older and became more mature and experienced different hobbies, I started to learn more about the subcultures of Japan.
When I told people that I was interested in Japan and Japanese culture, their most common predictions I heard when people are interested in Japanese culture are they're interested in anime/manga, video games, Japanese food, the politeness of Japanese people, or the cuteness of Japanese women (to be blunt about it). Of all the topics and subcultures I learned about Japan, I know there was one thing I was totally focused on constantly and was super interested in compared to the others.
And that answer was completely simple to me, but probably not compared to anyone else. The number one thing I love about Japan is Japanese football (or soccer in America). Many people were surprised when I said football was the most interesting thing about Japan because they rarely even hear about foreigners being interested in it. Whenever people hear about football, they would mostly talk about leagues and players in Europe, South America, and North America (sometimes). They were many reasons as to why I am super interested in Japanese football compared to European and South American football, but it might take days or even weeks to even finish the halfway mark. （⌒▽⌒）So, I would mostly point out the three main reasons.
How I got interested into football?
Before I point out my reasons why Japanese football is the biggest thing I love about Japan, I would like to talk about my background as a footballer. I started playing football when I was 13 years old (I know... really late than average)（；^ω^). I started playing right after the 2010 FIFA World Cup that was held in South Africa. When I was in high school, I was called "soccer boy" because I always bring my soccer ball to school and play it around during lunchtime and after school. Ironically, despite my huge passion for the sport, I didn't get picked for the soccer team for the rest of my high school career because I didn't get many opportunities to play 11v11 (a traditional game), and that made me have a really big disadvantage compared to almost everyone else. It was upsetting that I didn't get to make the team because I believed I worked really hard to get at least a consideration of being on the team, but at the same time, I get to meet a lot of people during my time in high school because of my passion for soccer. So, it's not really a big loss. To me, it's the small victories that count.
Why I love Japanese football?
The first reason football was my biggest love for Japan is that Japanese people are super passionate about their teams and their national team. Whenever I see videos of the J League (Japan's professional football league) and the Japanese national team, the fans were super loud and not ashamed of showing their support of their clubs and singing the national anthem during Japan's international matches. From average fans that just wore jerseys to superfans that painted their entire body and singing the anthems of their favorite clubs, all Japanese fans show the same passion for the sport. My favorite team (in Japan and overall) was Yokohama F. Marinos (横浜Fマリノス）since I considered Yokohama as my second hometown, and they had a nice reputation as being one of the toughest clubs in Japan and in Asia.
Plus, they show their dedication to their clubs. I remembered in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, I used to always wake up early just to watch Japan play their group stages and the knockout rounds. I used to sing the entire national anthem word-by-word and watch every second of the match. After the match, I get to wear the national team jersey for the rest of the day regardless of their results. I had the full confidence of the national team even before they were qualified for Russia, and when everyone else had low expectations for them.
The second reason is that like any other country in the world, it's super easy to make connections with other soccer fans. I do remember a lot of people I met that are either Japanese or foreigners that were passionate at football like myself, and it makes me feel super happy and grateful I met them because, in my hometown, soccer was not really popular or always talked about.
Many civilians in my hometown (Louisiana, USA) would mostly talk about either basketball or American football (high school, college, and professional). While Japanese football fans I met are more interested in foreign clubs, they are really happy I am interested in Japanese football. They encouraged me to learn about many Japanese clubs and players that played in the J League. They were super happy when I told them my favorite player of all-time was Keisuke Honda (the Japanese Cristiano Ronaldo). Almost everyone was confused as to who he was since he's not widely popular compared to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and the other world-class footballers.
The third and final reason is the culture of Japanese football. Japanese kids played soccer in the dirt is a really interesting fact I learned a couple of years ago. Not only it helped them control the ball in all speeds, but appreciate and love the sport more. I guess that's why a lot of schoolkids wanted to play soccer more when they became older.
Football and Anime Series
Even though I am not really into anime, but the anime series Captain Tsubasa, Inazuma Eleven, and Giant Killing I watched a lot because of mainly the topic on football and how to have fun to play football with people from around the world. While yes, it can become really corny and cheesy sometimes, the proverbs and the storyline are really interesting so I can learn about Japanese football and improve my Japanese language at the same time. A win-win situation. ﾍ(=￣∇￣)ﾉ
While yeah, I do love the common things about Japan, football I love most about Japan. It may not be super popular and flashy like Europeans and South American countries, their passion for the clubs and the national team and their love for the game drawn me into loving Japanese football. I do want to play any kind of football whenever I go to cities all around Japan, so I can see how strong their love and passion for the game really is. It'll be a ton of fun!