Tracking down Japan's no.1 fans

Tracking down Japan's no.1 fans

Loyal supporters Kentaro Yomo & Atsushi Murakami with the Japanese team in South Africa
Japan's No.1 fans reach South Africa
Kentaro Yomo and Atsushi Murakami at Nigeria vs Argentina

So you think you are a football fan? How many World Cup 2010 countries did you visit in the lead up to this year’s tournament? Loyal Japan fan Kentaro Yomo and his friend Atsushi Murakami lost count somewhere around 28 on the way to fulfilling their goal of visiting all 32 countries whose teams are now kicking it around in South Africa. The two rabid Japan devotees quit their salaryman jobs over a year ago to pursue a dream that they have been documenting on their website (don’t miss the entertaining “Who We Are” page) and in a Japanese-language book with a sexy title that translates as “Traveling Around the World to the 32 Countries in the World Cup.”
Paying their way out of their own wallets, Ken and Atsushi plan to stick around until the final match and catch games at all eight of the new South African venues. Not only will they be Twittering their adventures and updating a new English-language blog, the two have organized the Libero Café, a temporary space in Toranomon where other devotees can speak to these intrepid football fans in South Africa over SKYPE while watching the games through July 11 (1-14-1Toranomon,Minato-ku; (03) 6322-4786; open 11 am-11 pm; 130 seats).
CNNGo caught up with Ken on the day he arrived in South Africa to find out what inspired such a crazed commitment to the beautiful game -- besides great times, cute girls and new friends to revisit all over the world.
Ken, left, and Atsushi at South Africa vs Brazil 2009Ken, left, and Atsushi at South Africa vs Brazil 2009CNNGo: How did you first come up with the idea to visit 32 countries before the World Cup?

Kentaro Yomo: Simply put, I love football and traveling, and the FIFA World Cup is a massive part of my life. The first time I went to the World Cup was in France 1998 when I was a freshman at university. In Japan in 2002 I was in my first year of working in a company and it was the second time for both the Japanese team and myself to go. Then, in 2006, my life dramatically changed when I moved to China for work, but when the World Cup was in Germany, of course I was there.
Now that I am 30 years old, I wanted to do something big before I hit middle age. I was talking with my friend Atsushi in Shanghai, and we came up with the idea of going to every country that would be represented in the tournament. And then, gradually we realized that it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Atsushi with a fan at the World Cup opening ceremonyAtsushi with a fan at the World Cup opening ceremonyCNNGo: How long have you been a football fan?

Yomo: I started to play football as a goalkeeper when I was 10 years old, but the sport was not so popular in Japan then. After the J-League was established when I was 14, I supported J-league teams like F.C. Tokyo and the national Japanese team, which means I have been a fan of football for almost 20 years.





CNNGo: What do you think of Japan's chances in this year’s World Cup?
Yomo: Theoretically speaking, we could get past the Group stage. It will be really tough, but I think it’s a realistic target for the team to get into the knock-out stage.

Ken, left, and Atsushi at South Africa vs Japan in 2009Ken, left, and Atsushi at South Africa vs Japan in 2009CNNGo: What has been your best experience so far on your trips?

Yomo: It's really hard to choose just one, but if I had to, it would be going to North Korea. All our experiences in North Korea were shocking and exciting, because we really only knew about the country from the major mass-media outlets. Nowadays, the relationship between the Japanese and North Korean governments is very bad, so our image of their local people was that they were kind of evil.
But the normal people are just people. On the train that we took from China to Pyongyang, we met and talked with local people, some of whom could speak Japanese or English very well. One of them had chosen Japanese as their second foreign language at his university. When we asked him why, he said that he wanted the good fortune to be able to talk with people from his neighboring countries.
Besides North Korea, visiting other less popular countries like Honduras and the Ivory Coast were also good experiences for us.
CNNGo: How about the scariest?

Yomo: There was a gas explosion aboard a public bus in Cameroon. Suddenly there was a big sound like an explosion and a lot of smoke came up from under our seats. All the passengers were surprised, and it turned into chaos ... But the bus didn't stop and gradually the smoke disappeared.

Being interviewed in South Africa on June 6thBeing interviewed in South Africa on June 6thCNNGo: What are you most looking forward to about being in South Africa?
Yomo: This is our fifth time there. We have been to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and touristy sites like the Cape of Good Hope and animal parks last year. Of course, we also went to watch the Confederations Cup in 2009. This time we are obviously focusing on the World Cup, but we would like to communicate with many local South Africans and supporters from other nations, and not just watch the football matches.


Further Information

You can read more about Ken and Atsushi’s adventures here; in Japanese and English or follow their blog, also in English.

The softcover book "世界一蹴の旅 サッカーワールドカップ出場32カ国周遊記" (“Traveling Around the World to the 32 Countries in the World Cup.”) is available at Amazon, the Virgin Cafe Osaki and the Libero Café. 

Libero Café is located at 1-14-1Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tokyo and will be open daily 11am-11 pm. Entrance is ¥500 from 11am-6pm and ¥1,000 from 6pm until the end of the last game. For more information, call (03) 6322-4786.