Sports fandom in Japan: The Barça case

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 at 11:33 PM
I think I'm not wrong if I say that in Japan there are enthusiastic fans of almost every conceivable thing. This sometimes brings to some curious situations like the one I'm going to explain.

In Spain, where I come from, if there's a popular sport that stands out from the rest, it is soccer, and more specially Barça and Real Madrid, the main national teams. In Japan soccer has been becoming more popular in the last years, but it is still far from the king of the kings: baseball. However, since I arrived to Japan there's not a week I don't see somewhere some representation of the team from where I come from, Barcelona. I've never been a soccer fan and, to be honest, I find it extremely boring, but I can't help drawing a smile when I see such a familiar symbol in the most unexpected places.

A surprise among UFO catchers in Dotonbori

I knew that Spanish soccer league is famous in a lot of different countries, but I didn't know it was to that extent. As an example I can say that in the last weeks I've seen much more Japanese people wearing Barça T-shirts or backpacks than those of the Hanshin Tigers. Even without leaving Hirakata, I could find a Mickey Mouse Barça themed lamp and a PS3 bundle pack with the picture of the famous player Leo Messi printed on the box, both in a popular shopping mall near to Hirakata-shi station.

Here we have Messi, surrounded by Pokemons

My two colleagues from Barcelona (who are actually true Barça fans) and me didn't have to wait even a week since our arrival to meet the most passionate Barça fan we have ever seen, who happens to be a Kansai Gaidai student: he follows all the games, wakes up in the middle of the night to watch live games and even uses a Barça shell for his iPhone.

A part of this popularity owes to the team itself, who has done a lot of efforts to promote their image in Japan in many different ways, but who really made it work are the Japanese fans, who always receive with enthusiasm the things they like, no matter where they come from. It is hard to tell where all the passion of Japanese fandom (not just in this case) comes from, but it has something special that makes a difference with what we are used to see.

Even Capitain Tsubasa dreamed of the Barça colors


  1. Another fine post this week - interesting subject and observations. I'd like to read more about the Gaidai student fan - why is he into Spanish soccer, are there others, are there fan clubs, etc. etc.?

    You don't see a lot of Hanshin shirts in public because they are usually reserved for the games only - they can be seen as a type of uniform for a special event. The same might be said for Gamba Osaka (local Japanese soccer team) jerseys. Check out your classmate's post for more on Japanese soccer:

  2. yuki Says:

    I enjoyed reading your post so much! As Dr. Fedorowicz said, we wear uniforms for the games only. I, myself, have a uniform of Gamba Osaka, but I've never worn it except the day I go to stadium to watch a their game. Barca and Real Madrid are really famouse teams in Japan! I don't know about forein soccer teams so much, but I know them :) One of Japanese famouse soccer player, Shunsuke Nakamura transfered to Leaga Espanola from this season, and it surprised us a lot! I think many Japanese people think Leaga Espanola is one of top league in the world!

  3. Victor Says:

    @visual gonthros. Personally I only know this guy, but I've seen other people in the campus (and outside -today I've seen one at the Kuzuha station-) wearing the Barça shirt. About the student I talked about, he already studied in Spain for one year (I think) and now trains a school team. I don't really know much about the existence of fan clubs in Japan, but I'd bet that at least there must be a handful of informal fan associations.

    @Yuki. Thanks for your comment! It is interesting that you wear uniforms only to go to the games. Even though in Spain a lot of people also use shirts for watching the games or celebrate the results, it's easy to see anywhere someone wearing the shirt or other clothes of their favorite teams.
    I also know about Nakamura, since he's playing in RCD Espanyol that, as Barça, is a team from Barcelona (even though it is not as popular). About this case it is curious how Japanese media follows their nationals anywhere they go, since an incredible number of sport journalists moved to cover Nakamura's introduction and games. I don't think this happens with other countries' people. It looks to me like Japanese society is always very proud of its internationally successful stars, more than any other country I could think of...

  4. Anonymous Says:


  5. Super fans!

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