Club World Cup diary (Part 7)
Friday 16 December 2011: Yokohama
17:30 After what was undoubtedly a much longer semi-final day for them than it was for me, given that the work I had to file didn’t need to be done until this afternoon, it is my pleasure to welcome Sean Carroll and Cesare Polenghi to my temporarily rented pad for the football journalists’ equivalent of a jam session.
The Football Japan Minutecast has become a major staple of a website originally launched to serve as a vehicle for the official Japan Soccer Archive; a work in progress being painstakingly compiled by the great Hiroshi Kagawa and for which I have the honour of producing the English-language edition. Though it could do with more publicity and funding in order to reach more listeners outside of Japan – an inevitable difficulty for a small company with its fingers in several pies – Cesare tells me that our Minutecast access figures are similar to those recorded at Goal.com for English-language articles on Japanese football. This is quite pleasing – and thank you very much to everyone who listens – but I still think there is more that can and should be done with it.
Of course, the original concept of summing up the week’s news in a minute or so was pretty short-lived considering the speed and brevity that necessitated. My own inexperience, both in recording and with editing software, meant that the first load were read too quickly and didn’t sound especially good either. But over time, the normal weekly podcasts have been extended to around six minutes, covering everything in slightly more detail (as requested by numerous listeners) and at a much more listenable pace.
Having discussed the possibility with a number of other Japan-based, Western writers in the past, the Club World Cup has finally presented the opportunity to try something different. With Cesare and me both joining Sean in Kanto for the next few days, the three of us have decided to record a 30-minute, Football Weekly-style discussion of 2011 in Japanese football. I meet them at Isezaki-chōjamachi station and lead them first to the nearby convenience store, where we can pick up some snacks and (a small amount of) beer to fuel the informal atmosphere we have planned for the ‘pod’.
It is a rare and most enjoyable opportunity to share a project with two esteemed professionals, beyond the usual extent of swapping or translating quotes in the mixed zone. Neither Sean nor Cesare are unfamiliar with the sight of a television camera lens, so my little digital voice recorder is hardly likely to be distracting. Despite minimal preparations bar the briefest of suggested running orders I had e-mailed them both yesterday, each of the three parts are recorded very smoothly in single takes that will require very little editing.
We get a tad carried away and overrun to a still-just-about-acceptable-so-no-biggie 49 minutes, but it is a lot of fun and I hope that this is conveyed to and shared by our listeners. There certainly wouldn’t be a market for a full-length English-language podcast on Japanese football every week, but if people enjoy it then we could perhaps do three or four per year. It is only annoying that, despite managing to bring everything I needed for the day job, I have left my Minutecast jingles in Osaka and so won’t be able to put the thing online until I get back*.
(* You can listen to the finished podcast here.)
20:30 Having the Tokyo-based Sean around is also handy for his local knowledge of where we might go out for proper drinks afterwards and who might like to come along and join us. Cesare is initially somewhat reluctant – tired since his recent trip to Italy, he now claims to be dying of “a cold or something worse” and, despite his spritely participation in the podcast, had to use the breaks between the three parts to have a bit of a lie down on my weekly mansion bed. Stepping outside into the cold does little to invigorate the Italian veteran in our midst, and he cuts a slightly pathetic figure as we board the subway bound for central Yokohama with his head leant against my shoulder. He openly considers heading straight for his hotel until receiving confirmation from Sean that their mutual (female) friend Momoko ‘Momo-chan’ Nagasaki will be joining us for dinner. Naturally, Cesare smiles, it would be rude if he didn’t at least stay for one.
Cesare sensibly saves his energy for company worth the effort
We settle on our izakaya – for which, delightfully, the literal translation would be ‘a place where you go to be and drink alcohol’ – and Cesare and Sean take turns to explain to me why Momo-chan, part of the production team for the JSports programme ‘Foot!’, likes them best. Their banter is both entertaining and, to some degree, a persuasive argument as to how living in the capital (as Cesare also used to) would be clearly more conducive to making media and football contacts than in baseball-obsessed Osaka. When the apple of their eyes finally arrives, I let the pair of them continue their well-spirited one-upmanship and concentrate instead on getting to know Momo-chan myself. It is an outcome that suits me rather well.
The four of us are joined for a brief cameo by Lewis ‘Nobuyuki’ Tosey, another fine writer – when he finds the time – who moved to Japan quite recently. His evident mixture of national identities is further confused by an amusing anecdote in which he confesses to having inexplicably adopted a French accent – while speaking English – to beg Philippe Senderos to stay at Arsenal upon bumping into the Swiss defender in a supermarket car park. Much to Nobuyuki’s and Sean’s disappointment, however, an all-nighter is not on the agenda and they must take the last train back to Tokyo – leaving me and a suddenly very happy and energetic Cesare to escort Momo-chan for a nightcap or two at her friend’s bar elsewhere in Yokohama.
Ako, the landlady who has been expecting us, offers a warm and friendly welcome to ensure that my first ever evening out in Yokohama – in the past it has always been literally up and back for the football, as with the trip to Shimizu on final day – ends as enjoyably as it began. My adopted home of Osaka has a reputation for passionate hospitality, and although that can sometimes put people off, it often has the effect of making Tokyo feel cold and insular to visitors from mine and other parts of the country. Momo-chan and Ako, however, are quick to convince me that Yokohama should not be bracketed in with the global megalopolis next door. Here, the locals genuinely are local as opposed to being there because they have to be.
Ako kindly extends last orders for us to get one more round in; and then another when our 21st-century inclination to ‘check in’ at her bar on Facebook presents us with an electronic free beer coupon that even she has never seen before but is more than happy to honour.
Saturday 17 December 2011 – Yokohama
13:00 Fan-bloody-tastic. No, seriously. Today is my sole day off in a ten-day stretch before I fly home for Christmas in the very early hours of Wednesday morning and that means I can have a lie-in. Living by oneself can gradually wear away one’s sense of guilt or resistance towards setting the alarm clock for a post-meridian time; this effect is magnified in my weekly mansion room where, after a lovely night yesterday and a new city to see more of, it sort of feels like I am on holiday. A quick trip to the convenience store, however, reveals that it is cold enough to justify seeing only a little bit more of this city later – until then, it is time to enjoy the free air-conditioned heating and Issue Three of The Blizzard, which conveniently arrived for me in Osaka last weekend. With apologies for the self-indulgence, it is a genuine thrill to see my own name listed alongside those of so many, far more illustrious contributors.
I take as leisurely a shower as possible in a room that combines bathtub, sink, and toilet into a space normally considered just about large enough for one of them. It reminds me of the almost identically-designed facilities at the tiny ‘one-room’ flat rented by my first ever girlfriend in Japan when we were at university back in 2004. She’s the only one of my exes (it’s not a long list) with whom I have remained on friendly terms and, having heard that she’d recently moved to Tokyo, I send her a text to see if she fancies a drink tonight once I’ve done my Christmas shopping.
Every mansion needs an en-suite bathroom
On the advice of Momo-chan and Ako, I return to the area of Yokohama where we went out last night to finish up buying presents much more expediently than I had anticipated in an unfamiliar city. I even managed to find some yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) soap for my old secondary school friend Elena in Taunton, which Ako insists is the must-have beauty secret in Japan right now. To be honest, she would know. With no reply from my ex in Tokyo, I resign myself to a night in front of the television. Naturally, she texts the second I slot my card-key in the door to say she could go for a quick one (drink) if I was anywhere near Shibuya now. Not even the right city.
20:30 Upon a few moments’ solitary contemplation, however, I arrive at the disturbing realisation that this is no bad thing – I actually don’t have time. After tomorrow’s final, I will have to take the Shinkansen back to Osaka on Monday, where I have a Christmas party with old friends that night. Then I’m going to need to edit yesterday’s podcast and pack my suitcase on Tuesday before travelling to the airport. All this is going to leave about five hours to do two days’ worth of day job. Crap. The only way I can possibly meet all deadlines and quotas is to get a good day’s headstart while I’m still in Yokohama. Which means now. Bugger. The clock says nearly nine; if I start immediately and go into super turbo mode I might be done just after 1am.
My usual working backdrop is FM802 in Osaka, but apparently you can’t get local radio stations from other localities in Japan, even via the internet. In need of some urgent rejuvenation, I swallow my pride and load up Absolute 90s – the first time in my life I have ever listened to a radio station with a decade in its name. It is astonishing easily to sing along to unremarkable tunes from your teenage years – There’s Nothing I Won’t Do by JX, for example – even if you’ve not heard or thought of them for 15 years. Good. I think that might actually have got my brain in gear.
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