As always when Barça travel to Japan, the response from the fans has been extraordinary. Crowds have gathered outside the Royal Park Hotel where the team are staying, all hoping for the chance to get a photo or even an autograph from their heroes. Any kind of souvenir of the visit of the European champions to their country is appreciated. One of the many is Michiko Okazaki, a Japanese club member since 2004 and who has taken the day off work to be able to follow all the action.
Michiko travelled two hours by train from Misaki, which is about 50km from Yokohama, to be here to watch the Blaugrana in their first game at the Club World Cup. It’s the third time she’s done it – she was here in 2006 and 2011 as well! She has also travelled all the way to the Camp Nou to be there when the club won the Liga title in the 2009/10 season.
Her passion for Barça began in 2004, when Frank Rijkaard and his team, featuring the likes of Larsson, Van Bronckhorst and Saviola came to Japan on tour. Her favourite player is Iniesta, and she proudly wears a scarf with the midfielder’s name on, and among the other things she carries are a copy of the club statutes!
But she was just one of hundreds of fans that have come along to the team hotel. There are all kinds of ages, including Takeshi, who has skipped school (with his parents’ permission, we are told) in order to catch a glimpse of his idols, and young Yoshimi, who was even able to address us in Catalan! All of them will be heading to the stadium shortly to watch the game with Guangzhou.
It doesn’t seem like any of them are bothered by having to stand around in the cold for hours. The Japanese are disciplined, patient people, and politely stand waiting in silence. But once the players appear, such order disappears as they break out in euphoria. This is a country that loves Barça to the limit, and the outpouring of emotion is something quite amazing to behold!