Konnichiwa! I am writing from the Japanese Shinkansen, better known as the bullet train. As I sit comfortably next to Bev the Japanese landscape screams by, green rolling hills and Japanese style homes and buildings as far as the eye can see. We are on our way to Kumamoto for our first official game since getting approved for a work visa.
When I last wrote you it was my 27th birthday and the very beginning of my time in Kobe, Japan. A lot has happened since then. For one thing, our apartment is nearly finished, and Thursday we had Internet installed, finally. It never crossed my mind that I could be without Internet access for a month in such a modern and technologically advanced country. However, since they don’t have free Wi-Fi in cafes, when I say I was without Internet… I was really without Internet. I’m sure there was a faster solution to our Internet woes, but our limited communication skills left us in an extended holding pattern.
The plane has since landed, and man it feels good to be back on the grid! Being without Internet was not all bad. Notable downsides – I missed my sister’s graduation from Law School, Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday. Missing it in person was a given, but not getting the email updates and photo albums was a real bummer. I felt like I missed it spiritually, too. Major upside – the time I would have been on Skype and staying in touch with America I spent studying Japanese and getting used to my new life.
A little about soccer: not a day goes by where I’m not wowed by something someone does. The players are insane. INSANE. Their individual skills and soccer savvy are simply breathtaking, and the young eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year old players are head and shoulders above anything I’ve seen before. I’d venture to say the future of Japanese soccer is rock solid, and I’m pumped to watch some of my teammates in the U-20 World Championship this summer.
A little about the team: INAC Kobe Leonessa boasts eight world champions from the 2011 World Cup, including last year’s balon d’or, Homare Sawa. INAC is also the home of three of Japan’s top U-20’s and South Korea’s unbelievable #10, Ji SoYun (drafted to the Boston Breakers of the recently defunct WPS). INAC plays a high pressure, possession style, and, opposite to the U.S., a player’s job is first to fit in, then to stand out.
In America we emphasize physical dominance, 1 v. 1’s, and individual moments of brilliance. The Japanese seem to focus on team tactics, technical perfection, and above all else consistency (also known as, professionalism). That’s what makes fitting in a prerequisite to standing out.
It’s not that we don’t have technical and tactical players in the U.S., and it’s not that individual moments of brilliance or physical dominance aren’t valued in Japan. But, the different systems determine the parameters that serve to focus – or limit – the players developing in them. It’s a curious thing to drop down into such a contrary soccer culture. I find myself thick in the middle of a world I was not raised in. It’s sink or swim, and I’m being forced to learn and grow every day.