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Words: Dan Sandison
Illustrations: Roy McCarthy
Images: Getty

If you are lucky enough to have visited Japan, you’ll know that things are done differently out there. Meticulously. With love, care, and extra attention. Whatever your poison, whether it be whisky, denim, video games, or football, the Japanese are the standard-bearers for the weird and the wonderful; they want things to be the best and will go the extra mile to ensure that happens.

J.League might not have yet reached Big League status internationally, but it is thriving domestically, has pushed boundaries, and given things a big off-field shake whenever and wherever possible. We all know about Zico and Lineker and Wenger, of Dragan Stojković and Leonardo and the ageless King Kazu, but in the league’s 30th year, here is a run-down of a baker’s dozen of things about the J.League that make us look whimsically out of the window and think about booking a flight straight to Narita.

1. Tokyo Verdy’s Green Beer

A Portuguese-inspired name, a club that also has a women’s team, volleyball and triathlon teams—in the traditional polideportivo style—and perhaps the wealthiest, most successful history in all of Japanese football. And green beer. Like in Superbad or all those terrible Irish bars in America. Beer that comes out of the tap green. Beer absolutely full of food colouring and unpronounceable chemicals served outside the ground in plastic cups. Magnificent stuff. We have so much to learn.

2. Yago Pikachu

Glaybson Yago Souza Lisboa was born on 5th June 1992 in Brazil. As he grew older and became a talented young footballer, he earned the nickname Pikachu for his short stature and speed. Pikachu, for the uninitiated heathens, is a mouse-like creature with electrical abilities who is one of the lead characters in the Japanese cartoon and video-game franchise Pokémon. He now goes by Yago Pikachu and plays for Shimizu S-Pulse. In a yellow and orange kit. In Japan. Couldn’t look more like Pikachu if he tried, really.

3. Supachok Sarachat

You’re going to have to bear with us on this one so that we get it right. There is a player from Thailand called Supachok Sarachat who recently signed for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, a team that plays a stone’s throw away from one of the most iconic chocolate factories in the world. Supachok, playing near a chocolate factory. Why do these things only happen in J.League?

4. Júbilo Iwata’s Admiral Kits

For some background, Júbilo means Joy in Spanish and Portuguese. So we’re onto a winner with Iwata’s premiere football club already. But it’s the kits where the action is. This season’s offering is basically the England shirt from 1982, but in a load of mad colourways and with YAMAHA emblazoned across the front. We love it a great deal. Unadulterated “We Support These Now” tackle.

5. Truly Insane Goals

And we mean insane. Long-rangers, loads of crossbar-and-in action, some seriously irresponsible goalkeeping, free kick specialists by the bucket-load, and bags of exciting attacking football that catches defenders flat-footed. You can keep your European midfield overloads and intricate triangles; this is the stuff for us. Don’t believe us? Pop ‘A Week Full of INSANE Goals! J.League’ into your search bar for a taste of the good stuff.

6. Andrés Iniesta Is Still Having A Good Old Go

If you’re not into sentiment, you’ve picked up the wrong magazine, my friend. While his old mate Xavi holds onto the seams of a Barcelona circus tent that might burst into flames, the man from Fuentealbilla is strolling about Hyōgo Prefecture like he owns the place. And he does. Captain’s armband, Asics boots, picking up player of the month awards like they’re going out of fashion. He’s got another year on his contract, and he’s so popular in Japan we think he might just stay. A gameshow host, perhaps.

7. This Strawberry Waffle At Yokohama F. Marinos

With a whopping Footy Scrans rating of 81.6%, a double-handed grip from the lucky customer, and a ringing endorsement from the official J.League English account, this absolute masterpiece has got us dribbling down our Júbilo Iwata kit. There are loads and loads of incredible Footy Scrans entries from Japan, including an unparalleled katsu curry at FC Tokyo and an array of shaved ice situations that will make your mouth water.

8. Kevin Muscat Is The Yokohama F. Marinos Manager
It’s worth knowing that the largest section of Kevin Muscat’s Wikipedia is one entitled ‘Reputation.’ The former Crystal Palace, Rangers, Millwall and Wolves man is now the gaffer of a very handy Marinos side, and although he looks to have put his Worst Man Ever On The Planet days behind him, it never truly leaves you, does it? Like Begbie. You don’t receive 123 yellow cards and 12 red in a 19-year career for nothing. You don’t get Mark Bosnich branding you a disgrace, Terry Butcher saying he likes your style and becoming the first A League player to be called in front of a FIFA disciplinary panel by being a wallflower. He looks like The Hood from Thunderbirds now, and anything could happen.

9. The Sunsets

The word Japan, and the Japanese word Nippon, both mean “where the sun rises.” It’s something to do with Marco Polo, relations with China, and the flag. We’ve got limited space here, though, and we want to draw your attention to what the sunset looks like in the Land of the Rising Sun. We are contrary like that. The J.League English account is doing an INCREDIBLE job of exhibiting what we think is the most picturesque football league on the planet. Go and check it out.

10. Shunsuke Nakamura is first team coach at Yokohama FC
After a short, unhappy spell at Espanyol in the wake of his Celtic departure (YA FACKIN DOUGHBALL), Nakamura returned to Japan in 2010 and carried on playing for... another 12 years. He's done the rounds a bit and is now back in Yokohama, where it all began. 

11. The Mascots
Where to begin? They’re all incredible. If we had to pick a favourite, and we mean absolutely had to, we think it would have to be Wintosu of Sagan Tosu. He’s a baby blue and pink magpie that looks quite a lot like Joe Rogan when he’s getting upset about something. He has the gait of an All Bar One bouncer and the expression to match. Who wronged the magpie? I guess we will never know, but if it all kicks off, we want him on our side. Honourable mentions must go to Holly-kun, a dragon that looks like Mackenzie Crook, and the iconic Orca, Grampus-kun.

12. Everaldo’s Bicycle Kick

If there is any justice in this godforsaken world, Everaldo’s last-minute equaliser for Kashima Antlers will stroll this year’s Puskás Award. It starts with some lovely, industrial up-and-under stuff, kicks on a bit with a very peculiar hold-up header, and the crescendo takes it to another ethereal plane entirely. Go and treat yourself to another watch of the 31-year-old Brazilian’s mercurial brilliance. He finished top goalscorer in the Emperor’s Cup that season.

13. The International YouTube Channel

Live matches, highlights, debate. All free. Genuine insight from one of the world’s most exciting leagues with some truly bananas graphics and some banging soundtrack. If you’re lucky, you might see Kevin Muscat chasing a grown man dressed as an Orca around a running track, brandishing a water cooler above his head.

 The above feature is from Issue 23. That's sold out now, but if you like what you've seen, you can subscribe to MUNDIAL and get every issue sent to your door from now on. And, you can sign up to our free weekly newsletter here.

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