This conversation took place at a cafe in Yokohama between a student and myself:
Student: What do you think about the World Cup?
Me: I try not to think about it really.
Student: Americans don’t care about soccer, right?
Me: Well…that’s not exactly true. I mean, where I grew up, my neighborhood was about 50% African American and 50% immigrant. And the kids were mostly first or second generation people from the Caribbean…Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Trinidad, Guyana…Most of my friend’s families were from an island. And, these guys loved soccer. But, the natives, as it were…we were more into baseball, basketball and Football. American football.
Student: Ah, sokka (I see.) America is muzukashii ne (difficult)
Me: Yeah, it’s kinda difficult to say Americans like or don’t like anything, it’s so diverse.
Student: Well, Japanese don’t like soccer….usually.
Me: Really? You could’ve fooled me.
Student: It’s only because of the World Cup.
Me: Ah. Because it’s an international competition?
Student: Yes. Americans don’t get like this…about international competitions?
Me: Again, that’s a difficult question. I mean, when I was growing up, I never got excited about, for example, the Olympics, unless there was a black athlete that I liked. Maybe when I was kid and Carl Lewis was doing Track & Field, or the Dream Team back in the Michael Jordan days.
Student: Ah, I remember the Dream Team!
Me: Yeah, that was the days! But, I don’t think it was about the US. It was just that I love basketball. I guess it depends on how you see your country. For most of my life I didn’t see the US as anything to get excited about. In fact, I never felt even a tingle of national pride, ironically, until I came to Japan.
Me: But that’s just me. I can’t speak for everyone. I remember my friends, though they were born in America, their parents were from the Caribbean so they openly rooted for their parent’s homelands. They’d wear headbands and T-shirts and carry flags from their parent’s countries. In fact, I can’t ever remember anyone ever having a red, white and blue flag…not until after 9/11, anyway. That’s when Americans started getting like…like the Japanese are now over this World Cup.
Student: What have you seen?
Me: Yesterday at work, everyone, teachers and students, EVERYONE, was talking about how they’d gone to bed at 9pm so they could wake up at 2:30 and watch the game live.
Student: Yeah, it’s kind of…kimochi warui (bad feeling)
Me: Why do say that?
Student: Most Japanese people don’t even understand the rules of the game. They don’t respect the game. They just want to see the team win…and the TV news people and shows all try to get people excited about the game but no one tries to help people understand.
Me: It’s like war.
Me: Soccer, hell most sports, are metaphors for war.
Student: …Yeah! Exactly! It’s like war. And the people just want their team to win, no matter what. I guess it’s human nature, ne.
Me: Sou desu ne. When I see people all whipped up into a nationalistic frenzy like this…yeah, it’s chyo kimochi warui. (It creeps me the fuck out!) Just like America was right after 9/11 . Actually, that’s when I came to Japan.