Creative Soccer Culture

Framed #73 | Japanese High School Championship Special

A battle royale in football form comprised of 48 teams from the 47 prefectures of Japan. The Japanese High School Championship is electrifying as it stands out on a whole new level of its own. We touched down in Tokyo with PUMA Football to witness the action first hand.

Sure, The United States have been supporting college sports with spectacular numbers for generations. Going one further though, the Japan High School Football Tournament moves away from its market in multiple different ways.

Tokyo, although not the first nation out of the blocks when you think of footballing super powers, has a fight, hunger and talent that is on show en masse. As two semi-final fixtures and a knife-edge finale will show us, this is a footballing journey that ventures into new worlds of unknown experiences with a culture truly bespoke unto itself.

At this stage in the tournament over 4,000 entries have been whittled down to just four. We’re standing on the sidelines as we document the two semi-final match-ups and, just days later, the final. The setting is the spacecraft structure of the ‘Saitama Stadium 2002’ - a huge theatre built for the 2002 Korea and Japan FIFA World Cup. It’s the first sign of this being no ordinary high school showpiece. Not only do the best teams in the lands play here for a special series of annual fixtures but they pack it out with 40,000 people upwards.

What’s more, with much of Japan’s football fledglings, the traditional academy route is not the norm. Moreover, many use the High School system as a chance to put themselves in the frame for a professional J-League spot. Call this a competitive audition. Most players are in their final years of High School with this run of fixtures the last many will ever play again for their respective sides.

Teams are well and truly backed and not only do the onlookers bring the matching attire but xylophones join brass bands and cheer leaders, creating a melting pot of sounds of its own kind. Genuinely, this is a showdown simply not seen anywhere else in world football.

The four teams we witness in the semi-final stages are; Ryukei Kashiwa, Yaita Chuo, Yonago Kita and Maebashi Ikuei. All come with pedigree, each undefeated with all out attack on offer. As the sun opens up on a Super Saturday, Ryukei Kashiwa show experienced dominance to dispatch Yaita Chuo which leaves Maebashi Ikuei to put six past Yonago Kita. There are thousands of fans following every move of every player. On the pitch you can see just how significant this game is to the lives of each player - win or lose, there are tears streaming from the pitch to the stands.

While the energy of the two semi-final games back to back provides unquestioned scenery, it serves only as the appetiser for the tournament’s final on Monday. The 56th Japanese High School Championship sees Ryukei Kashiwa meet Maebashi Ikuei.

The game plays out as a cagey affair with Maebashi Ikuei spending large chunks putting their opponent under pressure. While Ryukdi Kashiwa were very much in the game, it always favoured the team dressed in white, backed by thousands of fans sporting yellow and black (their home kit colours). Like any good football tale, this final went the distance all the way up until the 91st minute when Maebashi Ikuei rifled home the match winner. The first title for a side who have been managed by the same coach for 36 years.

The final was played on a day known as ‘Coming of Age Day’ in Japan. A perfect way for these players to create history and state their name. This experience may well go under any mainstream radar but it’s inspiring Japanese generations year on year and doesn’t come much bigger. This is football in its most pure and honest sense. Enjoy the pictures, the video and the fly on the wall. Next levels all day long.


The Creative Soccer Culture Brief

Sign up to our newsletter and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the world of Creative Soccer Culture.