Japan Fans Gather for Early-Morning World Cup Viewing in Torrance

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The room erupts in cheering after Japan scored the equalizing goal in the second half of their match early Sunday against Senegal. Fans of the Samurai Blue assembled at the Bridge USA offices to share the experience of watching the game together. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor

TORRANCE.–The second half had just gotten under way, but Yuka didn’t want to miss any more of the match than she already had.

Bolting into the lobby, she almost ran out of her high heels as she darted toward the event room at the offices of Bridge USA in Torrance.

“I overslept,” she admitted, the result of some hearty revelry the night before.

She was among more than 50 people who made the trip before 7:30 a.m. Sunday, to be among compatriots and watch Japan’s second match of the 2018 World Cup. The viewing party was held in the building’s large space used for dance rehearsals, choir practice and community meetings, and despite the early hour, the crowd was lively and full of spirit.

“I’ve been involved with soccer all my life, and I host viewing parties every World Cup,” said Bridge USA chief Yoshi Ishii, who has been impressed with Japan this time around. “I’m so amazed when I watch. I knew they had a strong team, but they’re doing so much better than I expected.”

Ishii’s company runs a youth soccer academy and hosts two tournaments during the year. He said he’s perfectly satisfied with Japan’s 2-2 draw with Senegal, and he’s certain Japan will have little trouble in beating Poland on Thursday.

The back-and-forth nature of the game added excitement, with the teams tied at halftime. After Senegal moved ahead with a goal midway through the second period, the mood in the room turned tensely quiet.

Yumi Ogawa, who made the two-hour drive from San Diego to join the gathering, watches intently as Japan were trailing in the second half. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

When forward Keisuke Honda entered the game in Ekaterinburg, Russia with his team trailing, the anticipation was ratcheted up a notch, and the international star soon delivered. After his shot was slotted into the upper right corner of the net and tied the match, the response half a world away in Torrance was bedlam.

In attendance and leading the occasional pep cheers was Yumi Ogawa, who climbed out of her bed in San Diego just after 4 a.m. to make the two-hour drive to Torrance with her son.

“After Japan beat Colombia in the first match, I though they have a pretty good chance to advance, so I decided to come watch with a group of other fans,” explained Ogawa, who 20 years ago left her native Kagoshima to live in California. “I didn’t expect so many people here, and they’re all very excited. To come together like this, I think it helps stir a little patriotism in those of us who cam from Japan, and I feel like I can be my old Japanese self in this setting.”

Her 12-year-old son, Hayato, wasn’t sold on the idea of the early-morning trip at first, but after the match was glad he came.

“I didn’t want to wake up and take a long drive at first, but this was really fun,” he said.

It was a shorter trip for Ken, who lives in Downtown L.A. and said watching at home simply cannot offer a sense of community.

“It’s always better to watch with a group, because being with others gives us something to share,” he said.

Indeed, in an age when you can watch any sort of content wherever and whenever you desire, the occasions to have a collective, in-person experience seem to be a dying breed.

With the game project on a large screen, fans enjoyed snacks and refreshments. Yumi Ogawa, who made the two-hour drive from San Diego to join the gathering, watches intently as Japan were trailing in the second half. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Sunday’s gathering came a day after large crowds filled the plaza in front of Radio Korea on Wilshire Boulevard to watch Mexico and South Korea. Rabid fans of opposing teams sat in the same space, cheering their favorites and respecting the efforts of their opponents, in a neighborhood where so many are from or have intimate ties to the competing nations.

Mexico won the match, 2-1, leaving Korea a slim chance of advancing to the next round, but these gatherings are proof that the World Cup still has a potent ability to draw people from all walks together.

Team Japan will match up with Poland early Thursday morning, needing only a draw to advance to the Round of 16.

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