Sitting in Silence With 5,000 Fans: The New Sound of Japanese Sports

Sitting in Silence With 5,000 Fans: The New Sound of Japanese Sports

The country has welcomed spectators(ˈspekˌtādər) back to stadiums, but the highly orchestrated(ˈôrkəˌstrāt) singing, chanting(CHant) and drumming(ˈdrəmiNG) for which they are known is now strictly(ˈstrik(t)lē) forbidden.

By Motoko Rich

As the players drove the ball down the field, I suddenly heard the distinct crinkle(ˈkriNGk(ə)l) of a plastic bag a full four rows in front of me, where a man was pulling out a chicken drumstick(ˈdrəmˌstik) to eat.

This was the sound of Japanese professional soccer(ˈsäkər) in the era(ˈirə, ˈerə) of the coronavirus.

While the major sports leagues(lēɡ) in the United States and Europe are playing mostly before empty stands or cardboard cutouts, fans in Japan have been attending games since early July, after a four-month hiatus(hīˈādəs).

But there are trade(trād)-offs.

In normal times, Japanese fans are not only loud, they are also extremely orchestrated(ˈôrkəˌstrāt) and utterly(ˈədərlē) disciplined(ˈdisəˌplind). Nonstop through a match, they sing, cheer(CHir), chant, bang drums and wave enormous(iˈnôrməs) team flags — a boisterous(ˈboist(ə)rəs) spectacle(ˈspektək(ə)l) that often rivals(ˈrīvəl) the actual play on the field for entertainment value.

Now, most of those activities are banned for fear that people might be roused(rouz) into a frenzy(ˈfrenzē) of shouting, with any spray(sprā) becoming a vector(ˈvektər) for spreading(spred) the virus.

So when I attended a home match on a recent Sunday surrounded by nearly 4,600 fans of FC Tokyo, one of 18 teams in the top tier(ˈtir) of the Japan Professional Football League, or J-League, the spectators were scrupulously(ˈskro͞opyələslē) quiet(ˈkwīət) — except for an occasional(əˈkāZHənl) crinkle of a food wrapper or a spontaneous(spänˈtānēəs) burst(bərst) of applause(əˈplôz).