Published: 16 February 2009 12:00
According to sports marketing agency, SportsRevolution, there are currently over seven million Japanese adults who are fans of Celtic football club - that is two million more fans than there are people in Scotland.
Japanese interest in football has risen since they jointly hosted the 2002 world cup, with South Korea, and when Japanese footballer, Shunsuke Nakamura joined Celtic Football club in 2005 the Glasgow club gained thousands of new fans from Japan. That fan base has been growing ever since and there is even a Japan based fan group - the Tokyo Supporters of Celtic Football Club.
These figures are also backed up by the interest in advertising space at their games. Antony Marcou, Managing Director of SportsRevolution said: "Japan is the most expensive market to advertise in the world. The cost per thousand impacts prohibits many advertisers from targeting Japan properly. Using Celtic's fan base, like Goldsmiths have done, to talk to a Japanese audience is not only innovative but extremely media efficient."
But why the huge fascination with football and with a UK club? With the latest 0 - 0 result at the Celtic Vs Rangers game last Sunday to reflect upon, we asked experts in the field; Dr Hiroki Ogasawara from Kobe University and Professor Les Back from Goldsmiths, University of London.
Dr Hiroki Ogasawara, Goldsmiths alumnus and current Associate Professor at Kobe University in Japan, comments:
Why do you think so many Japanese football fans support Celtic?
I think that it's solely because of Shunsuke's transfer to Celtic and his good performance on the pitch. And I have to tell you that it's not about Celtic and their history and culture but Shunsuke himself that many Japanese fans are attracted to Celtic. In addition, it's because of the peculiarity of Celtic's cultural syncretism with Irishness. When Japan co-host the world cup in 2002, Irish fans were really great and they left a good legacy as to how to enjoy the game. They behaved well, and made a good effort to link together with Japanese supporters. Celtic's colour appeals to those who have a fond memory of that time.
What is it about Shunsuke that has drawn so many fans from Japan?
He's an essential and integral part of Japan national team too. Against other European based Japanese players, his performance has been constantly impressive and never been marginalised at the club. He even scored a few beautiful goals against Man UTD in the Champion's League. That's the statue only Hidetoshi Nakata successfully established before him.
How does that fit in with traditional Celtic fans?
I don't think that many Japanese fans understand and appreciate the tradition, if you like, of Celtic fandom: Irish, Republican, Catholic and East End working class culture etc etc. But old and new bases can co-exist rather well, because it doesn't matter whether you know each other unless you support Celtic, which is good and market-wise, I think. Obviously some would argue that you have to be apprehensive of what's been happening around the club and I would agree with that. But something new is always good when it comes to the supporting base of a particular football club with a peculiar historical background. It's just the entrance, and some Japanese fans might be willing to know more once they become a fan.
Scottish football fans that support Celtic or Rangers are also tied up in the Protestant vs. Catholic part of being a fan - how does that work with the Japanese fans?
Nothing really. That religious bigotry isn't even in the frame of Japanese fans' eyes. And the dark side and the complexity of the history must be learnt, I'm sure.
Do you think religion still a big part of being a Celtic or Rangers fan?
For some, still yes. It's essential for some even though they are a tiny community. But such a thinking is fading away and some young people are pretentious about it. Performing sectarian things rather than being really committed. Religious divide is an iconic rather than substantial.
Is football now a big part of Japanese culture? What about Japanese clubs, do they attract that many fans?
Can't be optimistic about this. Since 1994 when J-League was launched, the growing up process has been smooth, but in my view real football-lovers are looking at European scenes, English, Italian and Spanish leagues. Scottish league is not a big deal except Celtic. Many can't name other clubs in Scotland. People may know Rangers and Aberdeen, but Falkirk, Raith Rovers and Partick Thistle? I don't think so. Under-achievement of the national team is also a disappointing fact. Doesn't appeal to the fans.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Shunsuke said in his semi-autobiography that the most influential person at the club is Neil Lennon, currently first team coach and ex-captain both of the club and of Northern Ireland international team. Also because he's a Catholic captain in the national team, he was forced to retire by death threat and other things. Shunsuke doesn't hide his admiration for Lennon as a player and as a person.
Professor Les Back from the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths said: "Football clubs like Celtic are global icons in world football. Their image travels and in minds of many fans around the world Britain is still the ancestral home of authentic football culture. I think its no surprise then that there should be so much interest in Japan and part of their interest I think is connected to that authenticity. On the one hand football is a global sport and yet on the other hand clubs are iconic of local areas, cities, regions and nations.
"Shunsuke's success on the pitch demonstrates how those global connections interweave with the local identity of Celitic. Celtic is interesting to because it is a club that stands for Glasgow's local patriotism at the same time historically the club is associated with Ireland and Republicanism. It is also where black Swedish player Henrik Larsson is remembered as The King of Kings. So, Scottish football that also contains a kind global cosmopolitanism."
Notes to Editors
Dr Hiroki Ogasawara did his PhD 'Performing Sectarianism: Terror, Spectacle and Urban Myth in Glasgow Football Cultures' at Goldsmiths under the supervision of Professor Les Back.
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