Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I See RED (aka Doing the Stadium)

You know, working with the music club at Ye Olde Academy sometimes gets me into the darnedest places...

As our reputation has increased, so have the invitations for us to come and play at different places and events. Already this year I've had to turn down three requests for the Flying Eggheads to perform at various city-sponsored functions on account of conflicting and/or overloaded schedules. Invitations are still coming in, and not just for the Eggheads.

A little over a month ago a call came from none other than Kashima Soccer Stadium. November 9th was to be a match between the Kashima Antlers pro soccer team and Albirex Niigata. They wanted some kind of attraction, and were hoping we could play. At first they asked for the jazz band, but Mr. Ogawa turned that down for two reasons:
  • The Flying Eggheads were already scheduled to play at an elementary school music appreciation event the day before.
  • A (not very good) jazz band from a different school played there last year, and Mr. Ogawa figured variety was better.
In the end, we sent a mainly senior high string ensemble plus a pianist, a drummer, and two clarinet soloists (i.e. myself and Mr. Ogawa).

When we finally arrived at the stadium to play, it was reiterated many times that they'd never had a string ensemble play there before and weren't sure what to expect (and didn't seem very enthusiastic about it). We weren't really sure, either. In all honesty, our string players had never performed in an outdoor venue before, so it was totally uncharted territory. As it turned out, however, the place where we performed, in a plaza on the second floor concessions/souvenir stand deck, acted like a form of natural amplifier and conducted our sound well. I used one of my high-power jazz reeds for my clarinet solos ("Let's Dance" and "Moonlight Serenade", both classic jazz tunes) but didn't really need it; my sound blasted all over the place. Even Mr. Ogawa's much gentler sound (playing a cheerful tune called "Guisganderie" - here's a video of someone else playing it at only a slightly higher tempo than Mssr. Maestro Ogawa did) carried well.

It was cold, there were some stiff fingers (and lots of complaints from the kids), and we wound up competing with a very loud PA system blasting canned cheer music, but we did okay. By far the best part was the fact that, contrary to expectations, we actually drew quite a crowd. We had that plaza packed full of eager, red-clad supporters that gave us lots of applause and demanded an encore (which we didn't have, so we just played one of the tunes again). All in all, I'd say it was worth it.

(Unfortunately, I can't post pics of the performance here because that would violate direct orders from the principal...unless I only show the backs of the students' heads...)

The best part, though, was the fact that our performance earned us complementary tickets to the match. Though I was here when the pro J-League was officially born (in 1993), and had performed outside the soccer stadium many, many times, I had never been inside the stadium, let alone seen an Antlers game. I was ecstatic finally to have the opportunity. (It hurt so much...)

Antlers 1

Here it is! Kashima Soccer Stadium! When it was originally built for the FIFA World Cup in 2002 it was able to seat 60,000, but since the temporary seats were removed it now has a capacity of 45,000 (i.e. about 80% of the population of Kashima).

Antlers 2

Looking toward the gate where we went in. When I took these (cell-phone) pics we had just loaded our instruments into the bus, received our tickets, and were starting to head in. By then most of the supporters were already in the stadium and kicking up quite a racket.

Antlers 3

And here's a view of the Antlers' supporters "box"! Since the official birth of the J-League in 1993, the Antlers fans have been famous (read "notorious") for their spirit (read "raucous cheers and occasionally aggressive behavior"). It was cool finally to see that jumping, singing, shouting sea of red in full swing!

And just when I thought it couldn't get any more interesting, out came this giant flag...

Antlers 4

...followed soon afterward by three more:

Antlers 5

I have to admit I was confused at first. I thought the one on the left was a communist flag and the one on the right was Che Guevara. It took a minute for it to dawn on me that gold and red are the Antlers' colors, and that the flag on the right showed Zico, the Brazilian former World Cup star who was instrumental in developing the Antlers as well as founding the J-League itself.

Our own seats were closer to the Albirex supporters:

Antlers 6

They were a small but very spirited group. They were also quite loud.

Basically, both groups of supporters kept up a non-stop barrage of songs and cheers (mainly songs...loud, boisterous songs!) that bordered on sensory overload. It was almost hard to pay attention to the game.

Antlers 7

Here's a view direct from my seat to the field. We got a good view of one of the goals. From this angle you can tell that the advertisement signboards on either side of the goal, which usually look like ramps when seen on TV, are actually 3-D trick art painted on the field. Note also the strip of advertisements between the upper and lower sections of the stands (even more clearly visible in the Albirex supporters pic above). It's actually a giant LED display, and they do a lot of funky things with it.

With all the fun and excitement leading up to the game, I almost with the game itself had been more exciting. There was plenty of action, but it was pretty disappointing. We were warned that this was going to be a difficult match. The Antlers were defending their current #1 spot. Albirex, on the other hand, are hovering near the bottom of the league and are desperate to keep themselves from being demoted back to the J1 "minor league". (At the end of each season the bottom J-League teams are swapped out in favor of the top J1 teams.) The Antlers dominated the game for most of the first half, keeping the ball in front of the Albirex goal for most of play...but never quite finding their way into it. Then Albirex suddenly turned up the power in the last five minutes of the first half and kept it going through the second, no doubt figuring they had nothing to lose by throwing in everything they had. Things got pretty ugly toward the end with lots of aggressive play, quickly mounting fouls, a couple of near fights, but somehow they managed not to get any red cards. (There were some yellow ones, though.) The Albirex defense managed to keep their goal plugged solid, but their offense never managed to mount anything beyond a few desperate suicide attacks that weren't sucessful. The Antlers mounted a few excellent plays but weren't able to capitalize effectively on them, either kicking the ball lamely right into the goalkeeper's mitts or bouncing it off the post.

In the end, the game was a 0-0 draw. The Antlers are still #1 in the J-League. Albirex, earning a few points a result of drawing rather than losing, managed to gain a couple of desperately-needed places. I guess both teams have reason to be satisfied with the result, but the fans were pretty disappointed.

Oh, well. At least now I can finally say I've seen an Antlers match. I can also say that I've performed at the stadium. More notches on my belt. So now...what's next?


  • Soccer and Jousting? (Antlers)

    By Anonymous Dave, at 8:48 AM  

  • Hahaha! First I was going to say "a weekend off" but Dave made me laugh!

    What is Albirex? Sounds like the hospital grade cleanser (Birex) I used to use at the dental office...!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 8:25 AM  

  • Yeah... in the cold weather, fingers can be really stiffed. I remember when I tried to type a sms text on my handphone in a cold weather... gosh... my fingers were so stiff! hehehe

    Wow... a huge stadium! cool!

    By Blogger Selba, at 3:20 PM  

  • I remember when Jico's son, Bruno, was in my class back in 93. He was a soccer "God" in his home country of Brazil and here (with the Antlers), and I didn't have a clue. During parent/teacher conference he just smiled, couldn't speak a lick of English. It's been fun to watch his history develop here in Japan. I often wonder about Bruno, he was a great kid, and his brother Arthur.
    Good memories...

    By Anonymous Jeffu, at 6:30 PM  

  • wow... look at all those ppl!

    pretty cool that the Eggheads were able to quiet them down... that's saying a lot!

    sounds like it was fun and exciting. sounds like you guys have a packed schedule this year. how are the new students?? practices going well?

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 3:02 AM  

  • Dave
    Sometimes it seems like it!

    The source of some of these soccer team names is definitely a mystery. I have no idea what Albirex means, and Google wasn't much help. I have a feeling that it's a mythical beast from Aztec or Inca (or whatever) legend.

    Yes, you are very right. Cold fingers were definitely a problem this time. Brass and sax players can wear gloves, but clarinet and string players are SOL.

    Zico's son? Didn't you also have Ramos' son in there, too? And Nomo's son? Are you a specialist in teaching the sons of famous sports stars?

    Um Naief
    Actually, it wasn't the Flying Eggheads this time. It was our string ensemble plus the Eggheads' drummer and pianist.

    Even so, the Eggheads have been doing very well this year. I can say with confidence that they're the strongest group in our school's music club right now, and they just keep getting better. Their performance at the Kashima Seaside Jazz Festival last Saturday (talked about in the new post) was outstanding.

    The saddest thing is that graduation is going to seriously hamstring us. Our brass sections are going to be stronger next year, but our sax and rhythm sections are going to be losing all their muscle. I'm trying very hard to train the second string so they'll be ready to take over, but...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:16 AM  

  • Sounds like a day of fun. Great pictures of inside the stadium. Thanks for sharing them, matee, according to word verification. LOL!

    WV is learning some English..

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 5:03 PM  

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