A POSTCARD FROM JAPAN
Supporter Rupert Cane reports back on the fan experience of following the Blues at the Club World Cup…
A trip following Chelsea like no other. A country like no other. Welcome to Japan.
In a country which is regarded as the meeting point of east and west, football's universal popularity comes as close as anything to fusing a country in which you're almost certainly within easy reach of both an ancient shrine and a bullet train, a Shinto temple or a sprawling urban metropolis.
The name of Chelsea has drawn a reaction amongst the locals which can only be described as somewhere between huge intrigue and wild hysteria.
Before we left, three of us who travelled out here to see the Blues got a custom-made flag which notes the key factors of the trip: Chelsea FC being the champions of Europe and playing in Japan. At the major points of interest - Mt Fuji, the A-Bomb dome in Hiroshima and Japan's tallest building the Skytree, to name but a few - we have unfurled the flag for a great photo opportunity.
At Kinkaku-Ji's Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, the most photographed temple in Japan, we found a good spot for our now traditional picture. Within seconds a swarm of locals had descended on us and frantically photographed us and the flag, many joining the picture to celebrate the moment. It was 10 minutes before a security guard eventually put a stop to proceedings and suggested we all turn our attentions to the most famous temple in Japan barely a few metres away!
It's not just the locals who have really made this tournament such a memorable one, though. The supporters of the other teams competing have thoroughly added to the whole atmosphere. In the past week it's felt like a Corinthians fan is only ever just round the corner, and considering 35,000 have travelled to Japan from all over the world it's hardly surprising. I spoke to one in Tokyo who had sold his house and car to be here. Would any other club in world football take such phenomenal support to a country over 11,000 miles away from their homeland? Their passion, good humour and commitment has been a hallmark of a wonderful trip.
Meanwhile the Monterrey and Al-Ahly supporters that we encountered were equally friendly and many were watching their side play in Japan for a second time.
If Chelsea are able to match those two teams' success and represent Europe on the world stage in Japan again, I suspect that most of our supporters who travelled from England this time around would make every effort to come back to Japan. The breadth of history and the variety of the culture, the unbelievable food and the remarkable warmth of the locals has made this a very special trip following Chelsea. Goodbye Japan. You will be missed.