Tokyo: Fans around the world on Wednesday were praising the impeccably polite behavior shown by Japanese supporters at the World Cup in Russia, where they cleaned up the stands despite suffering a heartbreaking last-minute defeat.
While the sight of fans picking up their own litter was remarkable to most, back in Japan the practice, which is ingrained since childhood, is seen as completely normal.
Images of Japanese fans picking up rubbish in Russian stadiums after watching their team’s matches became a social media sensation, and has caught the attention of international media, while a photo of the immaculate Japanese changing room after their defeat to Belgium also went viral. The team also left a hand-written thank you note in Russian.
While international observers have previously noted Japanese fans’ and players’ tidiness, their behaviour was even more impressive this time around, considering the gut-wrenching nature of their defeat to Belgium.
The last remaining Asian team in the competition let a two-goal lead slip with under 20 minutes left in the Round of 16 game.
After giving a standing ovation to their players, the disconsolate Japanese fans collected their waste in bags which they had brought themselves.
The players bowed to the crowd, and later left their dressing room impeccably clean, with a message saying “Thank you” in Russian, a viral photo shared by FIFA staff showed.
The worldwide praise which the Japanese fans and players conduct received has been met with both surprise and pride back home.
“It might be remarkable outside Japan, but for us it is normal. It would be unusual to leave behind trash wherever you go and show a bad image in a country which is not your own,” Yumi Takada, a 61-year-old Japanese woman, told EFE, having watched the match on TV in the early hours of Tuesday.
For Japanese people, cleaning public spaces is a well established tradition, and children are taught to clean their classrooms and sports facilities from the age of six.
It is normal for Japanese people to leave parks in the same state as they found them in after large open-air gatherings and festivals.
“This is the Japanese way. We always try to leave everything clean,” the Japanese Football Association press officer told reporters.
Despite the outpouring of praise for their cleanliness, not all Japanese fans were happy with their team’s performance in Russia, despite coming within seconds of achieving their best ever result at the World Cup.
“We can no longer be satisfied with being good losers,” Japanese daily Asahi said in an article on Tuesday, urging people to demand better results from the national team, which has now lost in the round of 16 for the third time after first qualifying for the event in 1998.
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