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With me just out of hospital after stomach surgery I’d thought I’d put some stuff on July’s Japanese tour. As usual it’s as much about the people and the places as it is about the football, as it should be. Enjoy, and I hope to be back on the road soon.

Thursday 7th July 2011 ko 2.00pm

Japan University Football Association Prime Minister Cup Semi Final

MEIJI 1 (Iwabuchi 73)

OSAKA TAIIKO 1 (Matzuzawa 19)

AET  Osaka won 4-3 pens

Att c150

@ Nagai Number 2 Stadium, Osaka

Entry, Programme and Teamsheet 1000 yen (about £8.50)

Nagai Park is southern Osaka is quite something. There’s the massive Number 1 stadium, used in the World Cup, the 20,000 Kincho, and the 10,000 Number 2 all within 100 yards. Potentially an easy triple, and there’s the Botanical gardens too!

Before the game I decided to find some lunch. I immediately eschewed the likes of Burger King and McDonald’s, you can get that anywhere. I found a little corner cafe, with a Cerezo Osaka poster in the window. Seeing that I thought that it had to be alright, so in I went. I sat down and was presented with a beautiful leather-bound menu… in Japanese, with not even a picture of what was on offer! The waitress spoke as much English as I do Japanese, so we had a good laugh about our misfortune, I made a fish sign with my hand, pointed out some rice, and used the two words of English she did know “Coca Cola!” I also pointed at the coffee machine afterwards. I had an excellent meal, reasonably priced, made a new friend, and had some fun into the bargain! So if you find yourself in Nagai, Mills Cafe is highly recommended!

I returned to the Number 2 stadium, and it was obvious that there was an entry fee, but since it wasn’t written down, again neither the bloke on the gate nor I could understand the other. The Japanese, being a clever bunch came up with a simple solution, I was shown the banknote I was supposed to hand over! Smiles all round, with a programme and teamsheet too!

My worry, other than the obvious language barrier, was the lack of cover given that it was hammering with rain, but my clip board worked its magic and I ended up in the covered press area having a chat with Takeyuki Okamoto, general manager of J1 side Omiya Ardia. The game pitted two of Japan’s top university sides against each other, and Mr Okamoto was there, amongst others to view likely recruits for top-flight clubs.

We watched a well organised game between two excellent sides and it was notable how well the pitch held up. I was pleased to see how well supported both sides were, that there wasn’t even a hint of dissent and it was notable that the sides bowed to the crowd at the conclusion. Of course being a cup game and me being more than hour from home the game went to extra-time and penalties.  As the winning penalty was scored the teams for the second semi final came out to warm up. I had to be somewhere else, but as it transpired, I’d watched the eventual winners.

You may wonder how I translated a teamsheet from the Kanji? Peter did it!