Millions of travellers across the world harbour dreams of discovering Japan's culture, sampling its cuisine and taking a closer look at its technological gadgets. Only a fortunate few, however, actually have the chance to make the journey, among them the 138 players who will join home favourites Urawa Red Diamonds at the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup 2007.
And as they prepared to catch their respective flights, some of the leading names spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about their expectations and hopes for the trip ahead.
Leading the list of players who have already experienced Japan's charms is one Paolo Maldini. The vastly experienced AC Milan defender made the first of his five visits in 1989 and has become something of an authority on the many delights the country has to offer. "It's a fascinating place with a tremendous passion for football," explained the Italian international. "The fans are very welcoming and respectful and that helps create a great atmosphere."
One man who seems to have immersed himself in the culture more than most is three-time visitor Clarence Seedorf, who has even opened his own Japanese restaurant in Milan. "I love everything to do with Japan and its culture," the Dutchman told FIFA.com. "It's not just the food, which is wonderful, but the spirituality of its culture, the constant search for an equilibrium between balance and mind. That's something I try to achieve in my life as well."
Kaka is another devotee of Japanese cuisine - in fact, he is one of Seedorf's restaurant's A-list customers - but while the Brazilian was hard pressed to name his favourite dish, his coach Carlo Ancelotti was quick to declare himself partial to a plate of Kobe meat.
The Milanese are not the only players on an intimate footing with Japan. Accustomed to conquering South America in recent years, the Boca Juniors squad have also collected their fair share of Japanese passport stamps. Sebastian Battaglia, for instance, has a weakness for the local technology. "The first time I went Discmans were all the rage," he recalled. "You didn't see them in Argentina but in Japan they were selling them in the street. You could go crazy with all the things they've got there." On his trip to the Far East, Pablo Ledesma fulfilled a long-cherished ambition. "I was lucky enough to take a ride on a bullet train, something I've wanted to do since I was a kid," said the midfielder.
The players of New Zealand's Waitakere United will be among the first to touch down in Tokyo and are looking forward to trying out the local delicacies. "There are lots of Japanese restaurants in Auckland, but I can't wait to start trying everything here in Japan itself," commented Commins Menapi, a self-confessed lover of fried rice and sushi.
Team coach Chris Milicich is bracing himself for an eye-opening experience. "It's sure to be a culture shock, something really different and I'm enjoyingh seeing it for myself. There are more people in Tokyo than the whole of New Zealand. It's absolutely fascinating."
Croatian Luka Bonacic, the coach of Iranian side Sepahan, is just as excited about the trip: "It's very different to Iran, where I've been living for the last four years. I don't drink there but I'm looking forward to trying some sake. It's something I've always wanted to do," he smiled.
"It's such a different place and that makes you want to see it even more," added Pachuca's talented Colombian Andres Chitiva, one of the first timers making the trip with the CONCACAF representatives. "I've heard about how respectful the people are, the technology and the sushi, and I'm sure we'll find the trip rewarding on a footballing level and, more than anything else, on a personal level too."
So as you can see, just as millions of fans around the world are waiting expectantly for the FIFA Club World Cup to get under way, the players who will be taking part in the tournament are equally anxious to sample the myriad sights, sounds and flavours of the host nation.