A Brazilian Tropicana in the heart of Tokyo
Many Brazilians and Brazilians of Japanese descent migrated to Japan during the latter half of the Eighties and early Nineties in search of work. Yet despite moving to the other side of the world and living over a decade in a foreign country, the fire and passion with which they support their hometown team has not diminished one iota.
A perfect example can be found at "Copa Tokyo", a Brazilian restaurant a stone's throw from Tokyo's National Stadium. The Selecao famously celebrated here after they lifted the FIFA World Cup in 2002. The owner, Juliano, a diehard fan of Corinthians, Sao Paulo's fiercest rivals, will be going to the games but won't be cheering for the Tricolor. "If it was any other team from South America but Sao Paulo I would be right behind them," he explains.
Juliano likes to discuss football with his friend Hiroshi Miyamoto, a third-generation Japanese-Brazilian also from Sao Paulo and also employed at a Brazilian restaurant, the Acaraje Tropicana in Tokyo's Roppongi district. Hiroshi first came to Japan, his father's homeland, in 1992 at the tender age of 14. The two never miss an opportunity to get together and have a frank exchange of views, an exchange made all the more frank by Hiroshi's love for São Paulo Futebol Clube.
The Acaraje Tropicana is a popular haunt of Tokyo Verdy's Brazilian striker Washington, the Omiya Ardija striker Tuto, and many of the J-League's other resident Brazilians. Instead of being star-struck by his high-profile clientele, Hiroshi has no doubts where his loyalties lie. "Sao Paulo FC is in my blood. When I was a child, the whole family would pack into the Estádio do Morumbi to watch the game. After coming to Japan, I made sure I had satellite TV with Brazilian channels so that I would not miss a single match."
Hiroshi has lost count of how many nights he spent wide-awake, buzzing with excitement, the night before his team were to play. Now his team are coming to Japan to compete in one of the most prestigious club competitions and right on his doorstep too. Although his job will be keeping him too busy to attend the final, he is all fired up for the semi-final against either Al Itthad or Al Ahly. In Hiroshi's opinion, that first game will be barely more than a warm-up for the main event, defeat has never crossed his mind.
Torcida Independente Japon, a Sao Paulo fan club of which Hiroshi is a member, is busy organizing bus tours to ferry fans from all over Japan to the stadiums. With journeys to the final selling fast, Hiroshi is not the only one who thinks Thursday's result is a foregone conclusion.
"The top European clubs have a bigger following here in Japan, but when those clubs send out their talent scouts they are sending them to Brazil to find the next Ronaldinho, the next Adriano," he says. "The Sao Paulo team is bursting with talent, we have Rogerio Ceni in goal, and Cicinho, Grafite, and Amoroso are also all great players, Japanese football fans won't know what's hit them"
Hiroshi is dreaming of a victorious Sao Paulo team swamped with millions of new Japanese fans heading to his restaurant for a victory feast. "If the Tricolor players want to drop by my restaurant to celebrate they will get a very big discount!" he says with a smile.