When the game was over on Sunday afternoon, the Japanese fans who had just spent hours jumping around under the hot midday sun took a moment to feel bad about their team’s loss to Costa Rica by a score of 1-0. But the moment was over quickly, and the blue trash bags came out.
At this year’s World Cup, a group of Japanese fans who had just been singing wildly for their team started cleaning the stands at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, picking up trash from the rows of seats around them. This is a tradition that hasn’t been seen in a long time and is surprising many people.
It didn’t matter what it was or who left it behind, whether it was half-empty soda bottles, orange peels, or dirty napkins. As they left, the fans went down the aisles and put the trash in bags, which they then gave to workers who were smiling and clearly happy.
“It shows respect for a place,” said Eiji Hattori, 32, a fan from Tokyo who had a bag full of bottles, ticket stubs, and other trash from the stadium. “This place is not ours, so we should clean up if we use it. And even if it is not our garbage, it’s still dirty, so we should clean it up.”
During the World Cup, the sight of calm fans cleaning up after themselves has impressed people from other countries, like the U.S., where dodging sticky soda spills, toppled bags of popcorn, and little mountains of peanut shells is just a normal part of going to a sports stadium.
If I may ask, fans from Japan stayed up to their tradition by cleaning up the stadium, were they policed by anyone to leave the stadium clean? Was it their prerogative to clean up the stadium? Remember, they had the option of not tidying up Common mate; we are leaving in denial.
— Jared Kidambi (@JaredKidambi) December 26, 2022
But in Japan, cleanliness, especially in public places, is generally seen as a good thing. People from Japan at the game said that they learned these habits at home and were reminded of them at school, where students are taught from a young age to clean their classrooms and school facilities regularly.
Cleaning places like stadiums that are used by many people, like a lot of people, is not always done by an army of workers.
The coach of the Japanese team, Hajime Moriyasu, said, “For Japanese people, this is just what they do.” “When you leave a place, you have to leave it cleaner than it was before.”
On social media, videos and photos of the Japanese cleaning sessions have gone viral. But fans aren’t the only ones who share them: Last week, FIFA posted a picture of the Japanese team’s locker room after their huge upset win over Germany. The room was clean, you guessed it.
The Japanese fans have inspired fans of other teams to clean up after games, too. “We think we can make this catch on,” said Tomomi Kishikawa, a 28-year-old fan from Tokyo who lives in Doha and works as a flight attendant. “We don’t need to push anyone to clean. But if we start, maybe we can be a good example of respect.”
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The sudden attention and praise from around the world have made Japanese fans feel a mix of pride, amusement, and embarrassment. Many people have been happy with how the country’s culture has been shown.
Some don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Others have felt a little uneasy, wondering if this was just another time when one person’s actions were held up as if they were typical of everyone in Japan.
Several fans at the stadium on Sunday, for example, tried to clear up something that may have been unclear in all the gushing viral posts and press coverage: Most Japanese people are careful about where they put their trash, but at this World Cup, only a small group of fans have been walking around picking up other people’s trash.
On Sunday, the Japanese Football Association gave out thousands of blue plastic bags that said “Thank You” in English, Japanese, and Arabic. However, only a few dozen fans out of the tens of thousands who were there took part in the larger effort.
Nagisa Amano, 23, a fan from Yokohama, said, “We were asked to clean up, but we didn’t want to.” “We just wanted to enjoy the stadium. We have a right to do that, I think.”
Amano said she had heard that stadium workers in Japan had to reopen trash bags that overzealous fans had filled in order to separate recyclable materials. She was worried that Japanese fans in Qatar might accidentally get in the way of other efforts.
Japan fans whether they win or lose the will clean the stadium, Senegal for making the stadium colourful and the Morocco fans for cheering the players to a historical semi final stage.
— Rhydor (@rhydoremmy23) December 12, 2022
She said that all the fuss about how clean the fans were was probably good for Japan’s reputation abroad, but she wondered if their intentions were completely good.
“I heard some people are joining that group to clean up just to enjoy being in the spotlight,” she said. Yoichi Masuzoe, a former governor of Tokyo, said in a tweet that went viral after the Germany game that Japanese tourists should be more aware of local culture and customs and respect the fact that there are already people paid to clean the stadiums.
“Japanese civilization is not the only world,” Masuzoe wrote. Qatar, on the other hand, seems to be glad for the cleaning. After Japan beat Germany, someone from the stadium staff led a group of workers and volunteers over to the fans who were cleaning up the stands and thanked them over a bullhorn.
On Sunday, a volunteer from Beirut, Lebanon, named Jaziba Zaghloul, who is 18 years old, was speeding across a row of seats while carrying her own blue trash bag.
“It’s not my job, but I feel responsible,” Zaghloul said. He had seen that fans from Morocco and Saudi Arabia had cleaned up after games after seeing how the Japanese fans did it. “There’s a sense of community when you see people care. It’s a snowball effect.”
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