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Japanese referees and footballers are well known for their strict adherence to the Japanese code of humility, politeness and courtesy, on and off the field.
So much so that they have often been the subject of a good-natured roast in the media and a rich source of harangue for outspoken former Blue Samurai coach Ivica Osim.
It is a deeply ingrained cultural trait that top Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura (pictured above), who is one of the probables for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, believes is not serving the Japanese well in world football.
The message is startling in its tone: the thoroughly understated style of the Japanese, which works well inside the genteel environs of Japanese football lends itself to ridicule in the rough and tumble of global football.
The contradiction is perfectly captured by Nishimura, who routinely straddles the domestic and international spheres of refereeing.
“Japanese referees in general are shy, sensitive and very well mannered,” says Nishimura.
“In the J-League, the referees don’t need to talk much or shout on the field. Eye contact, body gestures are more than enough for a referee’s colleagues and the players to understand what you want to say.”
“Japanese referees, including myself, don’t really need to be very expressive in the domestic games. We hardly speak, leave alone yelling,” adds the man in black.
But Nishimura knows this subtle approach can backfire in the international arena.
“This approach is fine in local games as the people around you know you and everyone understand the football culture. But in international games it is an altogether difference case.”
“It is harsh but if you do it the J-League way, then I am sorry. You are in for a culture shock as you will be overwhelmed by player power,” asserts Nishimura.
“At the end of the day, you will collapse under the heavy pressure of the players and coaches, thus making many more errors as you are not your normal self anymore.”
THE WARRIOR SPIRIT
Nishimura believes this applies to the Japanese teams too and they need to summon their warrior spirit.
“It is the same for the Japanese football teams too. I strongly believe that if the Blue Samurai (the Japan men’s national team) want to do well in South Africa, especially if they want to achieve the goal of a semi-finals spot, they must forget Japanese culture for the time being and do battle the hardest way possible.
Former coach Osim was often furious with the Blue Samurai for showing too much respect to their opponents.
“Everybody knows the football pitch is a battle field. Only the strongest survive and prevail,” drills in Nishimura.
If Japanese referees want to aspire for success in international matches, Nishimura lays out the simple rule: Be brave and open.
“To officiate in international games successfully, you must be brave, open, and courageous. You should not be afraid of making decisions. These are the elements all Japanese referees need to succeed internationally.”
- Written by Tan Boon Piaw; Edited by R. Ravi Kumar
This article doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of AFC.