Tokio National Stadium
Name: National Stadium
Address: 10-2 Kasumigaokacho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0013, Japan
Last renovation: 1991
Home teams: Japenese national teams, important club matches
National Stadium – a “Field of Dreams”
The 60,000-seat National Stadium arose from the ashes of the old Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium in 1958 as part of a bid by Japan to realise its dream of hosting the Summer Olympic Games. The stadium, located in the heart of Tokyo, hosted the Asian Games in 1958 during the campaign to persuade the International Olympic Committee to award the Games to the Japanese capital. Thanks to the success of the Asian Games, Japan was awarded the 1964 Olympic Games.
The Olympics made a big impression on the world of Japanese sport, and football was no exception. The Japanese Olympic football team did well to reach the quarter-final in 1964 and went on to clinch the bronze medal four years later in Mexico.
The achievement of winning an Olympic medal at football did a lot to boost the domestic game, and the stadium served as the venue for the final of the Emperor’s Cup (the Japanese FA Cup), the 1979 FIFA World Youth Championship and the FIFA U-17 World Cup 1993. From 1980-2004, the former version of the FIFA Club World Cup was held there annually, showcasing spectacular dramas and world-class performances by the champions of Europe and South America.
“WHERE IS THE VENUE?”
One of the more memorable contests was the 1985 Toyota Cup between Juventus and Argentinos Juniors. Juventus midfielder Michel Platini came close to scoring one of the game’s most beautiful goals ever in the 68th minute when he outwitted a defender by skilfully controlling the ball with his chest and his right foot before firing into the net. But the referee spotted an offside and the goal was disallowed.
The French star lay on the pitch, resting his head in his hands in disgust. Juventus went on to win 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw and Platini was named “Man of the Match”. The picture of Platini looking forlorn not only highlighted his disappointment, but also drew attention to the state of the pitch at the National Stadium, which was worn and brown when it should have been lush and green.
Another year, a club official from one of the Toyota Cup finalists asked the organisers after training at the stadium: “So, where is the venue for tomorrow’s final?” Criticism from the Toyota Cup teams prompted the stadium officials to look into ways of keeping the grass green during the dry winter months.
“The Toyota Cup was a key turning point for us,” says Shigeru Watanabe, head of the National Stadium’s Sports Turf department, which is part of the National Agency for the Advancement of Sports and Health. The 49-year-old has put a lot of work into pitch improvements at the National Stadium. He and his senior colleagues eventually found a way of keeping the pitch in shape and, following the World Athletic Championships in 1991, they introduced a winter overseeding method using two types of grass seeds. The improvements in the condition of the pitch could be seen when the inaugural J.League match was played on 15 May 1993.
When Japan announced its venues for the co-hosted 2002 FIFA World Cup™, one of the most frequently asked questions was why the National Stadium was not on the list. Limited parking space and the noise that would affect neighbouring residential areas were cited as potential problems and Tokyo was not included as a venue for the FIFA World Cup™.
MANY DREAMS LEFT
Since 2005, however, the National Stadium — now ‘with a reduced capacity of 50,339 — has served as one of the venues for the FIFA Club World Cup and is preparing for that role again in December. “These matches are when our work is evaluated,” Watanabe said. “Since our work appears on television to viewers across the country and the world, it encourages us in our efforts.”
As several stadiums were built around the country ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, the National Stadium no longer has to worry about overuse as it did before. Last year, the stadium hosted 45 football matches — a sharp decline from a decade earlier — and 37 track-and-field events, in addition to three rugby union matches. A limited number of music concerts are also staged at the stadium, which features a museum, library and gym within its walls. “Because we host a lot fewer matches these days, we cannot make any excuses for the condition of the pitch,” noted Watanabe. “We have to offer the best conditions at all times.” The National Stadium enjoys a high profile in Japan and beyond and continues to be regarded as the “Field of Dreams” for many footballers. Even at 50, it still has many dreams left to fulfil.