Fifteen years ago „Saitama Stadium 2002“ hosted the World Cup semi-final between Brazil and Turkey. Now it is home to the Urawa Red Diamonds. The J-League top match against recent champions Kashima Antlers was our excuse to visit this beautiful place.
About an hour north of the Tokyo circle line Saitama Stadium 2002 is one of the largest football stadiums in Asia. The stadium usually holds 63,700 people. On the day we visited, the capacity had been reduced to 57,000 due to fan segregation.
The significant roof top can already be seen from the closest metro station about 1.5 miles away. Two giant metal arcs seem to stretch out of a concrete bowl enclosing the main and the straight stand and leaving the fan sectors behind the goal with their own cover too.
The 25 min walk to the stadium leads along a railway line through a suburban area. Next to stadium there is a park which has recently been made smaller.
Inside the stadium the comfort level is comparably high. Escalators take the fans to their sector. And the catering consists of a huge variety of Japanese food and beer. With reasonable prices. As with other public places in Japan, there are strict rules about separating garbage.
As the stadium is sold out and both sets of fans are singing, the atmosphere is great. The home fans present a well prepared choreography at the start of the match, trying to mock their opponents wearing the same colours by claiming that they are in fact „true red“.
The football itself never reaches the intensity of the fan chants. Turnovers and fouls instead of passes and shots on goal. Finally Kashima Antlers win 1-0, them being the slightly more determined team on the pitch.
Even without sporting highlights, this stadium visit remains an interesting excursion to sports architecture and Japanese everyday life. Football is more than a game.