Reysol fans have put their city on the map with their wild support. And there’s even more to discover in this overlooked prefecture
Date: Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
Location: Kashiwa, Chiba prefecture
Venue: Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium
Match: Kashiwa Reysol versus Shonan Bellmare (Levain Cup, semi-final)
Travelling on the Musashino Line can be difficult. On days when the sun shines brightly between the suburban tower blocks, the dancing light dazzles the eyes and the warm rays set beads of sweat rolling down backs.
Disgruntled commuters yank down the blinds, obliterating the brightness, dulling the heat and dissolving from our sights the urban sprawl that washes out to the hazy, jagged mountains on the edge of the Kanto plain.
But with the view removed, a problem arises. There are no information screens on Musashino Line trains. Keeping track of the location becomes a listening game.
Mumbled announcements come and go. Shadowy stations appear beyond the blinds. And then I hear it.
I grab my bag and jump off the train at Shim-Matsudo. Switch to the Joban Line and ten minutes later reach my destination in Chiba prefecture.
It could be any of the cities that border Tokyo. A bustling station, frazzled commuters, the ubiquitous coffee shops and a huge shopping centre.
But this one is different. It has something that sets it apart. A splash of bright yellow amid the grey concrete jungle.
It’s time to experience the home of Kashiwa Reysol.
Gateway to Chiba
It’s not all suburban life out here, though. As the home of Tokyo Disneyland and Narita Airport, many people pass through this prefecture. But not many venture out further to discover what else Chiba has to offer.
Those people are missing out.
Narita, as already mentioned, is home to an airport, one of the biggest in Japan, and a major gateway into the country. But to consider it as only an aviation hub would be to miss out on a place of beautiful history and tranquility.
For over 1,000 years, Naritasan Shinshoji has been an important place of worship. It has survived through eras of great upheaval, of war and destruction, and the threatening encroachment of modern life. But it survived, and flourished.
Today it’s a wonderful complex of grand temples, colourful pagodas and peaceful parkland with paths that wind beneath leafy trees around a pleasant lake. Hours can be lost here, with tracks leading away in all directions, over stone bridges, beyond sculptures disappearing into the undergrowth.
The main complex is just as stunning. It stretches away, pristine grounds dotted with trees and ancient buildings. Walk through and you’ll discover the Peace Pagoda, a striking red and white tower that looks out over the surrounding woodland.
And this incredible world is just 50 minutes away from Kashiwa. It’s also under an hour from another J.League team in neighbouring Ibaraki prefecture: Kashima Antlers.
Chiba holds many more surprises, and this region is home to other teams with their own stories.
But this is match night in Kashiwa.
Kashiwa comes to life
Back in the city and everyday life is going on undisturbed. It’s approaching rush hour and suited business people are beginning to drift back home in drips and drabs. They join the late-afternoon crowd alongside pensioners and schoolchildren as the sun begins to set and lights flicker to life in the towering office blocks and apartments.
I leave the hub of activity around the station behind and follow bustling commercial streets that soon recede into narrower lanes lined by apartments. A quick glance at the map shows a diagonal road cutting through the houses. And it’s clear that I’m on the right track.
Reysol flaggers flutter either side of the street, above supporters in the yellow of the home side and the light green of visiting Shonan Bellmare.
Tonight is the first leg of the Levain Cup semi-final, and as I approach the stadium, I can already feel the atmosphere building.
A Reysol welcome
Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium reveals itself slowly. The long, straight, flag-lined road is halted in its tracks by a quaint looking park. But there are signs that this is no ordinary recreation space.
Rey-kun, Reysol’s mischievous mascot, sits on the corner, adorned in a flag and grinning, immortalised in statue form.
And at the entrance of the park, it starts to get real.
Signs directing home and visiting supporters in different directions signals the true start of match night at Reysol. It’s somewhat a break from the norm in Japanese football, where fans from both sides are usually free to mingle anywhere pre-game.
But this feels like an almost European football experience as I join the yellow-shirted Reysol fans through the park, while the Shonan supporters split off towards their section of the stadium.
And through the trees, I catch my first glimpses of Kashiwa Reysol’s home. The bright yellow crest and flags fluttering in the breeze atop the no nonsense home stand behind the goal.
It’s still early as I go through the ticket gate, but already plenty of fans are milling about. Including the aggressively friendly type.
While taking a second to study the stadium map to confirm where I’m sitting, my ticket is unceremoniously taken from my hand by a well-meaning home fan. She studies my ticket and herds me towards the stand.
There’s no messing about at Kashiwa Reysol.
I take a seat at the back of the home grandstand behind the goal. And as the clock ticks closer to kick off, the squat stadium steadily fills up and the noise levels rise considerably. At the far end, the visiting fans from Kanagawa are also creating a significant din.
Reysol fans have a reputation for their boisterous support, and even on a night when empty yellow seats dot the stadium, they live up to expectations.
The warm-up is greeted with relentless drum-beating, mosh pit-style bouncing and full-voiced chants.
But with just minutes to go until kick-off, the stadium falls silent. And then a lone voice calls out through the crisp autumn night, leading the fans through an atmospheric routine that perfectly ramps up match night expectations.
And for both Reysol and Shonan, tonight’s game is a welcome distraction from a troubling league campaign, where relegation is a very real danger.
Away from those worries tonight, though, and the game explodes into life from the start. It takes only one minute for Reysol to open the scoring. Ataru Esaka finds space on the right and slides the ball across the box to Shunsuke Kikuchi, who takes a touch before stabbing home.
Just eight minutes later and the visitors are level. Yusuke Segawa’s shot from just outside the area takes a slight deflection and loops over Haruhiko Takimoto into the Reysol goal.
Over the next 80 minutes the game ebbs and flows, chances come and go for both teams. Shonan’s high-pressing causes a few heart-in-the-mouth moments for the home fans, but Reysol continue to play their game and create some great chances. As the final whistle cuts through the chilly floodlit sky, a 1-1 draw seems like a fair result.
Reysol will go on to lose on penalties in the second leg, but as we file out of the stadium on a clear October night, there’s still hope in the air. Dreams of a cup final (soon to be distinguished) and J.League 1 survival (still anyone’s guess at the time of writing) as the business end of the season approaches.
The suburbs shine
I board a Joban Line train and ten minutes later switch to the Musashino Line, which is even more mysterious by night. Lights flash by beyond the blinds, still drawn despite the disappearance of the sun.
I listen carefully and tick the stations off in my mind, when an announcement brings back memories. If you’ve ever travelled to watch Urawa Reds, you’ve most likely stepped foot on the platforms of Higashi-Kawaguchi. This is where you transfer to reach Saitama Stadium 2002.
This is another venue deep in the suburbs. And, like Kashiwa, it’s in a corner of an unfairly derided prefecture that comes to life on any given match day.
Kashiwa might not be a well-known place, but its football team has well and truly put it on the map. And it’s a city perfectly located for exploring under-appreciated Chiba.
So get off the beaten track, board that unfamiliar train line, and experience football and Japan away from the bright lights. You won’t regret it.
You’ve read the post, now watch the video! Experience match night at Sankyo Frontier Kashiwa Stadium as Kashiwa Reysol take on Shonan Bellmare in the Levain Cup.