Iwata: Finding Jubilo in a city of music and motors

It may not be a major tourist destination, but this quirky part of Shizuoka has its charms and a team struggling to rediscover past glories

Date: Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 
Location: Iwata city, Shizuoka prefecture
Venue: Yamaha Stadium
Match: Jubilo Iwata versus Vegalta Sendai (Emperor's Cup quarter-final)

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Is this what David Bowie was singing about? The terrifying creatures stomping across beaches, marauding through post-apocalyptic cities and terrifying the survivors.

It seems unlikely. It feels like no-one has discovered this quirky museum tucked away at the back of a shop in Zaza City shopping mall, let alone the Thin White Duke.

This is Hamamatsu Diorama Factory, where the work of master model maker Takuji Yamada takes pride of place. And it’s not all a world of monsters.

There are scenes of a more familiar nature, too. Families enjoying dinner, a motor racing pit stop, and a group of boys playing football.

In a couple of hours time I’ll be watching some real-life grown men playing the same game. At Yamaha Stadium, in nearby Iwata, for Jubilo’s Emperor’s Cup quarter-final against Vegalta Sendai.

But first it’s a chance to explore this city of culture, where a sprit of adventure has made possible the creation of the impossible.

A model in the Hamamatsu Diorama Factory

Living the park life

Hamamatsu marches to a different beat than other cities in Japan. It lies just off the tourist trail. It’s a glance through the window as the Tokyo-Osaka bullet train makes a brief stop. A tucked away corner of Shizuoka, nestled up against Aichi prefecture, a 40-minute train ride from Nagoya. It sits agonisingly beyond the shadow of Mount Fuji. It lacks the picture postcard views enjoyed by Shizuoka city, but is less than 30 minutes away.

But there are reasons to stop off here. It’s a melody of cultures. There’s a large Brazilian community, with many people from overseas working in the city’s factories. Signs around Hamamatsu are in Japanese, English and Portuguese. The South American influence spreads to supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants.

That’s not to say you can’t find Japanese culture here. Just outside the city centre is a peaceful park, and above the tree line pokes the unmistakeable shape of a castle roof.

Hamamatsu Castle dates back to the 1500s, but was destroyed during World War Two air raids. It was rebuilt in 1958 and today offers commanding views over the city.

The view from Hamamatsu Castle in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan

The surrounding parkland is a welcome world of green. Tracks weave through the trees and paths open up to reveal perfectly manicured lawns. The only sound is the chirping of birds and the buzz of insects.

It’s all far removed from what has put Hamamatsu on the map in modern times.

A city of music

There’s a familiar name that chimes throughout this part of Shizuoka. It’s the name of a company that has bucked the meaning of the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”.

Yamaha are famous for everything, from motorised wheelchairs to speedboat engines. And Hamamatsu is the company’s home. This is where Yamaha was born, all the way back in 1887, when they were famous for making pianos and reed organs.

The company’s logo, an image of interconnecting tuning forks, harks back to those early days. And Yamaha is still based in Shizuoka prefecture.

To get an idea of Yamaha’s musical history, head to Hamamatsu Museum of Musical Instruments. Many examples of the company’s work can be found here, alongside an array of exhibits from around the world.

In the late-1970s, Hamamatsu’s local government fully embraced the importance of music in the history of the city. And since then, this overlooked corner of Shizuoka has been known as the City of Music. Concerts are held throughout the year, providing Japanese and international musicians to chance to share their gift with the local population.

But in neighbouring Iwata, the streets are filled with sound of a different kind.

The world of Yamaha

Yamaha’s influence spreads beyond the boundaries of Hamamatsu city. Take a ten-minute ride on the JR Tokaido Line and you’ll reach the modern day centre of the company’s empire.

Iwata, at first sights, is nothing out of the ordinary. The only thing that’s clear is the city’s love of its local team. Splashes of Jubilo blue brighten up the every day grey of the suburban station, and the team’s flags flutter out on the streets.

Early on a midweek afternoon, though, and Iwata looks deserted. A scattering of people are sat at the bus stops in front of the station. Beyond that the streets are quiet. I can hear the hiss of tyres as buses roll in and out. A bored taxi driver yawns as a student walks past.

There’s a lot to be said for studying bus timetables. And there’s little sympathy for those who don’t. After sitting at the bus stop waiting in vain for the number 27, I take another look.

It comes twice a day. The next one is in four hours’ time.

There are easier ways of reaching Yamaha Stadium, the home of Jubilo Iwata (head to page two for detailed information), but there’s somewhere I want to visit before kick-off. So I set off on foot.

It’s late October, yet the sun is still strong. I’m sweaty and thirsty by the time I start to see factory buildings appear beyond the shops and houses.

This is one of Yamaha’s factory bases in Shizuoka, and it’s also home to something incredible for anyone with a bit of petrol running through their veins.

Yamaha Communication Plaza is a free museum stocked full of the company’s achievements, from the brilliant to the bizarre. It’s an amazing facility, where minutes turn quickly to hours. There’s so much to see. And it doesn’t have to cost you a single yen.

A collection of motorbikes in Yamaha Communication Plaza, Iwata city, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan
Bikes galore in Yamaha Communication Plaza

Motorbikes take up a lot of the floor space here, being arguably the machinery most synonymous with Yamaha. There are some stunning examples, including the 2015 MotoGP Yamaha YZR-M1s of Valentino Rossi and that season’s champion Jorge Lorenzo.

It’s not all about two wheels, though. There’s something special lurking beyond the bikes.

Yamaha’s foray into Formula One as an engine manufacturer wasn’t much to write home about. When they supplied the power unit for the Jordan 192 in 1992, the car had already been designed to accommodate the smaller Ford V8. The Yamaha V12 engine suffered from overheating issues and the team struggled with reliability all season. In 1993, Jordan abandoned Yamaha for Hart in the redesigned 193. But the 192 is still a beautiful piece of F1 car design.

After a good couple of hours nosing around the collection, I head upstairs to the Plaza Cafe. I order a coffee, take a seat by the window and look out. Just across the road is Yamaha Stadium, the venue for tonight’s Emperor’s Cup quarter final between Jubilo Iwata and Vegalta Sendai.

The sun is beginning to drop behind the hills and kick off is approaching.

A view of Yamaha Stadium, the home of J.League 1 team Jubilo Iwata, seen from the Yamaha Communication Plaza
Yamaha Stadium, seen from Yamaha Communication Plaza

Scouting for a win

Yamaha Stadium is a compact little ground that wouldn’t look out of place in the suburbs of a small British town. It’s surrounded by houses and the Yamaha factory buildings. Fans emerge from all directions, congregating in the large space in front of the main stand.

Yamaha Stadium, the home of J.League 1 team Jubilo Iwata
Welcome to Yamaha Stadium

Despite a place in the Emperor’s Cup semi-final being at stake, the turnout isn’t huge for tonight’s game. But it’s a perfect evening for football. Autumn has arrived and the temperature is just right. An orange glow from the setting sun is bathing the stadium in a warm light.

As the sun starts to drop below the horizon, the stadium gates open and the hardcore support rush to their places right at the front of the stand. I settle in a bit further back, watching on as day turns to night. But I soon regret arriving so early.

Music is subjective. I get that. It would be boring if everyone liked the same songs. And I don’t have anything in particular against Scouting for Girls. They’re mostly non-offensive. But I do draw the line at having to listen to She’s So Lovely on repeat. Play it once if you like, sure. Four times, though?

By the grace of all that’s holy, the music is eventually replaced by chanting, and kick off is only minutes away.

Sendai’s super troupers

The Jubilo fans run through their pre-match chants. There’s drumming and banging to a relentless beat.

It’s infectious. Despite the low attendance, the noise is non-stop. Fans are jumping up and down, shouting, singing, chanting without break all night. And it turns into a long one.

Jubilo Iwata fans cheer ahead of the Emperor's Cup quarter final against Vegalta Sendai at Yamaha Stadium
Match night at Yamaha Stadium

Jubilo get off to a great start and take the lead after ten minutes. Koki Ogawa sticks out a boot to connect with a low-driven cross, leaving Vegalta goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt with no chance.

And it’s the hosts who look the better team for most of the night. They create the best chances, but are prevented from extending their lead by Schmidt, who shows why he’s part of the Japan national team set-up.

But Vegalta do more than just hang on, they strike a late blow. Ryo Germain’s shot takes a wicked deflection off Yoshiaki Fujita, wrong-foots goalkeepr Ryuki Miura and trickles into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal. It’s 1-1 in the 86th minute.

And now the game bursts into life. Jubilo throw everything they have at Vegalta for the remaining minutes of normal time. It becomes the Daniel Schmidt show. He makes save after save, and somehow Vegalta survive.

We go into extra time.

Chances come and go. Time is ticking away. Tension is rising, the noise level increasing. Fans are standing on the seats, yelling, urging Jubilo forward. The drumming and banging is shaking the stand, the vibrations send cockroaches scuttling out from gaps in the old concrete blocks.

A shot whistles past the post. Players collapse to the ground and punch the pitch in frustration. Agonised gasps escape from the supporters.

And then the referee blows his whistle. It’s going to penalties.

And not just any old penalty shoot-out. An ABBA shoot-out.

It’s time for ABBA

The ABBA format was introduced to make shoot-outs fairer. Team A goes first, then team B twice, then team A goes twice, and so on. It’s similar to a tie-break in tennis.

Ultimately, though, it still comes down to players holding their nerve and taking a good penalty. After the pulsating 30 minutes of extra time, the players look spent. And for Jubilo’s Tomohiko Miyazaki, it becomes a night to forget. Needing to score to keep his side in it, he blasts over. Vegalta win 4-3 on penalties.

Yamaha Stadium, the home of J.League 1 side Jubilo Iwata, during the Emperor's Cup quarter-final against Vegalta Sendai

Let’s give it a try

Vegalta Sendai went on to lose the Emperor’s Cup final to Urawa Reds. For Jubilo, a cup final of a different kind awaited. A difficult season ended with a promotion/relegation play-off against Tokyo Verdy.

But they survived, beating the J2 side 2-0 to maintain their J1 status.

These times of struggle are far removed from Jubilo’s glory years. They’re three-time J1 champions, having won the title in 1997, 1999 and 2002.

Since then they’ve spent two seasons in J2 and have been flirting with a return over the last couple of seasons.

There’s an expression in this corner of Shizuoka – yaramaika. It means “let’s give it a try”. It’s the attitude that drove the development of the city, from where Yamaha grew into one of the world’s biggest companies. Yaramaika also helped make a small city team the best in Japan.

If Jubilo Iwata want to return to the top of the charts, they’re going to have to rediscover this spirit.

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