Japan's Funky World Cup Stadiums
June 10, 2014

Japan’s Funky World Cup Stadiums

As the 2014 World Cup is upon us, I thought now would be a good time to look back on the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea, and in particular the remarkable technology behind the stadiums in Japan, where the Sapporo Dome on the northern island of Hokkaido boasts technology that is still head-shakingly impressive 12 years on.

Soccer is certainly popular in Japan, but not to the extent that it is in other parts of the world. Baseball trumps it, and it is baseball games that you will see taxi drivers watching obsessively on the small screens on their dashboard which broadcast live TV (yep, while they’re driving!). But once the World Cup was awarded to them, there was no way Japan was going to scrimp on the facilities they would present to the world.

The Sapporo Dome was built just one year before the World Cup, in 2001. It was intended to be used in the long term as both a baseball and a soccer stadium. Wishing to use the stadium for both purposes, along with the common problem which large stadiums have with getting enough air and sunlight to grass pitches, and finally, very possibly, the desire to show off, the Japanese decided to go to town on the technology.

Beneath the pitch is a huge complex of tech, not to mention storage space for an entire pitch beneath the one being used on the surface at any given time. The technology allows the field to be rotated to suit whichever use is required — the baseball diamond or the soccer rectangle. But the technology is not only inside the ground. To help with keeping grass nice, why not store a currently unused pitch outside the stadium, where it can get plenty of natural nourishment? The pitch is then moved back into stadium, using hydraulics similar to the system used on hovercrafts, to raise it up a few inches, after which it is slid through a huge gap created by movable walls. Entire sections of seating are also movable, which helps not only with getting the required field back in place, but also with the different set ups for baseball and soccer.

Sapporo wasn’t the only stadium to get cutting edge treatment. As the New York Times told us in 2002, “Kobe’s Wing Stadium has a computer-controlled water pipe system to regulate water, oxygen and fertilizer. Miyagi’s stadium, designed to resemble a 16th-century Japanese samurai helmet, provides an in-house group-hearing-aid system for designated seats. Oita’s stadium, known as the Big Eye, has a Teflon membrane translucent roof that retracts in 20 minutes.”

In all, Japan spent almost five billion dollars on either building or refurbishing stadiums for the 2002 World Cup. In Saitama, north of Tokyo, the prefectural governor took a gamble and doubled the size of the local stadium at a cost of over 600 million dollars, hoping it would be awarded the prestigious World Cup final. It wasn’t. That honor went to Yokohama.

I have often wondered how the world’s soccer fans and Japan’s unique society will have blended during that month in 2002. No doubt traveling fans will have been given a warm welcome, but locals may have been taken aback by the boisterousness of some of them. In turn, many fans will have found Japan’s high prices hard to take, at ten dollars a beer in the bar sometimes, and plenty of beer essential during a World Cup. That is particularly apparent to me as I have very recently been drinking for two dollars a beer near the World Cup stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, where some games were held during the 2010 tournament. The pitch in Cape Town, though, can’t wonder around from location to location.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on Amazon.com.

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