Best buys in the land where ladies swoon over Debiddo Bekkamu
Sunday 02 June 2002
It is a big day at World Football Shop Best and Hiroki Miyaji – proprietor, friend to the stars, and founder of Japan's Manchester United Supporters' Club – is run off his feet. As Japan's only emporium dedicated to British football, Shop Best is enjoying a busy month.
There are the replica models of English sports grounds to keep an eye on – 15,800 yen (£87) for a large Elland Road, or £32 for a miniature Anfield. Then there are the Sven Goran Eriksson key rings, and the Japanese magazines World Soccer Graphic and World Soccer Digest.
But the day's great excitement is the arrival of the shop's most coveted commodity – the white shirts bearing the No7 and, signifying Debiddo Bekkamu – as he is known here.
Tracking down Beckham shirts is a full-time job for Mr Miyaji. But he has come up with an ingenious solution. Instead of waiting months for the official merchandise, he buys blank England shirts and stencils them with the Beckham insignia.
Japanese football fans have a particularly soft spot for the England captain. When Manchester United played in Japan in 1999 there were gurgles of female pleasurewhenever he touched the ball.
When he takes the field at Saitama for England's opening match against Sweden today there'll be an ecstatic reaction.
Mr Miyaji's shop honours an earlier Manchester United superstar – his friend and business partner, George Best, whose signed memorabilia are prominently displayed. But it is Beckham whose aura permeates Shop Best.
In the locked display case that contains Mr Miyaji's private collection, are a cache of treasures brought back on his half-dozen annual trips to Britain: a tin of Man U pasta shapes; a packet of official team Jaffa cakes; a can of Beckham Pepsi, and a packet of Beckham-brand Walker's crisps.
"George Best is a good friend of mine, and he and Beckham have something in common," Mr Miyaji says. "A charisma, a pop-star quality, even for people who have no interest in football. It's not that he is such an outstanding footballer, compared, say, to Zidane. He is more than a footballer – he is an icon."
Beckhamophilia takes various forms here. On the one hand are the hard core of devoted Japanese football fans. "The English Premier League is specially attractive," says one young man in the World Sports Plaza, another big Tokyo shop. "It's not just the high level of the players, but also the sophistication of the supporters in both understanding the technical aspects of the game and enjoying the match. I love the aggressive play they show, above all, that of Beckham. Beckham is a God to me."
But for every football intellectual, there are other supporters, many of them young women, who adore Beckham, and merely tolerate football.
Since Japan's wartime defeat, American culture has been the overwhelming foreign influence. But there has always been a powerful undercurrent of Anglophilia, and an idolising of a certain kind of young British male. He is softly spoken, fair-skinned, gentle in demeanour but with a powerful determination – among actors the exemplar is Ewan McGregor.In sport, it is David Beckham.
"There is a unique aura about him, and the whole atmosphere is different when he is there," says 27-year-old sports shop owner Kimiyuki Kumamoto. "Of course, he is a magical player, and he's very good-looking too. When he is on the pitch the whole atmosphere is different."
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