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Looking for Honda

by Sean O'Toole / 21.06.2010

“Do you know Honda?” asks the chubby man holding the microphone.
“Yes,” responds a demure shop assistant inside Spice World, a fragrant little nook in Chatsworth’s main shopping centre, southwest of Durban.
“Oh leally?” responds Nishi-san.
After a pause, the shop assistant mumbles: “You mean the car?”
“No,” laughs Nishi-san in his usual nervous way. “Keisuke Honda,” he says, meaning Japan’s 24-year-old star midfielder, member of the CSKA Moscow team and arrow through the heart of Cameroon.
Uh-uh, the shop assistant indicates with a slow swivel of his head. Ditto Spice World’s boss, 60-year-old Cassim Alli Mohamed Osman, or “Uncle Cas” as everyone calls him. Never heard of him.

A few shops down from Spice World, in a clothing store selling cheap World Cup knock-offs, it’s the same story. Yes, we know Japan. No, we don’t know any player names.

Chino-san, a man with thick wiry bristles on his chin and upper lip, laughs wearily when we return to our van. This is harder than he or Nishi-san, two seasoned hard news reporters from TV Asahi’s Bangkok bureau, expected. Finding a Japan fan in Durban.

At the new airport, they intermittently filter through the arrival’s hall in anticipation of their game against Holland, a game that has Tokyo hacks inhaling through their teeth. One fan wears a makarapa, his hair dyed red; another arrives camouflaged in a jacket sporting an Italia logo.
This sort of dislocation, of living here but supporting somewhere else, is replayed at FIFA’s official Fan Fest. On Wednesday night, as Nishi and Chino-san scanned the huge crowd turned out to watch Spain versus Switzerland for Japanese supporters, tall Indian boys from Phoenix wearing Fernando Torres T-shirts oooooohed in disgust as Xabi Alonso’s shot hit the crossbar.

Nishi spots a couple. No, they are not Japanese the woman says.
All the while groups of Umlazi and KwaMashu youth are sending it like they were all Bird and Miles, vuvuzelas baaaaaaaaaahing and vuuuuuuuuuuing. The mood jubilant, unrestrained, carefree – free, unconcerned with what will come later. 3-0.
Following their brief to the letter, Nishi and Chino-san dive into a thicket of bodies. A Bafana supporter in a customised worker’s uniform pumps hot air into a coiled vuvuzela. No, he says afterwards, he is not a Japan fan.
Chino-san’s camera, though, is like a magnet. Boisterous Algeria supporters proudly display their national flag, fans of Cesc Fàbregas poke their heads and hands into the frame. Two Dutch supporters chuckle in puzzled amusement when asked if they are fans of Japan. No, of course not.

“Do you know Japan?” Nishi-san asks a potbellied girl busting out of her Bafana kit.
“YES!” she screams.
“Do you know Honda?” he responds with the indefatigable determination of a seasoned news anchor.
“YES! Vuuuuuuuuuu!”
“Oh leally?”

Image © Sean O’Toole.

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