Published on May 16, 2014 | by Guido de Boer

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Masato Kamo: Japan is hopeful about Rio

Once an aspiring footballer, now working in London, Mataso Kamo remembers when Japan fell in love with the ‘beautiful game’.

Kamo and his friend Gorkan (and photobombers) celebrate despite Japan’s 4-1 defeat by Brazil [Masato Kamo]

Masato Kamo grew up in Fukuoka, Japan, moved in his teenage years to Germany, playing for VfB Stuttgart and is now making a name in the world of showbiz in London. He witnessed the breakthrough of professional football in Japan in the 1990’s and although injury ended his dream of becoming professional, he remains as passionate about the game as ever .

The Japanese football league known as the ‘J-League’ was officially formed on November 1st 1990 but it would take a few more years for the league to officially kick-off. The objectives of the new league were to provide professional and advanced sports facilities, to build better training systems for players and, while lifting japanese football in these ways, also providing opportunities for as many people as possible across the country to experience the joys of the sport.

The official breakthrough came in 1993. “The 15th of May, 1993 the opening of the J-league. I witnessed it as a young boy, but I can recall it like it was yesterday. I remember all those famous players playing in that game.” He continues: “The league kicked-off with ten teams but no one ever thought Japan would be able to qualify for a world cup.” Japan’s best result back then was their bronze medal at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics but the sport didn’t have the potential yet to grow in popularity.

“When we got our own professional league it started to change but it would take until 2002 that football became as popular as baseball which had always been the number 1 sport in Japan.”

Kamo had the talent to become a good football player as a little boy and got the chance to move to Germany as a teenager to pursue his dream. He had several options in Germany but his eye fell on Vfb Stuttgart where he would play for several years at the second highest level in the country. Sadly, Kamo was forced to end his career early due to a knee injury. A devastating thing both for a football player at any age.

The then 19 year old decided not to go back to Japan but to move to London to pursue another dream he had; living the cosmopolitan lifestyle. Kamo took on a Fine-Arts course at Goldsmith’s University and graduated in 2007. His art documentary ‘Culture Shock’ a documentary about football and fan culture in the world was selected for the top 25 Art Graduate works in London that same year. Kamo continued his winning streak and had several successes. He took on a modelling career and even had roles in films such as ‚United-93’ and ‘Agent Cody Banks’.He now works in a showbiz company and expands his portfolio with painting, acting and photography.

The official shift: In 2002 South Korea and Japan were the host nations of the World Cup. Kamo: “Hosting the World Cup was a great boost for Japanese football. People went crazy and new talents had a reason to progress in football. This constant fluctuating between football being popular and not was officially a thing of the past, football would be a part of Japan from now on.” Japan’s World Cup campaigns haven’t been the most successful yet, the country never progressed further than the quarter-finals, but Kamo is positive about football in his country.

Kamo visited the 2006 World Cup in Germany which despite the fact that it wasn’t particularly successful for Japan, it was a great experience for him. They lost all their games including a 4-1 loss to Brazil which he attended together with an old football friend Gorkan Ahmetoglu. Gorkan had the same dream as Kamo and  played at Malmo FF in Sweden.

Kamo is excited for Brazil 2014 and sees that his country’s chances have improved. “Our World Cup campaign in 2006 was far from great but we have more and more players that can make a difference.” Japan has been assigned to group C at Brazil 2014 together with Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast. Kamo continues: “We are confident with players like Keisuke Honda from AC Milan and Shinji Kagawa from Manchester United about the world cup. There is a lot of pressure on them but having the number 10 of AC Milan in your team does mean something. I personally think at least the quarter final should be possible but the coach even dreams about a potential semi-final place, we’ll see.”

Before and after the second World War many Japanese people decided to leave the country and the majority settled in Brazil. Large numbers of the people that moved there are still living in Brazil.

“There is still a very big Japanese community in Brazil, also known as ‘Libertage’ and the relationship between the two countries is strong which I could also sense when I attended the game in 2006.” Kamo continues: “I hope Japan can benefit from this fact. I think Brazil will most likely also be cheering for us, so I hope my country will sort of have the feeling of playing at home, and with that, a home advantage.”

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