Being an American Football fan in Japan can be tough. Most of the U.S.A.’s National Football League (NFL) season games start at 2 a.m. for us in Japan. It’s hard to enjoy a game when you have to get up for work and catch the morning train in a few hours.
That being said, there is an alternative available to football fans that doesn’t involve giving up a night of sleep: the X League. Japan has had its own football league in place for some time now, and it’s built up a loyal following around the country. Check out our article “Kicking Off: An Introduction to Japan’s American Football League” for a good primer.
Here’s everything you need to know about attending an X League game and what to expect.
The fan experience
My first experience with Japan’s X League was a day out with my family at the MK Taxi Field Expo in Osaka to watch the Kadoma Panasonic Impulse take on Tokyo’s Tainai Deers.
The best way to describe an X League game is to compare it to a junior college or high school game in America: with the type of set-up, you may have seen in many American television programs. The field is the same size and design. Each group of fans has a side of the pitch set up with bleachers. Rules and overall set-up are the same as always, so there are no changes to the game itself.
The team’s cheerleaders hype up the crowd on the sidelines at one end of the stands, with American rock music pumped out of speakers similar to what you’d hear at a game outside of Japan.
Attendees range from groups of teenagers, older fans and families. Kids are running around banging the cardboard fans along with the rest of the crowd to cheer for their team.
Despite not seeing the type of exposure for American football in Japan for sports like baseball, the number of fans attending the game for the home team had the seats almost full. Even the opposing team (all the way from Tokyo) had fans in the bleachers.
The play on the field
The standard of the play is also surprisingly good considering this is an amateur league.
This game was a one-sided affair, with the Impulse team winning comfortably 55–7.
On the first game series for the hometown Impulse, first-year (former American collegiate) quarterback Jayron Henderson threw a 44-yard pass (the X League uses yards and not meters even though Japan is metric) to wide-receiver Alfonso Onuwar. This was met with a huge cheer from the crowd and set up the first touchdown of the game by running back Takuya Fujimoto. From there, the Impulse team controlled the game both offensively and defensively.
As you’re unlikely to be a die-hard fan of any teams this early in the season, you can take it in as a neutral and just enjoy the event and the atmosphere.
If you don’t understand Japanese, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem since the game flow is no different and follows the same rules as the NCAA (American Collegiate) rules. If you’re unfamiliar with the rules of the game, there’s a quick overview of the rules here that would help if you catch a game.
The announcers and the referees speak Japanese, so you need to know the context of the sport to know what’s going on.
Even with knowledge of the sport, there are slight differences around the match itself that are inherently Japanese and make the experience a little different.
For example, at the close of the game, several players from each side approach the opposing team’s side of the field and bow to the team and fans. This adds to the feeling of sportsmanship and respect and makes the atmosphere of the game suddenly less combative than when the teams were in the heat of the battle.
Merchandise and food
The team provides a surprisingly good selection of merchandise included in the ticket price. On arrival, the Panasonic Impulse gave every fan a commemorative shirt with the player of the day’s name and number, a team overview pamphlet, a sticker and a folding cardboard fan.
Each country has its own half-time game day snacks to contend with when you watch a live sporting event: Americans have hot dogs and beer; the British have pork pies and bovril. So it was quite surprising to go out at halftime and be presented with hotdogs, beer and fried chicken and chips. The food prices, similar to the tickets, aren’t extortionate.
Getting tickets or watching from home
If you want to catch a game yourself the tickets are easy to get hold of (and won’t break the bank, either). Expect to spend ￥1,490 for an adult and ￥690 for child tickets.
You can find the game schedule here. Tickets are purchased online. Your ticket for the day opens on your phone making the whole process straightforward with no need to print anything out before you go.
If you do want to take a look at the X League action but aren’t close enough to get to a game, the league has its own streaming service. Game highlights are available on the league’s YouTube channel .
Have you been to see an X League game already? We would love to hear about it in the comments to see how diverse the X League game experience is across Japan.