Japanese soccer fans head for World Cup in Brazil, regardless of the cost

Japanese soccer fans head for World Cup in Brazil, regardless of the cost

TOKYO - With only one month to go before the FIFA World Cup kicks off in Brazil, package tours are so popular that many football fans who have not been able to secure seats on the tours have joined waiting lists, regardless of the expense. To offset these high prices, an increasing number of fans are independently arranging air tickets and sharing hotel rooms.

Major travel agency tour packages for matches featuring the Japanese team are ¥200,000 (S$2,450) to ¥300,000 more than the cost for previous World Cup tours. JTB Corp.'s cheapest tour, for instance, is priced at ¥685,000 for watching one game in the tour that includes three nights and seven days. If fans wish to watch three games, the cost swells to ¥1.78 million for a 13-night, 17-day package. H.I.S. Co. offers a tour that includes one game, three nights and seven days for ¥648,000.

A JTB tour to watch a Milan derby game between Keisuke Honda's AC Milan and Yuto Nagatomo's Inter Milan on May 4 cost ¥238,000 for three nights and five days, including an admission ticket to the game. In addition to the long distance between Japan and Brazil, a major reason for these high World Cup tour costs are soaring Brazilian domestic airfares and hotel rates.

The ticket sales system this year has changed, and football's global governing body FIFA is selling tickets directly to spectators. In response, each travel agency has organised tours targeting people who have already acquired tickets.

Even under these circumstances, tour applications have been steady and many have a waiting list for cancellations. According to travel agencies, tours to watch the Japanese team's first and second games in a group league are especially popular. A JTB official in charge said, "Expectations for the Japanese team that includes many Japanese players active overseas has overwhelmingly boosted tour prices."

Faced with such conditions, there are many fans choosing to arrange tours by themselves. Hiroshi Shiga, 56, who runs a company in Chiba, has organised an association that offers packages that are about 20 per cent cheaper compared to those arranged by major travel agencies. Having worked at a travel agency, Shiga used this experience to his advantage and directly contacted airlines and local travel agencies in Brazil. He not only keeps prices down by chartering buses for travel to game venues, but also pays attention to safety.

Shiga used this method during the previous World Cup, which saw about 180 fans sign up. His reputation spread by word of mouth, and about 270 people have applied for his tours this year.

Mitsugu Okada, 40, a company employee from Kawasaki who attended Shiga's briefing session, said, "It's reassuring that I can go to Brazil to cheer on the Japanese team with like-minded people."

On Facebook, there are open pages being shared among fans planning to visit Brazil independently. More than 1,000 have participated and posted information about hotels, airlines and how to reach the stadiums. On the pages, such messages are posted as "Is there anyone who will share their hotel room with me?" and "We feel uneasy going as only two women. We need someone to accompany us."


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