Japan fans win praise for stadium cleaning at World Cup 2022

Japan’s football fans are earning respect for their tradition of staying behind to help clean stadiums after World Cup games.Japan’s stunning victory over Germany left their football fans in a state of joyous disbelief on Wednesday.

Now, supporters of the Samurai Blue are earning praise in Qatar for an off-pitch tradition that appears to be uniquely Japanese: Cleaning up stadiums after other football fans have left.

In what is becoming an increasingly common sight, Japanese fans stayed behind after their team’s win over Germany on Wednesday and helped to clean up the Khalifa International Stadium.

As soon as the stadium started to empty, Japanese supporters could be seen taking out light blue disposable rubbish bags and getting to work.

While the sight of spectators staying back to clean up may be a surprise to many, for the Japanese it is not out of the ordinary.

“What you think is special is actually nothing unusual for us,” Danno, a Japanese fan, told Al Jazeera with a casual shrug.

Danno does not understand why people think the gesture is odd.

“When we use the toilet, we clean it ourselves. When we leave a room, we make sure it’s tidy. That’s the custom,” he explained.

“We can’t leave a place without making it clean. It’s a part of our education, everyday learning.”

Social media posts featuring Japanese football fans with rubbish bags started doing the rounds in the days following the opening game of the tournament, between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday.

In one post, a man is expressing his shock at a Japanese fan cleaning inside the Al Bayt Stadium long after most spectators had left and in a match that did not feature the Japanese side.

Samurai Blue’s supporters have been cleaning up football stadiums for a while; even a defeat does not detract them from this important post-match task.

During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Japan lost their round-of-16 match against Belgium with an injury-time goal. Japanese fans were heartbroken but that did not detract them from getting out their disposable rubbish bag and going to work.

Saysuka, who spoke to Al Jazeera ahead of the match against Germany, said she is aware people are taking notice of their tradition but noted the fans are not doing it for publicity.

“Cleanliness and tidiness is like religion to us in Japan and we treasure it,” she said, before opening her backpack to show a pack of rubbish bags she will use and distribute to others after the match.

While social media videos of the stadium-cleaning Japanese may be relatively new, tidiness and organization have deep roots in Japanese culture. These characteristics are gaining a worldwide following through books and television shows.

Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo is now a global household name thanks to her books and a popular Netflix series on the topic.

Takshi, a Japanese football supporter who lives in the United States but grew up in Japan, says he learned the tradition of tidiness as a child.

“We had to clean our rooms, our bathrooms, our classrooms, and then as we grow up, it becomes a part of our lives,” he said.

After Japan’s victory over Germany, Takshi and his 13-year-old son Kayde stayed behind with their fellow supporter.

With Japan now having three points on the table and two more group matches to go, fans and spectators can expect to be treated to more Japanese aesthetics, on and off the football pitch.