As the final whistle blew on Japan’s shock victory over Spain, thrilled fans flooded onto Tokyo’s Shibuya Scramble crossing to celebrate a win few had dared to dream of. “Japan, bravo! Japan, bravo!”, they cheered after the 2-1 victory, singing the popular “Vamos Nippon” football chant and waving the country’s flag. Dressed in their team’s blue kit, some with hats against the morning cold, the revellers mingled with commuters in suits on their way to work. But the party atmosphere was unmistakable, with fans jumping up and down and rushing into the crossing, as police tried to corral the crowds with yellow caution tape.
“I thought this game would be a bit tough,” said 36-year-old Munehiro Hashimoto, dressed in a Japan jersey, with blue and silver tinsel around his shoulders.
He had spared no effort with his outfit, topping it with a makeshift blue samurai helmet emblazoned with “must win” and “samurai spirit” on either side.
“It started at four in the morning (in Japan), so I was watching it at home. Then they won, so I rushed out here. We did it!”
Fans danced and cheered, high-fiving strangers and posing for photos taken by amused workers on their way to the office.
Among those partying was a comedian who goes by the stage name Junya Nito and is known for his impersonation of Japan player Junya Ito.
“It was really wonderful today,” he told AFP, holding a World Cup trophy replica along with a group of fellow comedian footballer impersonators.
“I wanted to see him (Ito) score. He’s saving it for the finals!”
“Japan are becoming really strong,” he added.
“We have many members now who are performing at the premier level. We see the quality (of the team) is improving, and now finally they proved it.”
The celebrations weren’t limited to the streets, with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeting his “joy” at the result and praise for coach Hajime Moriyasu and his team.
“Coach Moriyasu and the players achieved this wonderful result in the biggest and most critical match of all time under enormous pressure,” he wrote.
“I would like to express my sincere respect for the team’s spirited effort.”
He also called Moriyasu, who had come under pressure following Japan’s dismal 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.
“All of Japan is feeling the excitement,” Kishida told Moriyasu. “You gave us courage and energy.”
Japanese newspapers printed special morning editions that attracted crowds of commuters, with the Yomiuri Shimbun running the headline: “Japan advances to the final 16, Spain destroyed.”
As the sun chased away the last of the evening cold, fans began to drift away from Shibuya, but 28-year-old Masaki Higuchi, wearing a Japan flag like a cape, wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet.
“They faced some difficult moments,” he said of his team.
“But I think they showed the samurai spirit in the end!”