月曜日, 6月 11, 2007

What are they on about? J-League Names

If ever you've stopped to think about the names of Japan's sports teams, and thousands haven't, one odd feature is that almost exclusively they are rendered in Romaji and are intelligible to foreigners without assistance.

In the case of soccer, or as it is known correctly, footy, it starts at the top with the national squad being Team Japan and the league even being called the J-League (Japan's name for itself, in case you didn't realise, is not Japan, but Nihon).

The names of Japan's soccer teams are high profile examples of brilliantly combined Japanese and Gaikokugo; more than just Japlish though, but Japlian (Japanese-Italian), Japanish (Japanse-Spanish) and so on. But far from being the usual rubbish there has usually been a degree of thought behind the titles. Let's have a look at them:

Kashiwa Reysol: Hailing from Chiba, Kashiwa were once the team of Hitachi, still their prime sponsor. The hi of Hitachi is sun, hence we get sol. Rey is a reference to king, in Spanish - think Rex or roi (not sure if this is related to tachi). So Kashiwa are the sun kings (as well as the best team in the league*).

Urawa Red Diamonds: Ever coveted an Evo (that's a fast car for those that haven't). If so, you've seen the red diamonds in question splashed across the front grill - Urawa have their origins in the factory team of Mitsubishi, whose name means three diamonds.

JEF United: WTF? A team called Jeff? Hmm, not quite. Chiba Ichihara JEF United, to give them their full (and redundant) title are the former team of Furukawa Electric (the F), later merged with the team of Japan Rail East (the J and E). Not so clever, but an amusing quirk, ne?

Ventforet Kofu: The "plucky" minnows of J1, Kofu have a name inspired by a great warlord, Takeda Shingen. The name is comes from a quote he in turn took from Sun Tzu's Art of War. And then it's been translated loosely in to French, coming across as "Windy Forest". Brilliant!

Vissel Kobe: The best thing I can do here is refer to the brilliant analysis from Rising Sun News:
"What the heck is a vissel?" Perhaps the team was choosing a yiddish word to describe what fans do after the opposing team scores a goal? No, the team explained, "Vissel" is a combination of the words "victory" and "vessel". This was a ship that was going to carry Kobe to victory.
Ha ha ha. Losers.

Jubilo Iwata: The former company team of uber-vehiclists Toyota, Jubilo take their name from the Spanish for "delight". Straightforward enough.

Nagoya Grampus Eight: Grampus are arguably the most well known Japanese team in the UK, thanks to their signing Living National Treasure Gary "Gary" Lineker (heck, even my brother considers them his Japanese team of choice and he's got nothing but contempt for the Japanese game). What's less well known is the meaning of their name - even in Nagoya.
The Grampus part is documented as being an English name for some dolphin-like figures atop Nagoya Castle. The mystery bit is the "Eight", which is probably why it is ignored in everyday use. Curiously, it is spelt "eight" on their logo, i.e. in English.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima: This team get their name in a spectacular example of Japlian, combining as it does san, Japanese for three, and frecce, allegedly an Italian word meaning arrow. The three arrows motif is a powerful symbol in and around Hiroshima, referring to wisdom from an ancient warlord to his sons.

Albirex Niigata: The team at the end of the most expensive bit of bullet train track in the country take inspiration from the stars. Albireo is the third brightest star in the constellation Cygnus, so no overly ambitious symbol then. Cygnus is, of course, the Swan; the swan being a local symbol apparently. Since the name Albireo was already taken by someone else (my sources can't say who), the club were forced to append the word king to the title, this time in the form rex. Sure enough, the club mascot is a fat-assed swan in a crown.
Interestingly, the club have a spin off team in a league in Singapore(?!), usefully entitled Albirex Niigata FC (Singapore). Perhaps ManU or Chelsea should look in to this.

Oita Trinita: Way down in Kyushu, the southern most of the four main islands of Japan, is where Christianity has its firmest evil roots. In recognition of this, the most prominent club on the island are named after the Holy Trinity, the sickening religiosity tempered slightly by clever use of the the -ta ending of the city's name.

Yokohama F. Marinos: Okay, so the former club team of motoring also-rans Nissan are based in the town that has one of the biggest ports in a country full of big ports. Marines was out thanks to the local presence of the rather less pleasant USMC; Mariners is out as they are a (Japanese-owned) baseball team in the States; so we get the quasi-Latinate sounding Marinos, presumably named after the greatest quarterback in the history of the Miami Dolphins.
Rather more interesting is the F. There used to be two teams in Yokohama: Marinos and the Flugels (WTF?). One day, without warning, the two clubs were "merged". Just how much of a merger this was is evident from the reduction of one half of the new team being reduced to an initial. All the Flugels fans turned their backs on the new team (haha) and instead supported an alternative team, Yokohama FC, who his year were promoted to J1 themselves. Hurrah!

Shimizu S-Pulse: These guys see themselves as the Pulse of Shizuoka-ken. Obvious really; though this claim is contested annually by the rather more successful Jubilo, also from Shizuoka-ken.

Kashima Antlers: Deer have a long tradition of links with football - see White Hart Lane, home of Spurs, and, er, {ahem} oh, and Gary "Gary" Lineker played there too [neat distraction work - Ed]. The eastern coastal city of Kashima has deer as a local symbol, so that's obvious enough. Functional, though hardly imaginative, it's the best one can expect from a team in Ibaraki-ken.

Omiya Ardija: A word in Spanish for squirrels. I mean, why? Where is the thinking behind that? Still, they're from Saitama-ken, so it's hardly surprising.

It's not all exciting, mysterious names though: thank heavens for the rather more prosaic FCs Tokyo and Yokohama, and the bold move taken by Gamba Osaka to actually take a name based in Japanese (roughly translated for the terraces, Gamba means "Go on!").

*Okay, so Reysol aren't the best team in the sense that they are the most successful (Antlers), currently top of the league (Gamba), title holders (Reds), or even best in the face of obvious adversity (Ventforet are waay smaller than the other clubs, but still do okay) or the best supported (take your pick). But in another, very real sense, they are without question, the best.

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