UPDATE 1 (2011-11-6): According to the Wall Street Journal:
Japanese football fans are scrambling to secure one of the few seats available on an organized spectator tour to watch the national football team’s World Cup qualifying match against North Korea in Pyongyang on Nov. 15.
It is the first time Japan will play against its enigmatic neighbor on the latter’s home soil in 22 years.
The absence of diplomatic ties between Japan and North Korea has turned coordinating plans into a logistical workout for the Japan Football Association. It has also put a high premium on the 150 tickets available to Japanese citizens, according to the limit imposed by North Korea. The JFA said it is still negotiating with North Korea to try to raise that number.
Just 65 tickets are available for the official tour package. Ticket sales opened Tuesday, sold via Tokyo-based Nishitetsu Travel Co. The travel agency was already taking down names for a waiting list by the following morning.
The three-day, two-night excursion is priced at about ¥288,000, or roughly $3,700. Because there are currently no direct flights to Pyongyang, a special charter was arranged.
Even then, the trip was almost called off. The Japanese government only gave its formal approval Tuesday in support of the team, JFA officials and fans visiting the country: Tokyo has strongly discouraged residents from visiting North Korea citing economic sanctions imposed by Tokyo after a missile launch in 2006. (North Koreans are banned from entering Japan)
Meanwhile, another 65 tickets that were available for the trip were sold. Seats for a choice of two packages to Pyongyang sold out last month, according to Serie Co., a Tokyo-based travel company that organizes football tours. While there was more interest in attending this game compared to past qualifying matches, company president Masashi Tokuda said, there was also more anxiety. Following numerous inquiries, Mr. Tokuda and other employees went to North Korea to inspect the destination spots that would be on the tour—Kim Il-Sung Stadium where the match will be held, restaurants, hotel and sightseeing areas. The company posted its findings on its website.
While Japan isn’t alone in its strained relations with North Korea, traces of the two countries’ unique history has materialized on the football field. North Korea’s national team draws a lot of its power from a clutch of players who are ethnically Korean, but were born and raised in Japan and identify themselves as North Korean. Now playing in Japan’s professional football league, they are third- or fourth-generation Koreans who migrated or were forcefully moved to Japan when the Japanese colonized the country from 1910-1945.
As for the match itself, Japan will be a heavy favorite, ranked No. 17 in FIFA’s world rankings to North Korea at No. 124.
And the Samurai Blue most recently defeated North Korea 1-0 in September in Saitama, Japan.
But, as sports fans know all too well, home-team advantage can be a game-changer. North Korea won 2-0 the last time the two countries faced off in Pyongyang in June 1989.
Win, lose or tie, Japan fans making the trip should bear one other thing in mind: Both tour companies said bringing noise makers and team banners to North Korea is prohibited.
ORIGINAL POST (2011-11-2): First of all, Japan is going to allow a delegation to visit the DPRK for a World Cup qulaifying match. According to the Mainichi Daily News:
Japan will allow supporters of the national soccer team along with accompanying press to visit Pyongyang to watch a World Cup qualifier against North Korea later this month, top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura said Tuesday.
The decision is an exceptional measure to be taken by Japan, which has asked its nationals to refrain from visiting North Korea as part of sanctions imposed following North Korea’s missile launch in July 2006.
The chief Cabinet secretary said at a news conference that the exception will only apply for members of the national team, and accompanying reporters and supporters who register for official tours organized by the Japan Football Association to attend the Nov. 15 qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Fujimura said the government decided to make an exception for the match because there is “great national interest.” He also said the government believes it should avoid any negative feedback on Japan’s bid to host international competitions such as the Olympics by not having politics interfere in sports activities.
According to JFA vice president Kozo Tashima, North Korea plans to only allow up to 150 Japanese supporters to enter the country. The JFA will continue to negotiate with North Korea about increasing the number, Tashima said.
The JFA, after discussing the matter with the government, initially asked the North Korean soccer association to arrange for the entry of 200 to 300 people. But the request was rejected because of limited capacity at hotels and on chartered flights, according to Tashima.
The JFA said the official tour led by Nishitetsu Travel Co. will offer 65 places and its application process will last until Friday. About 10 JFA officials are expected to join the tour.
The government will ban travelers from carrying goods to or from North Korea and ask them to notify the government if they intend to take over 100,000 yen in cash.
In August, Japan allowed the North Korean national team to enter the country for a World Cup qualifying match, in a similar exception to the ban in principle on North Koreans coming to Japan that was imposed in protest at Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons testing in October 2006 among other bilateral issues.
Read the full story here:
Japan to allow supporters to visit N. Korea for World Cup qualifier
Mainichi Daily News