This year’s La Liga season kicked off on the weekend of Aug 19 and, although the opening was overshadowed by the tragic terrorist attack in Barcelona of the week before, fans turned out in large numbers to support their teams.
In Tokyo, where Rakuten’s new partnership with La Liga heavyweights FC Barcelona is generating excitement, fans gathered at the Rakuten Cafe in Shibuya. One floor of the cafe had been decked out with the club’s famous red and blue collars to celebrate the team. This is the same cafe that a month earlier had been the scene of a minor commotion when star players Messi, Pique and Turan dropped by to sign the cafe’s facade.
Around 30 fans gathered at the cafe on the evening of Aug. 21 to watch Barca’s first game of the season, against Seville-based Real Betis. Although the time difference meant the match was prerecorded, many of those present had successfully blocked out news of the match since it was played, and enjoyed the game as though it was live. Spanish tapas and wine were on hand to get everyone into the mood.
Also present were former Japan international Tsuyoshi Kitazawa and soccer journalist Ichiro Ozawa, who teamed up to offer live commentary on the match.
Kitazawa kicked things off by sharing his memories of Barca’s home ground, Camp Nou, where the match was being played.
“The smell is good,” he said with a laugh. “You walk in and it just smells like soccer, you get a sense instantly of the history and tradition of the venue.”
He and Ozawa then dived into a detailed analysis of the Barca formation and the game as it unfolded. While they were careful not to give away too much about the result, they couldn’t help feed expectation when they knew a Barca goal was in the offing.
“Uh oh, what’s this? It looks like something’s coming,” Kitazawa teased, before leading the applause when the goal was secured.
Fortunately for the assembled fans, the match’s result was good, with Barca running away to win 2-0, a score line that barely reflected their dominance.
The Shibuya branch of Rakuten Cafe will continue to host FC Barcelona events throughout the La Liga season. In addition to the being decked out with Barca-colored wall paper and chairs, the cafe also features a display of this season’s kit and photographs from that memorable day when Messi and his teammates visited in July.
From 5 p.m. each night, patrons can also enjoy a selection of Spanish food, including Spanish omelets and ham – all of which have been sourced from Rakuten’s e-commerce marketplace Rakuten Ichiba. Also on sale are a Spanish sparkling wine that comes complete with an FC Barcelona bottle cooler, and other wines produced at the winery of Barca star Andres Iniesta.
Events like those on Aug. 21 will be held monthly, and Rakuten hopes they will become a hub of Barca fandom in Japan.