When Andres Iniesta made the surprise announcement in 2018 that he was signing with Vissel Kobe and moving to Japan, local fans knew they were in for something special. Iniesta earned his reputation as one of the most skilled and imaginative footballers of his generation. He led FC Barcelona, the club that he started with in his boyhood, to a plethora of trophies and the Spanish national team to the European and World Cup championships — including a legendary, tournament-winning goal in the latter. While playing at packed stadiums across Japan since his arrival, his discovery of Japanese culture and cuisine has also been the subject of keen attention.
Now, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has named Iniesta an official promoter of Japan tourism, a role also held by German star and teammate Lukas Podolski. He is currently starring in a new promotion titled “Japan through Iniesta’s Eyes!” aimed at attracting visitors from Europe to Japan. The campaign asks participants to follow JNTO on Facebook, view a series of videos starring Iniesta as he visits some of his favorite spots in Japan and post a comment on the main video. Among the prizes available are signed FC Barcelona hats, an FC Barcelona football signed by Lionel Messi and three pairs of round-trip air tickets to Japan.
While we certainly recommend you view the videos yourself, we’ve taken the liberty of pulling out some of our favorites:
Iniesta Tours Kobe, enjoys local cuisine
In the first video, Iniesta takes the viewer on a tour of his newly adopted city of Kobe. He explains that he’d heard that the port city was a lot like Barcelona and has found it to be a place he and his family can call home — they truly feel welcomed. In the next scene, Andres beams as he watches a local chef prepare Kobe’s most famous dish, Kobe Beef, before describing the benefits of Japanese onsen (natural hot springs).
The final scene of the Spanish superstar’s tour of Kobe sees him stop at one of the city’s famed sake breweries — something Iniesta, who owns a successful wine label in Spain, can appreciate.
Enjoying traditional Japanese culture in Nara
The second video follows Iniesta on a private day trip from Kobe to the ancient Japanese capital of Nara, less than an hour’s drive away. Nara features Japan’s highest concentration of World Heritage Sites, including Todaiji, which houses Japan’s most renowned Buddhist statue, the Great Buddha. While Iniesta jokingly refers to the 15-meter high statue as “a bit small,” he is clearly impressed with what he sees, along with the culture and history of Nara.
His children, on the other hand, prefer Nara’s natural landscapes and famous wild deer that can be spotted throughout the town. Despite most of Japan’s residents being thrilled to welcome Andres and his family, one deer is a little less impressed, aggressively butting the soccer star. The officials missed this and the deer got off without a red card.
Andres then stops at a traditional sword-maker, where he discovers parallels between the life of professional soccer players and sword-makers, recognizing that its often the hard work that goes on behind the scenes that nobody ever sees that makes all the difference.
Learning from Zen
Finally, Iniesta visits a Zen Buddhist temple, where he remarks how representative Zen is of Japanese culture. He appreciates how different it is from Spanish culture and how much he can learn from it.
In his short time in Japan, Iniesta has enjoyed himself as he gets to know his new surroundings. He is a curious and respectful traveler, and an ideal travel promoter for the country. While he still has a number of destinations to explore in and around Kobe, such as Osaka and Himeji, Iniesta is looking forward to seeing more of Japan and helping introduce it to the world.
To learn more about the “Japan through Iniesta’s Eyes!” Campaign and view the videos, visit the campaign page here. The campaign runs until February 24, 2019 and is open to residents of Spain, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.