Matt Negrin

Perhaps the absence of any hot water should have given it away.

Twelve years after hosting the World Cup with Korea, soccer is more popular than ever in Japan. It’s still very new – the “J-League” is just two decades old. But just like many other 20-somethings around the world, Japanese soccer is going through an awkward stage.

The stadium for Yokohama FC, a Division 2 team, is tucked into a small sports enclave with tennis courts and a recreational baseball field with no bleachers. Inside, the room for the press — typically decked out by sports teams to earn favorable coverage — looks like a crowded middle school classroom, with faux-wooden tables thrown together and chairs brushing up against each other.

The bathrooms — for everyone — feature freezing-cold water in the sinks, and no towels or dryers.

If you want to warm up, you can buy some hot corn chowder or a hot dog on a stick wrapped in rice cake — available at a stand in the “concourse,” a generous term for basically an outdoor hallway.

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Then there’s the mascot, "Furimaru," a blue alien bird with a giant head that could be a Pokemon. He doesn't do interviews, but he’s got a Twitter feed that proclaims:

"Mysterious all: Yokohama FC official mascot 'Furimaru' feature. I get along well with anyone. I know the human language. A mischievous, curious, early to bed and early to rise, and ambition. Cheering squad leader of the shadow height and weight telescopic Yokohama FC. Football (not good at but) love."

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He's everywhere, including on all the merchandise next to the corn chowder. His face is on pens and large paper clips for sale, and a small Furimaru even dangles from a skinny twig about half the size of a chopstick — the official Yokohama FC "ear cleaner."

The stadium has just one level, low enough for people living in a handful of apartment buildings and houses across the street to watch games perfectly - for free. The seats have no backs. The capacity is technically just over 15,000, but on this day only 4,500 were there.

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At the end of the game, when Yokohama FC beat Montedio Yamagata, Weezer's "You Gave Your Love to Me Softly" was pumped through the speakers.

It's a second-division team, sure, but on the way out a supporter of the visiting team told me he'd been to almost every Division 2 stadium in Japan, and Yokohama's was one of the best.

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Japan has a very real shot at advancing in the World Cup in June, because its group is unpredictable — the opponents are Colombia, Greece and the Ivory Coast. If the Blue Samurai make it past that competition, a lot of eyes will on the Japanese again — and on their very clean ears.