Japan is banking on sci-fi technology and the country’s “wow factor” to win the race to host the 2022 World Cup.
After all, only in Japan can you hire a cat for an hour and stroke it while you have a coffee — or better still, while a robot boils your noodles for you.
Japan, successful co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup with Asian neighbors South Korea, are an outside bet to win the vote on Thursday when FIFA’s executive committee meets in Zurich.
South Korea are also bidding again, along with the US, Qatar and Australia.
Japan’s credentials are second to none, with all but the main stadiums already in place and still in pristine condition, while the country’s infrastructure ranks among the world’s best.
Since the Japanese government unveiled the Bullet Train to mark the country’s emergence as an economic power before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japan has been at the forefront of technology.
The world’s third-largest economy, Japan still retains a great deal of its traditional charm, with shrines and quaint old shops tucked beside gleaming, new skyscrapers.
Modern Japan, with its crackling neon lights and crowded trains and shops, has turned convenience into an art with its automated wizardry.
Vending machines dispense everything from umbrellas to underwear. Japan boasts the highest number of machines per capita in the world and even has them at the top of Mount Fuji.
World Cup bidders plan to beam matches on to giant 3D hologram-style screens in one of many hi-tech projects designed to amaze fans around the world during the 2022 tournament.
Translation earpieces will allow fans from different countries to interact, aided by devices to allow viewers to gather information by pointing to players on the pitch.
“Japan has always been at the center of technological excellence,” said bid director Yuichiro Nakajima. “Can we do it? Yes we can!”
Bold, presidential-style statements of intent come with the territory of bidding for major sporting events, but Japanese bid leaders have also struck a note of caution.
Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura said: “It will be very difficult to predict who will win. It will be a real fight to the end.”
Former JFA chief Saburo Kawabuchi warned that Japan risked being relegated to the status of rank outsiders.
“Unless we really go all out, we won’t stand a chance,” he said. “Japan’s chances are not zero, but it will be very tough for us.”
“The US are the favorites and Qatar will also pick up a lot of votes,” he added, aware that Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam has backed his native country.
With plans underway to build an 80,000-seater main stadium on the outskirts of Osaka, however, Japan remains a good choice for FIFA in terms of marketing and safety.