It isn’t difficult for Americans to accept that famous athletes are part of the cultural fabric of a country. However, it’s ratcheted up to another level when you go abroad. I’m in Japan as I write this and it’s impossible to ignore the reverence given to Japanese sports stars. In a society built on respect of the highest order, former Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, current pitcher and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels Shohei Ohtani and attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda are the most recognizable faces in the country.
Now, Japan is obviously quite different from the United States, and one of the many differences has to be the vending machines located throughout the city. They’re always fully stocked and are found on most street corners, as well as inside buildings. However, it’s obvious how much Keisuke Honda, an attacking midfielder nearing the end of his career and playing with Vitesse Arnhem in The Netherlands, is adored here. His face adorns every Pepsi vending machine here, underscoring the fact the Honda is adored here. And in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, it didn’t take long to see the idol status that the Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani enjoys. Walking through the airport, there were multiple advertisements featuring Ohtani.
However, the best was saved for perhaps Japan’s most famous sporting export: Ichiro Suzuki. Considering that he’s the greatest hitter ever (combined between the MLB and the Japanese league), it’s fitting that he make appearances throughout the country. The first thing I saw after getting off the plane was an advertisement with Suzuki’s face on it. He’s retired now and has been for almost a year, but he’s still widely revered in this country, and with good reason. It’s understandable that sticking your country’s most prolific sportsman on as many ads as possible, but Japan takes it to another level.
Obviously, this country is amazing and so different than the United States, but the way they recognize the successes of their most famous people is another nod to god-like status that these players enjoy.