Pelé in Japan was a gesture of extreme respect for the football then played in the country and which still marks the memory of the Japanese.
In the year 1977, the King of football crossed the world for a festive game. Even though he had already retired, he went to the country for the celebration. Learn more about Pelé’s time in Japan and how it was important for the development of the sport in the country.
Pele in Japan
the legend of football had a special feeling of friendship for Japan. When a farewell match was held for Japanese football hero Kunishige Kamamoto in 1984, Pele was there. Although it had been seven years since his retirement, he willingly agreed to the “friendship share” in the match.
Thus, one can imagine how the Japanese appreciate this attitude of the King.
Football writer Hiroyuki Kagawa helped make the revered Brazilian sporting icon’s visit to Japan a reality. Looking back fondly, he recalled that Pelé “had a strong connection with Japan”. Pelé was “pleased with the increasing popularity of football, Brazil’s number one sport, in Japan,” he noted.
Kamamoto’s farewell match was sponsored by his team’s parent company, Yanmar Diesel (now Yanmar Holdings) at the former National Stadium in Tokyo. Then known as Yanmar Diesel in the Japan Soccer League, now the J. League is known as Cerezo Osaka.
Another special guest for the retirement match was Wolfgang Overath, a former West Germany international and World Cup champion.
Crowds of children crowded the hotel where Pele stayed in Tokyo, waiting to ask for Pele’s autograph. “He lined up the kids in the hotel lobby and worked his way through the line, signing one autograph at a time,” recalled Kagawa.
“Pelé loved Japan and Japan loved Pelé. He cared about his Japanese fans,” said Kagawa. He then added gratefully, “The global star was kind enough to treat Japanese children with kindness.”
Thus, with the death of Pelé at the end of 2022, many Japanese did not fail to pay their respects and remembered how important the King was also for football in Japan.
The end of Pelé’s match in Japan
At the end of the farewell match, Pelé and Overath placed Kamamoto on their shoulders. Pele was utterly humble and kind, showing his respect for Japan’s best striker, Kagawa recalled.
The longtime journalist continued, recalling: “Pelé, the world-renowned football legend, treated the developing sphere of Japanese football with sincerity,” he said.
“The football world of Japan owes Pelé a great debt. Not only was he a football legend, he was also a wonderful human being.”