By Savannah Shih, Research Intern, East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Note: this article originally appeared in the East-West Center’s Asia Matters for America/America Matters for Asia initiative on October 25, 2017.
The Green Bay Packers have fans all over the United States, but few Americans realize that there are fans all the way in Tokyo, Japan. One Tokyo group, the Japanese Packers Cheering Team, recently proved their team spirit by travelling 6000 miles to witness their first ever Packers game at Lambeau Field.
Wisconsin native Ty Morse walked into a restaurant in Tokyo one day, and was shocked to see a crowd of Japanese men and women wearing Packers jerseys. He learned they were the Japanese Packers Cheering Team, meeting for one of their regular parties to watch the Packers play on TV. After learning that many of the fans had never been to the United States, Morse and a few of his friends soon invited the group of 25 to visit them in Wisconsin and attend a game.
The group’s hosts wanted them to get the full “Green Bay experience,” taking the Japanese visitors to an amusement park and hosting a barbeque for them. But the best moment by far, the Japanese fans said, was donning their gold and green jerseys, hats, and face paint, and watching the Packers win on Sunday.
As for Morse, it’s the cross-cultural bonding that really mattered: “It's the humanity. Nobody here is really speaking the same language. We're talking in signs and gestures and somehow we understand each other and everyone is getting along.”
Even for non-Packers fans, Wisconsin is a hugely popular destination for Japanese tourists, who spent $117 million in 2014 alone. Cultural ties are expanding in other ways, as well. Wisconsin shares a sister-state relationship with Chiba Prefecture, and maintains nine other sister city partnerships with Japan. More Japanese students are also arriving in Wisconsin, representing 2% of all international students and contributing $6 million to the state’s economy. Of course, sports remain an important means of connecting America and Asia. These bonds have particularly strengthened in recent years, with the NBA and NHL sending teams to play in China and India and welcoming Australian teams in return.