Names are important. In the very first poem of the Man-yôshû, Japan’s first poetry anthology dating from the late 8th century, the emperor-poet Yûryaku implores a young woman picking herbs on a hillside “Tell me your name!” Whether it’s an ancient emperor, The Zombies, Lynyrd Skynrd or Jesse McCartney, getting someone’s name is the way you start to make a connection. One of the first sentences you’re likely to hear in Japanese is “Onamae wa?, meaning “Your name is...?” It seems like the answer would be simple enough, right?
But the miraculous thing I've discovered about soccer, about any sport, is the absolute dissolution of cultural barriers that occurs when you step upon a pitch, a field, a court. The rules of soccer are the rules of soccer, wherever you are—the park behind your high school in the United States, the famed stadium in downtown Sao Paolo, the rough-and-tumble field in front of Princess Chulabhorn's College. There is suddenly no need to speak the same language, to have the same ideologies, to practice the same religion. You can just play, uninhibited and unrestricted, without judgment or alienation. It truly is miraculous.