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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Nagoya Grampus has been with the J.League since its inception in 1993 and may be most famous for having been managed by Arsene Wegner in their early years. Their rather strange name is derived from two golden statues of orcas which adorn the top of Nagoya Castle. Although Grampus really refers to an entirely different species of dolphin, the word has been used to describe killer whales as well and that is how it is applied here.
The franchise was originally formed as the Toyota club team way back in the 1930s and they still play half of their games at Toyota Stadium, a very cool and modern venue located in Toyota City, which is of course where the automaker is also located. Built in 1997, it has a retractable roof and seats 40,000, but unfortunately for local fans, it is nearly an hour from Nagoya. To keep them happy, the club plays the other half of their games at Mizuho Athletic Stadium, which is in Nagoya proper. It is this smaller, older venue that is the object of our Stadium Journey this time, as it recently held an AFC Champions League match the day before a baseball game at the Nagoya Dome, making for a nice two-day trip from Tokyo.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are three main entrances here - two at the back stand which is where most fans will arrive first when coming from the nearest subway station. However, there is little selection here with just one booth at each entrance. Instead, make your way around to the main gate where you will find a very nice cross-section of edibles, with at least 8 trucks serving a variety of local and ethnic dishes. My favorite was the miso kushi katsu, breaded pork dipped in miso sauce (a Nagoya staple). At 3 sticks for 400 yen, it is very reasonable, but you have to eat it quickly before the bread gets too soggy from the miso which is applied only after you order. Another truck offered Korean specialties including some roll sushi that was 500 yen and completely filling, so much so that I had to save half for my post-game dinner.
The stadium is mostly uncovered and rather spread out, with a running track around the pitch that keeps fans further away. This makes it difficult to get a good atmosphere going in terms of cheering. There is a dance team and a killer whale mascot but they did not add much to the proceedings.
Because this was an AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Champions League game though, there is a bit of a different feeling than a normal J.League game and I enjoyed that. Announcements are made in English first and the game is treated as the international competition that it is. Being outdoors on a beautiful spring evening didn't hurt matters either.
The nearest subway station is Mizuho Undojo Higashi on the Meijo Line. It is just a five-minute walk to the stadium from here with absolutely nothing to see but a small tree-lined street and a restaurant or two. After the game, head back into town, where Sakae is your best bet for a late-night party. One club that I found is known as Cream (Santo Bldg 3F 3-10-11 Sakae Naka-ku), an international hip-hop bar that was open until the early hours of the following morning and was hopping with locals and foreigners for most of the night.
Unlike Europe where the Champions League is big business, these international club competitions don't get much respect here in Japan, which surprises me. I personally appreciate the opportunity to see a team that I would not otherwise be able to witness live and can't understand why the Japanese think differently. Only 6,006 made the trek out to see their team take on a squad from China (which had about 10 fans). Those that were there were pretty serious and they made noise all game long. It's too bad they had little to cheer about as the game ended in a goalless draw.
This is a much older venue that was built in 1941 and holds 27,000 fans. It is separated into a main stand and a back stand and you cannot move from one to the other. The team makes it even more difficult to get around than it really should. For example, there is a special Category 3B seat in the back stand that offers no additional benefits above the Category 4 ticket that takes up most of that area. Naturally though, Category 3B costs a bit more so they need to put a chain right down the middle of the aisle separating the two sections. This makes going up and down very annoying as only one person can pass at a time. For such a small crowd this wasn't a huge problem but if the stadium is over half full I can see this becoming dangerous as people might try to push their way by.
As mentioned, you cannot enter the main stand with a back stand ticket either as they are separate structures. However, you can exit either seating area and wander outside, so I would recommend that you find a seat in the back stand and then mosey on over to the main gate to get your food. This re-entry policy expires after half-time.
I prefer the cheaper back stand but all seats here are just benches, so if you want to sit in relative comfort, it will cost you. My ticket was 3,000 yen, while those in the main stand ran either 5,000 or 6,500 with another small advantage of being covered. The end zones are for the supporters and you'll need to be wearing team colors to fit in, so avoid those unless you are dressed appropriately. The Category 4 seats are the best bet and the seats on the visitor side are generally less busy so try to sit there if you can.
There is only one scoreboard above the home fans' section which shows replays but is pretty basic.
In the middle of the back stand is a cauldron that may once have housed a flame or something. I don't know what exactly it is for but that was the only thing here out of the ordinary.
This place will not score particularly well with the FANFARE rankings but that is to be expected given its age and the fact that Japanese stadiums are more concerned about function than the fan experience. I still enjoyed the game here as the food was excellent and it was an early spring evening which was not ruined by a roof. No doubt that Grampus' other home is the much better facility, but if you want to experience the oldest soccer stadium still being used in the J.League, you'll need to visit here instead.
Follow all of Sean's journeys at Sports Road Trips.
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