The World Cup is an incomparable showcase for differing global cultures and the values which shone brighter than any other in 2018 were that of the Japanese fans. Akira Nishino’s team shone on the pitch - reaching the last 16 of the competition before being eliminated by a superb Belgium in a five-goal thriller. Yet they were also the stars in the stands, with their fans staying behind after all four games to pick up the rubbish left in the stadium. This tradition even extended to their loss against the Belgians - with their fate decided cruelly in the final minute, but it was not even to prevent the good-mannered fans tidying the stands.
The goodwill nature of the Japanese contingent in Russia even spread to the team, who despite being eliminated from the World Cup in the most dramatic of circumstances ensured they cleaned the changing room to perfection and left a note that read “thank you” in Russian.
It was the most fitting way to an end a rip-roaring knockout encounter, which had been scoreless - but entertaining - at the break. Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui struck quickfire goals for Japan inside the first seven minutes of the second half and they appeared destined to cause one of the upsets of the tournament.
With 21 minutes to go, Jan Vertonghen got one goal back then substitute Marouane Fellaini levelled the game. Deep into injury time, Japan won a corner. It went straight into the arms of Thibaut Courtois, who bowled it out to Kevin De Bruyne who ran at a stretched, out-of-position Japan defence. Belgium players were sprinting forward and their decisive counter-attack saw De Bruyne find Thomas Meunier, advanced on the right - the slid the ball across the box, dummied by Romelu Lukaku, for Nacer Chadli to run in and fire home.
Belgium became the first team to fight back from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout game since West Germany against England in 1970. It was an incredible match, won by a special team against worthy opponents who can take solace in being remarkably gracious in defeat.
So why did fans of the Samurai Blue - equipped with rubbish bags brought with them to the games - meticulously clean up their rows and seats in the stadiums after the full-time whistle? Quite simply, it is a tradition of politeness and self-awareness that is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. Anyone who leaves behind any rubbish in Japanese stadiums are politely reminded to clean up after themselves.
This act is highlighted to Japanese people from childhood - it is deeply frowned upon to leave any sort of rubbish behind you and such strict interpretations of this rule have an impact. Constant reminders lead to a great deal of awareness and self-consciousness, with those from the nation taking deep pride in their cleanliness.
Fans of the Far East nation were not the only ones to clean up after them, with numerous supporters of Senegal - their group stage opponents - also picking up the tradition. Yet it was Japan who pioneered the act and subsequently became famed for it. Every football stadium would be significantly better off if all nations followed Japan’s lead.