Here in Matsumoto we’re mighty proud of our soccer team, Yamaga FC. All over town the streets are dripping in the green and white of the team. Banners hanging from lampposts. Flags rippling in the breeze. Posters in shop windows. Decals on cars. The team mascot, Gans the Ptarmigan, smiles at everyone from vending machines and manhole covers and souvenir shop shelves.
The Spirit of Matsumoto. You can’t miss it!
The Start of Something Big
Soccer in Matsumoto began in 1965 when a non-profit organization called the Alwin Sports Project established a team of players representing Nagano Prefecture in a low-level regional league. From the beginning they called themselves the Yamaga Football Club, the name coming from a coffee shop near the train station the players would frequent. The owner of the shop loved the mountains of Nagano; the name Yamaga was a combination of ‘yama’ (mountain) and ‘yuga’ (elegant). The original Yamaga team emblem actually had a coffee cup on it!
It took 45 years, but in 2010 the team finally gained a spot in the JFL, the Japan Football League, the third (now fourth) tier of professional soccer in Japan. Two seasons later they were promoted to the second tier, J2, and in 2015 they earned their first-ever spot in Japan’s premier group of J1 teams.
They would subsequently fall and rise and fall again, and at the time of this writing they are competing in the J3 League.
What’s in a Name
In keeping with the elegant mountains the team is named after, Yamaga are known as the Ptarmigans – Raicho in Japanese, a name made up of the characters for thunder and bird. The Rock Ptarmigan is the official bird of Nagano Prefecture, and tends to be a shy, elusive creature – much like permanent J1 status for the ptarmigans down on the field at Alwin Stadium.
Yamaga’s home field, formerly called Matsumotodaira Park Stadium, is now known as Sunpro Alwin. Sunpro is the local housing and real estate company with the naming rights to the venue while Alwin – yes, the same Alwin from 1965 –derives from the words Alps and Wind. It sits near one end of sprawling Shinshu Skypark, a vast playground that surrounds Matsumoto Airport, at 657 meters above sea level Japan’s highest. With a seating capacity of around 20,000, Alwin presents as a rather intimate arena for the loud, proud Yamaga fans.
Be a Part of the Team
While Shinshu Skypark and Sunpro Alwin stadium sit far from downtown Matsumoto, it’s easy to get out to see a game. There are free shuttle buses that run from the Alpico Bus Terminal right across from the train station. And yes, they will bring you back when the game is over too! Just follow all the people in green shirts.
If the Ptarmigans aren’t playing when you’re in town, you can still grab a bit of the Yamaga spirit by picking up a souvenir. Or drop by the Coffee & Football Kissa-Yamaga Café. The original Yamaga café closed in 1978 when the station area was being recreated, but years later, in 2017, the café was revived by the team. Hours are limited so you might want to check and see if they are open – though they’re close enough to Matsumoto Castle and the crowds around Frog Street that swinging by is a piece of cake.
Another way to see the team is by heading out to Karigane, their practice facility on the outskirts of town. They will often hold practice sessions that the general public can watch up close. When practice is over the players will even take time to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Besides the multitude of official Yamaga logos and colors downtown…
…are a few more subtle examples of the Ptarmigan spirit.
So as you explore the streets of downtown keep a look out for the green and white of those Yamaga FC banners – and those posters, and the vending machines and the manhole covers and everything else. The Spirit of Matsumoto is all over town.
You really can’t miss it.
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