TOKYO, AUG. 5 -- The hot dogs tasted suspiciously like fish sausage, the program cost $13, the local PA announcer turned "touchdown" into a five-syllable word, and the game itself was desultory. Nonetheless, a good time was had by most here Sunday as the National Football League brought its uniquely American brand of mayhem to the Tokyo Dome.
A surprisingly knowledgeable crowd of about 40,000 Japanese fans cheered the players and ogled the cheerleaders with equal enthusiasm as the 1989 AFC champion Denver Broncos topped the Seattle Seahawks, 10-7, in a sloppy preseason game that left neither team much reason to be proud.
The two teams connected on a grand total of one of four field goals: dropped passes and broken plays were common, and the Seahawks had so much trouble with center snaps that Coach Chuck Knox said he might stay here awhile to do some recruiting.
"If one of those Sumo wrestlers can snap, I want him," Knox declared. "He could make $200,000 to $300,000 just snapping."
But if the on-field competition came up short, the extracurricular cultural exchange was a big hit for both sides.
The players, who passed out their own Japanese-language business cards to patient swarms of autograph-seekers, arrived in Japan equipped with the magic word for rich young Americas on the prowl: "Roppongi."
That's the name of Tokyo's hottest nightclub district -- something like Georgetown expanded by a factor of 10.
"A lot of the boys are spending time in that Roppongi," said Seattle defensive end Jacob Green. "They say it's great, but some of the boys are having trouble with taxis. Not finding them -- fitting in them."
Top honors for intercultural awareness today, though, went to Broncos wide receiver Mark Jackson, who made a picture-perfect diving catch of a 32-yard Gary Kubiak pass to score the game's first touchdown, midway through the third quarter.
Picking himself up in the end zone, Jackson spiked the ball and started into a familiar NFL-style victory prance. Then, remembering where he was, he suddenly stood up and gave the stands a thoroughly Japanese bow.
The crowd in the Tokyo Dome, a looming indoor arena with the same concrete airplane-hangar ambiance as the Kingdome, the Seahawks' home field, seemed fairly indifferent as to which team won, but eager to watch the titans of the sport -- known here as "American football," to distinguish it from soccer -- ply their trade.
American football is gaining popularity in Japan. About two dozen Japanese colleges field American football teams, and another dozen teams are sponsored by companies. There is even a league for women in Tokyo. The NFL has recently opened two souvenir shops in Japan, and they do a brisk business selling such items as highlights films (about $35) and sweaters with NFL team logos (about $90).
As a result, at least some of those in the crowd were generally aware of what was happening on the field. When Broncos linebacker Karl Mecklenburg came charging in on quarterback Dave Krieg, the fans shouted "Abunai! Buritsu!" -- "Look out! Blitz!"
And in the final minute, when Seattle passed up a shot at the tying field goal and lined up in shotgun formation to go for a touchdown that would win the game, about a third of the fans seemed to understand what had happened and applauded appreciatively.
As in stadiums everywhere, the Tokyo Dome crowd had different appearances in different sections. In the $180 box seats, nicely dressed people picked demurely at curried rice with their chopsticks and seemed more intrigued with the two miniature blimps flying around the arena than with the game.
Up in the cheap (well, $30) seats in the bleachers, the folks eating fried octopus with their fingers grew increasingly raucous as the game wore on. Since Japanese stadiums sell not only beer but also sake and whiskey (a double shot of Jack Daniels went for $6), some of the fans were downright rowdy by the fourth quarter, chanting for a Seahawks comeback and snorting in a randy fashion whenever the cheerleaders ran by.
The halftime show, split evenly between U.S. and Japanese entertainment, offered an intriguing cultural contrast.
The NFL brought on a troupe of longhaired go-go dancer types in skintight shocking pink pants for a bump-and-grind dance to hard rock. The Japanese producers turned out a couple of hundred college physical education majors, who performed a languid, ballet-like dance with colorful flags and silky parachutes floating through the air.
The Japanese crowd seemed to love both, just as they liked both teams. "This is great," declared Norihiko Terauchi, a 5-foot-4 quarterback for the Keio University Unicorns, champions of the Japanese college league this year. "To see John Elway and Dave Krieg pass -- it inspires me for next season."