Meech Eaton Is Enjoying Life Playing Football in Japan

Meech Eaton has enjoyed a checkered career in football since graduating from Northwestern University in 2006 including being the captain of the United States gold winning team in the 2007 IFAF World Championships in Japan.

He has played in France for the Nice Dauphins and the Cannes Iron Mask, in Finland with the Kouvola Indians, in Spain with the Badalona Dracs and in Poland for the Wroclaw Crew and the Wroclaw Panthers as well as Kozly Poznan. Add to that coaching football In India and he has covered a lot of ground in the name of football.

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But now he finds himself back in Japan, this time playing in the 18 team X League, the top American football league in Japan, for the IBM Big Blue. That is a pretty big leap even for someone who is veteran of football in Europe and accustomed to adapting to new cultures.

Finding a job in Japan in football is not as straightforward as in Europe where you register on and teams contact you.

So Meech had to turn to his own contacts.

It all started though, this past spring, when he felt like he needed a change of scenery. He had played in Europe every year since 2007 after a tryout with the Chicago Bears. He thought back to his days on Team USA and reached out to an old friend, James Brooks, who was playing in Japan.

Brooks approached his team,  IBM Big Blue and not long after the head coach of the team, Shinzo Yamada, called Eaton. In fact, Yamada already knew who he was as he had been a coach on the Japanese national team that had lost the the United States in the gold medal game of the 2007 worlds.

Within weeks, Meech was on a plane from Poland to Tokyo, Japan. His team practices in Chiba, basically a suburb of Tokyo.

“Everything went so fast. I arrived in Japan  on a Wednesday and was practicing with my new team on the Saturday.”

He moved into a modern apartment with Brooks with all the normal conveniences of North America or Europe. Except that is, for the bed.

“Yeah, the beds are much lower than I was used to, but you get used to it.”

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After his first practice Eaton said he was very impressed with his team. He realized right away that the players were so good that he could not take any plays off. In fact this was the best football he had played in for a long time.

“In Europe, you did not have a full squad to practice and you might be lucky to get 25 players to practice. But here, we always have 45 players show up. There’s other things like the knowledge of the game, the small things they do so well here. It’s the ultimate team ball out here. “

The Japanese players are extremely disciplined and have a penchant for learning according to Eaton. With full coaching staffs including American offensive line coaches, the teams in the X League are run almost like a professional club with team meetings, team workouts, well run practices.

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It is no wonder that Japan is one of the top three American football nations in the world. In fact, Eaton is planning to stay for more than this season. He was approved for a three-year visa and he will stay at least that long.

According to him, one of the reasons it is tough for Americans at times to get into the Japanese leagues is that the imports (read American players) like it so much they stay.

The team supplies accommodation, a good salary, insurance and other benefits. Eaton does his own cooking and eats out maybe once a month as the cost of restaurant food is fairly high. The toughest thing he has had to adapt to is the heat.

“I’m from Milwaukee and we do get heat in the mid West. But this was something else again. I have never experienced anything like this before.”

Japan - Meech Eaton - Shibuya, Japan

Shibuya, Japan is Meech Eaton’s new home

Eaton is pretty happy with the football side of things since his team remains undefeated entering the final game of divisional play. IBM plays in the Central Division. There are two other divisions, the East and West divisions and the top three teams from each of the three divisions, after divisional play, meet in a round robin tournament to determine the league semifinalists.

The winners advance to the X League championship game, the Japan Bowl, held December 15 this year at the 55,000 seat Tokyo Dome.

The way things are going Eaton and IBM Big Blue may well have a good shot at contending for the Japanese title. They were runners up in 2014 so helping his new team win the championship would be just fine for Meech. The last time he did that was with Team USA.

In Japan. It would be fitting.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.