Yuto Uematsu was just 23 when he flew from Tokyo by himself to see his first Patriots game in 2015. He had been cheering on the Patriots from across the globe for a decade, but on this day, he would be in Foxborough to take in everything relating to American football.
Before the game began, Yuto walked around the parking lots outside of Gillette Stadium, excited to see what tailgating was all about. He wanted to be around fellow Patriots fans -- a community he couldn't experience in Japan.
Little did he know, he would get that community. And then some.
Leslie Prescott of Waltham, Mass., saw Yuto wandering by himself, and as Patriots fans do, she invited him to her and her husband's tailgate site. With some food, beers and football talk, a friendship was formed.
"I was just amazed. Here's a 23-year-old kid by himself for the game, just for the game. Now that to me is a Patriots fan, to spend that kind of money and come all by yourself," Leslie said. "It just amazed me. We became friends through Facebook afterwards."
"She talked to me and welcomed me. I didn't think I could experience tailgating," Yuto said. "I was so surprised and so happy and excited."
Yuto became a Patriots fan when he watched his first football game -- a Patriots game -- with his father. Like many who grew up in the Brady-Belichick era, Yuto saw Tom Brady at work and was instantly hooked. Though football is gaining popularity in Japan, Yuto said he doesn't have many friends who are fans of the game.
So after he got a taste of what a game was like in person, he wanted to come back. Yuto saved up, bought a ticket for Thursday's game and reached out to Leslie to let her know he'd be returning to the United States. Leslie and her family didn't think twice and offered him a place to stay.
Yuto made her family fresh sushi, and Leslie's son brought him to his first Red Sox game. They come from entirely different parts of the world, but Yuto and Leslie thank the Patriots for bringing such a unique friendship into both of their lives.
Though Leslie originally was planning on watching from home, while Yuto again made the trip to Foxborough alone, her plans changed on Wednesday. The pair came down to The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon, and she was surprised with a ticket to the home opener. This way, she and Yuto could enjoy the game day experience together.
For Yuto, the whole experience has made more outgoing and confident. The love of football, it turns out, transcends cultural and language barriers. It does in fact bring people together.
"I'm not great at speaking English. It is difficult for me to talk in English about myself but it's easy to talk about the Patriots," Yuto said. "The patriots make me not as shy. Because of the Patriots, I made friends."