After the very temporary disappointment of the night before, it was good to get up with a spring in our step to a beautiful, sunny day in Tokyo, safe in the knowledge that we would be able to get into the Ireland vs Scotland game, which promised to be a competitive game of rugby for sure.
Ahead of a long day, breakfast was essential so we decided to grab some Sushi at our soon to be favourite self service restaurant.
These self service restaurants are simply brilliant. The Yo Sushi restaurants in the U.K. come the closest to this, although they really are a pale imitation of the real thing, mainly because of the food quality and clientele. It’s another example of Japanese design efficiency cramming in so much choice and so many customers into such a tiny space without making you feel cramped at all. But given Japan has mastered the art of so many people living together in such a small space without noise, confusion, mess and zero compromise on your personal space, perhaps this is no surprise. Technology plays its part, allowing customers to order what they want, when they want, yet humans are still employed and play a key role too. Humans actually make the wonderful food and actually serve the drinks and crucially take the money, whilst ensuring the standards of cleanliness and welcoming are exemplary. I have no idea if there are health and safety rules in Japan, but the culture of consideration, honour and excellence ensure if there is legislation it really needs no enforcement. This is all topped off by the wonderful miniature Shinkansen (Bullet Train) delivering your fresh order, preceded by bells and other wonderful sound effects, which is another feature of Japanese life.
We headed off to meet our friends again at Shinagawa, the Celts pub from the previous day was closed, so we met in another restaurant. There was an important addition to our team from the previous day. Gary had randomly met Tom who was visiting his brother who is a teacher in South Korea and had decided to pop over to Japan at the weekend to see if he could get a ticket for the match. Gary had spotted his Galway shirt (Gaelic football) and like the totally inclusive and generous man he is, had offered Tom the spare ticket he had. Tom, who hailed from Derry, was literally over the moon. It was going to be his first game of rugby ever, and it was his beloved Ireland. The signs were that the day was already working out to be a good one.
We headed off to Yokohama on the Shinkansen which was packed with men and women in green. Gary managed to buy so many tickets for the train via the automatic ticket machine he could have effected the share price of Japanese Railways! Despite having invested so much, the tickets did not get him and the rest of the team access to the train we travelled on, so we decided to meet in a pub at the other end.
In amongst the sea of green, there were a few kilts and sporrans. The atmosphere on the train and at the stations either end was cracking and fans of all colours were singing and laughing. This really was a brilliant example of how sport can bring people together, thousands of miles from home and across national borders and cultures.
We met in a pub called Hub. Well we met outside that pub to be exact. The whole street was flooded with fans and most couldn’t actually get into the pub anyway. Next door to the pub was a Lawson, which is a chain of general stores selling a huge variety of food and drink. It was clear to anyone experienced that the Lawson would sell out of all of its booze before the day was done and their toilets at the back would be over subscribed and it did and they were. No points for predicting that one.
The weather changed in the late afternoon from hot sun with a fair bit of humidity to all out rain, which made the game feel like it was being played at Murrayfield or Landsdowne Road.
We headed up to the stadium with plenty of time to spare, split up into our various groups and all got in safe and sound. We bumped into a bunch of Irish lads on the way and they wanted a picture. When I offered to take one and encouraged some photogenic movement to make the shot look better, substituting ‘cheese’ for ‘Brexit’, I was greeted with ‘its typical, we’re here in Japan and the one person we ask to take a photo is an Englishman!’. Everyone saw the funny side and agreed all future EU negotiations should be done in the pub, whether you are dressed in green or not, but the boys agreed there was no place for Hulk, incredible or otherwise.
The ground was full, we had great seats and the atmosphere was electric. We were routing for Ireland, which most of you will appreciate. We expected two well matched teams. Sadly, for Scotland, that was not the case today.
We met Steve and his wife who were Japanese, both supporting Ireland. A couple next to me worked in Dublin but were from Estonia and the US, and behind us were Eoin and Eugene, from Seattle all supporting Ireland. We bought beers easily enough from our seats and settled down to enjoy the game.
I asked Steve if the Japanese could give us tips on how to run sports stadia efficiently, in fact how to do everything efficiently. Steve replied, ‘Andy, you would need the teaching we have at school and the thousands of years of cultural and societal history, but everything is possible with time, patience, willing and effort’.
The game ended with a comprehensive 27-3 victory for Ireland. Gary had correctly predicted that if Ireland kept things up front they would win. He has a great rugby brain and so it proved.
We managed to meet up and had some more beers in the stadium. A lovely touch was when Ryan, Joe’s best mate, came over to the touchline, called over and Gary threw him his phone and Ryan took a selfie of us all. What a modest man he was.
The Japanese stewards formed a guard of honour for us all as we left the stadium. Milly took all three Nadia Comaneci prizes for artistic score, execution score and difficulty score, whilst I settled for ‘best old geezer dancing at a wedding’. Joe and Ian focused on winning the Chippendales’ Grand Prix Pour Le Decapage and Kirsty provided the human prop. Gary, Tom, David and Darren supplied plenty of general confusion.
Team Budgie Smugglers
Eventually through the considerable downpours we found our way back to our favourite bar, drank more and reflected on a wonderful day all round. Tom, whilst having his arm around me, told me he had had the best day and his first rugby match ever. We were like brothers, laughing and joking in a Lawson as every single drink had been emptied from the shelves. England were playing Tonga, but that somehow slid into irrelevance as everything became ever more hazy, including the trip home. We’d started the day serviced by a Shinkansen and ended it on one.