Monthly Archives: October 2019

Don’t cry for me Argentina 5.10.19

We woke up bright and breezy in our hotel room in Shizuoka on Saturday morning. The hotel was old school, but lovely and the staff, as usual, simply wonderful. The breakfast was sublime with so much choice on show we could have dined for a week and not been bored. I suddenly remembered that BBC Radio 5 Live had asked if I could get some interviews with rugby fans for their show Wake Up To Money. That focused my mind, we needed to get to work.

Literally sitting in the middle of the road in Ginza

We had to get a wriggle on as we needed to get to Tokyo, check in at yet another hotel and dump our bags off. I also wanted to get some RWC2019 merchandise, specifically a Japanese rugby shirt and one of the wonderful ‘Brave Blossoms’ T-shirts. As always, there was never any need to panic. Everything works, everything is smooth and plans are not only best laid, but best realised.

Our hotel was the first achingly cool one we had been to and it just didn’t feel right. It was in the Ginza district of Tokyo so we decided to walk with our bags from the Shinkansen station. It was another bright day, clear blue skies and a lovely warm sun on our backs. A quick turnaround and we were on our way back to Shibuya station where the official RWC2019 store was. We bumped into our mate Kevin the badge seller from Manchester who was plotted up outside with a few of his mates selling badges and match tickets. The clash of British and Japanese culture was right there!

Kev the badge seller from Manchester

Predictably the store was pretty much sold out of everything anyone actually wanted. Japanese kit of any sort was gone all bar female super small sizes. In fact anything medium, large or extra large was sold out. There were loads of kids stuff, plush toys and the like, but nothing much else. And it was not even the knock out stages of the tournament! This reminded me of how Japanese videogames companies run things. Clearly the people responsible for stock levels of official merchandise had undercooked the levels of interest that non Japanese fans would have in Japanese memorabilia. They most likely worried about being overstocked on stock lines. We know that these Japanese lines would be amongst the most popular and such is the body size difference between most of the visiting nationals and the Japanese, you would have thought that the M, L, XL and beyond would have been more generously stocked.

All sorts of gear all of it either tiny or kids toys!

Needless to say, I could see exactly what had happened and when we got in there, I said to Kirsty ‘get what you can and don’t delay. Go for anything Japanese’. The only two items we could find were hoodies and track suit tops. My theory was there was still ‘some’ stock because no one thought about heavier items of clothing in that heat. We got a couple of garments and then decided to head to the Tokyo Stadium, which true to form was about a 40 min train ride out of town.

On the way out I saw Kev the badge seller and said to him that he should try and get some merch made up to sell ASAP. There was, for example, no official RWC2019 pin badge available anywhere!

On the train to the stadium I met a couple of lads from the Black Country who had, like us, really enjoyed Japan, the place, the culture and the people. One of the lads did add that he was looking forward to only one thing back home, which we ‘crusts’ in his bread. Most of the England fans were pretty quiet and relaxed, unlike the many Argentinians who were singing and bouncing reminding me of Boca Juniors fans before a big game. Unlike football, there was no bad feeling and only courtesy and smiles from all. This is rugby.

Orderly queues as always

When we came out of the station we decided to plot up outside a shop selling cold Asahis and soak up the atmosphere. It was here we met Carl and his friend Jim and Andrew and David in amongst the carnival atmosphere. It turned out Carl had been to the 1986 football World Cup in Mexico, and we agreed we must have been standing next to each other that fateful day when Maradona punched the ball into Peter Shilton’s net. Small world. I interviewed Carl too for Radio 5 Live and was happy when his piece was used on the show later the following week.

The Bill Beaumont, Andy Ripley, Roger Uttley trio and Kirsty

Carl top left and Jim, bespectacled below with Andrew front left and David right

The police keeping an eye on the crowds gathered outside the McDonalds…

Special Effect TwinTown20 shout out

We had a great drink, met a Japanese fan wearing a West Ham shirt with Di Carnio. (Sic yes I know it should be Di Canio) and then moved on to the stadium to meet up with our friends James and Angela who had been in Japan a few days and as we were to find out were super excited by the whole shebang.

Our Japanese Paolo

I had been to the Tokyo Stadium before, again in 2002 to see England draw 1-1 with Sweden in the football World Cup. It was good to be back and the atmosphere was simply incredible.

Kirsty and I saw a line out face off between a bunch of England and Argentinian fans, where the ball was being thrown in over a moat style piece of no man’s land. It was hilarious watching lads who were slightly heaved than they would like execute their line out moves to a pretty good standard considering how much beer they had drunk!

England won this one..

Eventually we met up with Angela and James at exactly the same time as we bumped into Victor Ubogu who we’ve got to know over the years. James was brilliant, he’s one of the world’s really happy people as well as being hugely tall. He grabbed me and said, ‘Andy, I can’t believe it, we’re here at the World Cup, in Japan, it’s sunny, we’re playing Argentina, we’ve got loads of beers and we’re having a drink with Victor’. From there on in, we knew the day was set well and we knew victory would be ours.

James and Angela – happy days

Victor looking good

And it was. Another crazy red card did assist England, but I felt we were never in doubt and we ran out 39-10 winners. As the day went on, so it got more blurred, but we had the best time. We got some crazy Bento box as part of our seat ticket, which came in a lovely bag with a RWC poncho, seat cushion, water bottle and a match programme. It was all good.

Brilliant Bento box

When we got back to Tokyo and walked to Ginza, we managed to find a bar which was showing the Japan vs Samoa game. We had desperately wanted to see this game and for some reason it wasn’t being shown at the stadium after our game, which was a shame.

Another friendly policeman

We managed to catch the 2nd half and witness another amazing victory for Japan against a team physically so much bigger than them. The Japanese played with their now signature pace and verve and duly delivered another famous result. The atmosphere in the bar, well outside actually, was just wonderful with all ages thoroughly enjoying the match. It was tense for a very long time, but the Japanese ran out 38-19 victors and added the scalps of Samoa to Russia and our beloved Ireland . After the heat of the day we got some rain. Tomorrow we were headed off to Oita right down in the south of Japan. The prospect of more than one night in a hotel really was rather appealing. And on Wednesday we would see Wales take on Fiji with our Welsh (and Irish) and South African friends.

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The return to Shizuoka 3.10.19

I always wanted to return to Shizuoka one day after England got beaten by Brazil in the quarter final of the FIFA World Cup in 2002. Today was that day. The last time I was there, we had the best time, despite the result  This day was to be as good. This time I was supporting by beloved Italy who were facing a very, very touch game against the Springboks.

We travelled back from Kawaguchiko via a bus to Mishima where we would rendez-vous with our old friend Mrs Shinkansen to get to Shizuoka. The bus was great. It was branded Thomas Land and it was therefore it was meant to be that I would sit in Percy’s chair. Mount Fuji was in view, of course, pretty much all the way to Mishima. A quick change form bus to train and we were on our way.

Thomas and Friends were our friends today

This had to be my seat

We landed in Shizuoka, it was hot, clear blue sky and reminded me exactly of the day 17 years ago when the sun’s anvil baked  the England players so much that it wore them down against a Brazil team who were a little more used to the heat than our lads. We walked a short distance to our hotel, checked in and decided to find something to eat in town.  We found another amazing place with amazing Japanese food. Next to us were three people about my age, two Aussies and an English lady, who all lived in Australia and were here for the World Cup for the whole seven weeks. They had an Airbnb in Tokyo for a month, before planning some travelling in Japan once the knock out stages got underway.


Say what you see

Forza Azzurri

We were due to meet our friends Lizzie and Alec for the game and they let us know where they had plotted up so we could head there. It was a place called Aino just a short train ride out of town and walkable to the stadium, which like a lot of stadia in Japan is not exactly in the middle of the city. But the residents of Aino had put their own fanzone together and it was just brilliant. It felt like a village fete, and was typically warmly welcoming and incredibly sweet. There were notices stressing that the merchandise was unofficial.

This sign was a sign

This exhibit took care to note that it was ‘not official RWC 2019 merchandise’

Aino was a fete come festival 

We gravitated to a tented area where there were a lot of school children dressed in their uniforms assembled as a band. They played all sorts from Queen to The Commitments, every song played with such passion and gusto it really was quiet emotional. Fans from all countries were enjoying the music which was interspersed with other crazy displays of drumming, dancing and some kind of martial arts meets jiving mash up. Alex and Lizzie’s friends, Lewys and Paula had just flown in from Wales and joined us. Paula was fascinated by Japanese culture and had loved her experiences thus far. Lewys was decked out in an Italian shirt to match my Italian gear, and seemed to know plenty of Italian phrases. Impressed with his dark, latin looks, I assumed Lewys was Italian. It was hilarious when Lewys revealed he was just Welsh but had decided to go full method so to speak, by learning some Italian. This was a trait that Lewis would continue as the trip went on.

The school band were ace



In the middle of all this I got an email from The Royal Albert Hall flagging up a sale of seats to a one night only showing of a documentary made in 1969 about a day in the life of Jimi Hendrix culminating in the legendary Jimi Hendrix Experience performing live at the same Royal Albert Hall. Given Kirsty’s love of all things jimi, I had to get online and get tickets. After much queuing and some frustration, I managed to land a couple of tickets for the day we were due to land back in the UK.

This was some sort of Kendo sticks meets K Pop mashup

Pom Pom girls…..

Alec, Mario, Kirsty and Lizzie

Lewys and Paula replete with their Forza Azzuri shirts on

Aino at dusk

After much song, dance and drinking we walked to the stadium which was apparently only 15 minutes away. That soon became30 mins and as the sun went down the weather began to change. On the walk I  met Yoshi, a short man who seemed to know a lot about rugby. I think Yoshi had had a beer or two, but he would not let me go and insisted on telling anyone who would listen that ‘me, Yoshi winger, he, Andy, number eight’. Yoshi was hilarious and summed up perfectly how the Japanese embraced this World Cup and really made it their own.

Me and Yoshi

Yoshi joined us, 2nd from the left. He was a winger.

Approaching the stadium

Teams up for their national anthems

The game went according to plan, another full stadium and Italy let themselves down with a red card early doors. The final score was 49-3 to the Springboks. During the game, sitting behind us were Ryan and Ian who would also become friends on this trip. They were both very happy with the final result and we discovered that they too would be headed to Oita to see Wales vs Fiji the following week, so we swapped numbers, sang and hugged a lot and vowed to meet up again.

My fellow supporter

Got to do my bit for Special Effect and TwinTown20

Ryan and Ian properly attired

These guys were the same age as me!

A rare bit of good work from Italy

Kirsty and friend post match

And more friends post match

The hats were special…

These policemen were not really sure what to make of Kirsty

All these Boks are big blokes

We headed back somehow on a train to Shizuoka central station. I must confess Kirsty and I were pretty hazy. It had been another long day and we had enjoyed plenty of Japanese beer. Ahead of us was England vs Argentina the next day and another tight schedule.

Just love the way the Japanese enter the spirit of the World Cup

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Mount Fuji – 2-3.10.19

Zipping off from Osaka again on the Shinkansen felt like the norm now. This time we were heading back to Tokyo to take a bus to Kawaguchiko which is a picturesque lake to the north of Mount Fuji. Ironically, we whizzed past Fuji on the train, so it felt a bit weird that we couldn’t jump off and get there without finding the bus. But such is life sometimes.

The bus to Kawaguchiko was easy and pretty efficient and took a couple of hours from Tokyo. Mount Fuji is normally shrouded in cloud and today seemed to be no exception!

We arrived early afternoon at the railway station that served the lake and found our way to our Ryokan, another traditional inn and our second of the trip. This place was a recommendation of our friend David, who now lives in Japan and has done for 10 years. This was a little bigger than the one in Miyajima, but no less quality. The rooms are wonderful and incredibly relaxing, and no shoes are allowed. You are even expected to use special toilet only slippers, in order to preserve the cleanliness throughout. Japanese toilets are pretty special and unlike any toilets anywhere else in the world. The seats are heatable, there are various sprays and fountains, hot air and more. Once you have experienced the sheer joys of a Japanese toilet, everything else becomes a little bit of a damp squib, no pun intended!

The toilet dashboards and user interfaces are brilliant

Our Ryokan- Rakuyu

Anyway enough of toilet talk. Onsens, those hot communal baths, either public or private, are all part of the Ryokan scene. But tattoos are pretty much frowned upon in Japan and if you have any, you are generally not allowed to use a public Onsen. So we booked a private Onsen and it was as fantastic as ever.

We changed for dinner, watched France vs USA on Kirsty’s iPad and then enjoyed the most amazing food, again.

An Onsen with a view

An incredible set menu again

We had started to use Google Translate more and more on our trip, and that provided no shortage of hilarity given that the Google algorithm takes sometime to check with you on it’s translation before moving on and making improvements. It can sometimes throw up some awkward interpretations! Below was a selection of the ‘translations’ for our amazing breakfast the next day.

Sometimes it’s just better to get stuck in and eat, such is the incredibly high standard and presentation of Japanese food, everywhere!

Breakfast of champions

We spent a day walking around the lake and enjoying the scenery. The area felt a bit like the Lake District in the U.K and for the first time in Japan, it felt a little tired and in need of a little bit of TLC. To be crystal clear, the standard of the area was still high, zero litter or graffiti, it just wasn’t as high as other places we visited in Japan.

A Capsule hotel

The area seemed to be known for gemstones & herbs and it did seem that for families there was very little to do, and most visitors were in the area for a couple of days of hiking. We met a couple of English girls who were traveling and they had an Airbnb and were intending to dine out at 7Eleven and Lawson so they would or could not really contribute financially to the local economy and I suspect that would not be an isolated case.

Another local police station – they all seem minute

We had a really enjoyable time in the fresh air even though Fuji was pretty obscured. We needed to find a place for dinner as Kirsty’s old friend Simon was going to come over and visit us. Simon, purely by chance was in Japan for the sports car racing as he works for Aston Martin. We found a lovely restaurant and figured out what to eat. Their kitchen closed at 9pm and Simon was running late. We knew he wasn’t able to eat fish or seafood, so we chose the local signature dish Shabu Shabu. This proved to be somewhat hilarious in the eating given it was like a Fondue with hot brothy water rather than cheese, into which you cook vegetables, thinly sliced meat and incredibly slippery fat rice Udon noodles. All of this armed only with chopsticks which were the only tools of extraction!

Simon, Kirsty and I all enjoying the Shabu Shabu challenge

It was great to meet Simon at long last and man did we all have a laugh, and swear a bit too. The whole episode was like being caught in an Escher drawing, but for real. Even if we had seafood and fish, Simon would have been fine, he would never have got it anywhere near his mouth!

We turned in and I set an alarm. It was Glastonbury ticket time again and I needed to be awake at 2am to see if I could buy our tickets. Other friends from the UK were on and our Whatsapp group was pinging away. The coach tickets were sold out in about 24 mins. The main tickets were going on sale on Sunday morning, 9am UK time. So our hopes rested on that.

Next morning we checked out of our amazing Ryokan and headed to Shizuoka for the next game we were going to. Italy vs South Africa.

Today was Friday 4th October and that was One Special Day, the day many games companies gave up their daily revenues to support Special Effect, the gamers’ charity which ensures everyone, no matter what their disability is, play games on a level playing field. We had to get a picture of my old One Special Day T-shirt in front of Mount Fuji.

It really was One Special Day at the foot of Mt Fuji

Our bus duly arrived, and we climbed aboard ‘Thomas & Friends’ and headed to Mishima to get the Shinkansen to Shizuoka. We loved our time in Kawaguchiko, thanks to David for recommending this part of the world. And yes, true to form we zipped past Mount Fuji again on the train. It seems wherever you go, Mount Fuji is likely to be in view!

And once again, Mt Fuji can be seen from the train !

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Osaka, oh, oh, oh! 30.9-1.10.19

Another day and another big Japanese city, this time Osaka via the Shinkansen from Hiroshima. We had no actual plan of activity at this point, so just went with the flow. So much so that we actually decided to head straight to Kobe once we had found our hotel. There was unfinished business to be sorted.

Our view from our hotel room in Osaka

Line up for carriage 4 and carriage 4 appears

Gary and Joe had met with David and his Dad, John and his Mum, Clare the day after the England vs USA game in Kobe to sample the world famous Kobe steak. Kirsty had felt short changed that she had missed out on sampling that speciality, and had been banging on about it ever since. Kobe is only 30 mins away from Osaka by train and Scotland were playing Samoa there that evening, which was a bonus. So we agreed to seek out Kobe steak. We found a lovely restaurant on Tripadvisor and sampled away. It was pretty amazing, even for an ex-vegetarian like me. The chef moved his knives like Dynamo at his very best, such was the speed and sleight of hand. We savoured it and we won’t forget it, the quality of meat was outstanding, think semi soft full fat butter with a slight and distant taste of Bovril. Delicious.

Note the bib

Post prandial, we decided to hit the Kobe Fan Zone and see if we could get some tickets for the match. That didn’t work out, but there were plenty of Scots and a few Samoans around plus a smattering of other fans and the atmosphere was great, as usual. The queues for beer tokens and for the beer itself were virtually non existent, nothing like the queues the last time we were in town but then again there were fewer Scots fans here than English. But the Scots won the dressing up contest hands down, they always do! As do the Irish and the Welsh!

The Scots always have the best headgear

We watched the Scotland vs Samoa game on the big screen in a wonderful setting. The Japanese fans were out in force and all sat in an orderly fashion on the neatly arranged benches. Before we sat down to join them though, Kirsty showed some other rugby fans and the Land Rover team running the show, how things were done by successfully spin passing a rugby ball into a net. That one will go down alongside Kirsty’s goal kicking fest with Graham Bell at Henley Rugby Club a few years back. It really was hilarious. A couple of Americans were shown up when they failed to do what Kirsty had done.

Gareth Edwards eat your heart out

All we could write on the board is ‘Thank you Japan’

Go Nippon, go!

There were very few non-Japanese fans in the park at kick off which wasn’t surprising given the Scots were playing up the road. Bernie and Sian were, like us, in Japan for the rugby. Bernie was Irish and Sian Welsh. We shared a few pints and all shouted for Scotland who needed to win and win with a bonus point after their loss to the Irish.

Sian enjoyed the game

It was a great performance by the Scots on a very humid evening. And then the fun really started. Out of nowhere at the end of the match a piper dressed in full traditional Scottish dress, banged out ‘Scotland the Brave’, ‘Highland Laddie’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with his fellow pipers. It was sensational and had all the Japanese fans up and dancing as well as all of us. The hilarious and wonderful thing about the lead piper was he was Japanese! That one moment summed everything up about this World Cup and how the Japanese have embraced the spirit of the game more than any hosts ever did in the past.

This piper was immense

What a setting

Another great night, plenty of laughs and a wonderful atmosphere. We got back to Osaka in a haze, euphoric but exhausted. And slept.

Another great day in Japan

We woke up the next morning, to blazing sunshine and decided to go to the huge Osaka aquarium via the Pokemon Store. Both were amazing. Both had space for school children to experience and learn, which is another great feature about Japan and Japanese society. Children are allowed to be children. Learning, writing things down and interacting with adults seems to be key and it’s refreshing.

Your caption here

Another fine lunch

Children bringing their Pokémon cards to play and learn

Needless to say the Osaka Aquarium was five or six storeys high and had an incredible variety of sea life. By the time we left it was dark, the Osaka light show was in full swing, just like every other city in Japan that we had visited.

Our friends, Lizzie and Alec, who we had met in Miyajima were in town and we met up for beers and Gyoza. We shared plenty of laughs and memories and resolved to meet at the Wales vs Fiji game in Shizuoka later in the week. Fun times ahead.

For now, we were headed to Mount Fuji. More fun times ahead.

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An island paradise 28-29.9.19

After the poignancy of Hiroshima, we set sail for the small island of Miyajima in the Bay of Hiroshima.

We checked out of our hotel and in line with our normal approach on this trip, we took a train to the ferry port. And as usual the train arrived precisely in line with the carriage indicator sign at which you form a queue. You never fail to be amazed how Japan runs with complete precision.

Station art like nothing else we’ve seen

We arrived on Miyajima with a very small overnight bag as we were going to stay in a Ryokan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inn, usually family owned, with Tatami mats in the rooms, public areas where visitors can chat wearing traditional Japanese dress (Yakata), public baths and what turned out to be the most incredible food we had so far.

We were greeted by wild deer as we got off the boat. These deer are sacred and thus protected and enjoy complete and utter freedom to roam. They also like any food or paper you may be carrying and accost pretty much all visitors in a totally charming way.

Miyajima Fire Station

We headed to our Ryokan and were greeted by a warm and friendly owner. Smiling and politeness are also de rigueur in Japan and the staff at this inn were no exception. Once our bag was dropped off, we had the most incredible and pleasant afternoon walking on the island.

Our Ryokan

Miyajima is home to the iconic Great Tori Gate which gets partially submerged by the incoming tide. The beach is pretty flat and deep, but sadly the Tori Gate was undergoing pretty major maintenance presumably for the Olympics in 2020. Nonetheless, it was great to walk on the beach and enjoy the whole Zen feeling on the island with all of its old buildings in the Edo style.

The Great Tori Gate under wraps

We had to visit Mount Misen and that was accessible via the Miyajima Ropeway which is in two parts, a small carriage version the Momijidani funicular and a larger carriage the Shishiiwa circular. Given the heat and the amount we had walked already we declined to hike to the top of the mountain but met Samara and Holly at one of the viewing areas. Both were touring around Japan watching the Rugby like us to celebrate Holly’s 30th birthday and having the time of their lives, just like everyone we had met in Japan for this World Cup.

We had booked a private Onsen at our Ryokan. An Onsen is a hot bath where you wash first and then enjoy the natural waters, a sauna with water if you will.

But before that, that we stopped by the Miyajima Brewing Company in the hope we could find a TV to watch the Ireland vs Japan game. There was no sign of any rugby on the island at all. But we met the wonderful Alec and Lizzie at the brewery who had just got the game on their phone. So we asked if we could pull up a few chairs and watch the game with them. We were all obviously supporting Ireland, especially Lizzie who had GWR Ireland shirt on. Alec was Welsh, still is it turns out, and he and Lizzie were also in Japan to follow the World Cup. Before we left them we swapped numbers and established that we would meet up in Shizuoka for the Italy vs South Africa game the following week.

Alec and Lizzie kindly let us join them

The result of the game was not as we had all hoped, but a huge result for the home nation. We had to run to get to our hotel and our Onsen on time. Of course we were slightly late, but hey ho.

The Onsen was wonderful in every way, and totally relaxing. Once we had our 30 mins we were ready for what was to be the most amazing tasting menu either of us had ever had. And all of this food magic in a family run Ryokan.

Dinner was simply amazing

A 9 dish menu

Whilst we ate, our room was transformed from a living room to a bedroom. No shoes are allowed on the Tatami mats and chairs have no legs as you sit level to the floor. The minimalist decoration and interior lends an aura of tranquility that’s hard to beat.

We decided to have a walk after dinner and Miyajima at night was even more enchanting than it was by day, given everything is closed and the number of tourists is drastically reduced.

Probably the least busy police station in Japan

We encountered some people dressed like they had been extras in Dr No, with white Wellington boots and lightly coloured overalls and hard hats who were tracking the incoming tide. We were not really clear what they were doing, but it added to the whole mystique of the place.

A wonderful night’s sleep on our Futons gave way to another bright, sunny and non humid day. Breakfast was a traditional Japanese one, and the food was as exquisite as dinner the previous evening.

A traditional Japanese breakfast – something I would have every day if I had the chance

When we checked out we met the owner of the Jukieso Ryokan, Sosumu Koyabashi, who was a total gentleman with the kindest eyes, and thanked him for their hospitality. We did some more island exploration and we rounded off a very relaxing few days with some mini beers from the brewery before returning to Hiroshima to get our bags, grab some sleep and get ready for Osaka.

Best Japanese ice cream

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Hiroshima Mon Amour 27.9.19

Hiroshima. A name that I have known pretty much all of my life. My mother taught me about the significance of this place and the other one, Nagasaki. Later in my life, I loved the song ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ by the original Ultravox led by John Foxx. The lyrics always stayed with me and today they were going to be particularly poignant.

‘Meet beneath the autumn lake 
Where only echoes penetrate 
Walk through Polaroids of the past 
Futures fused like shattered glass, the suns so low 
Turns our silhouettes to gold 
Hiroshima mon amour’

And today we are are on our way to this (in)famous city. Now renamed the ‘city of peace’. Once again our friend Shinkansen delivered us safe and sound and on time from Kyoto. I’ve discovered Calpis out here, which is the same kind of thing Yakult as it’s a fermented milk drink with lactic acid and cultures which helps both digestion and helps me to build back the capability of my digestive tract post all the antibiotics I was given earlier in the year. The downside of it is that every time I say Calpis, it sounds like cow piss!

This is the real deal – Calpis

Always follow instructions on Japan

We arrived in Hiroshima which is in the south of Japan and two and a half hours from Kyoto. Our hotel was right next to the main station. As always we were too early to get into our room, so we dropped our bags and headed out to get some food.

Wonderful art in our hotel

Hiroshima fire station was opposite where we ate.

We were keen to try the local speciality, Okonomiyaki, which is a savoury pancake containing cabbage, egg, batter and a load of other stuff, all made on a very big hot counter by some very talented chefs. It’s delicious and very filling indeed.

The chefs construct in front of your eyes

And hey presto! Okonomiyaki is delivered

After we finished lunch, we decided to walk to the Peace Memorial Park which was 45 minutes away. It was another hot and still day and the park is the site on which the US Army Air Force drooped the first Atomic bomb ever used, codenamed Little Boy, from a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay on Hiroshima at 8.15am on the morning of 6th August 1945. The destruction was quite simply unprecedented. I knew this was going to be a tough afternoon.

The Peace Memorial Park

As always I like to try and see things from a balanced perspective, so for once I am going to avoid any political probing around the use of the Atom Bomb (A Bomb) on Hiroshima. There’s plenty of great historians from both sides of the divide who have written millions of words criticising and justifying the use of this weapon of mass destruction but 140,000 people died from that bomb alone.

The notice as you enter the Memorial Musem

Some of the school children from the school directly under that deadly blast

The Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotional Hall

That fateful time

The Hall stood despite being underneath the A-Bomb. It’s now known as the A-Bomb Dome

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park will live in my memory forever. It’s a pretty big piece of land, the original Ground Zero. Reading the stories and seeing the photographs of so many of those killed, injured and who survived was a gut wrenching experience. Clothes, artefacts, documents, fused glass, transcripts and other ephemera reinforced the shock and the sorrow I felt. I was also confused by what I thought were clumsy translations from Japanese to English. Frequent referrals to ‘school children being killed by their bomb renovation stations’ were confusing. It was only when I read up on my phone as I walked around that these were people of all ages who were rebuilding bombed buildings from previous raids and sometimes demolishing existing structures to introduce fire breaks to minimise damage from future incendiary bombing raids, that it all began to fall into place.

Japanese cities had been subjected to fire bomb raids, the same as London, Coventry and Dresden had suffered. The US planners had wanted to test the true destructive effect of the A-Bomb and wanted a city with a 3km diameter. A number of cities had been identified as potential recipients of the A-Bomb and all bombing raids on those cities were halted in order to ‘preserve’ the 3km area. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the two cities tragically selected for the detonation of the Atomic bombs. War is made my man, and those who make it use every single sinew of their twisted ingenuity to wreak maximum destruction.

The view from the Memorial Museum

The Peace Flame with the Memorial Museum in the background

The Peace Memorial Cenotaph

And through it you can see the A-Bomb Dome

140,000 tiles in this memorial mosaic of Hiroshima after the bomb to represent all those who were killed

The A-Bomb Dome

The Peace Clock Tower

New and old. Pre and post A-Bomb

The A-Bomb Dome at dusk

As as I sat outside the main Peace Memorial Museum every single person filing out wore sullen and drawn looks. Today had been a very, very thought provoking day and I know I will carry that experience with me until the day I die.

Praying visitors at the shrine outside the Peace Memorial Park

Good night Hiroshima. May peace be with you

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It’s England time. Kobe or not Kobe? 26.9.19

Given we are in Japan to watch rugby and travel to as many places as we can, it was a weird thing to wake up in Kyoto on the day England were playing their second game of the tournament and remembering that we would actually be going to that game. As is my tradition, I never wear any England gear to matches, be it football, cricket or rugby, as I just don’t see the point. Today, it would be my ‘Midnight’ Jam T-Shirt and shorts.

We were in two minds. Did we do another insane early start in order to take in some more sights in the magnificent Kyoto and then run the risk of being late for the game or did we have a leisurely approach, get to Kobe in good time and enjoy the atmosphere? After some discussion, plumped for the latter.

Kobe is about an hour on the Shinkansen from Kyoto and we had arranged to meet our friend David, who lives in Japan with his wife and daughter there. David’s Mum, Clare and his Dad, John who were over from the UK supporting Ireland, were also coming to the game.

It was another bright and hot day. Travelling through Japan we have seen and met loads and loads of rugby fans. It’s always dangerous to make sweeping statements, especially around national cliches but to hell with that so here goes:

The French – mainly middle aged, loads of couples pretty much always wearing their team colours with plenty of pride. Plenty of supporters present.

All Blacks fans – all ages, always dressed in black and many, many men all of whom look like they have played rugby. Loads and loads in Japan.

Aussies – similar to the New Zealand fans, but plenty of older fans, again in couples and all very tall. And loads of ’em.

Irish – all ages, always in green always laughing or lost, usually both. Probably the most representative of a truly global community. The Irish are from everywhere and are everywhere and the world is a better place for them. And there are loads of them here.

Welsh – all ages, rugby mad and plenty of couples too. Plenty of younger lads.

Scots – kilts everywhere, loads of young lads who like the Irish and Welsh have clearly made an effort to get here. Plenty older fans too and plenty of pale white legs and mossie bites!

The best hats

Italians – mainly male, slim and stylish. Beards are neatly kept. Less numbers than the above.

Argentinians – like the Italians, the vast majority of supporters are male, of all ages but loads of them are probably 25-35 yrs old and I suspect follow football as well as rugby all over the world.

English – mainly middle or old aged and many on organised trips. From the numbers here at the moment it seems like most England fans of the future have opted for the ‘arrive at the quarter finals stage and progress to the final’ approach. This has been noted by other fans and remarked on. Not always in a positive manner I may add.

We found the fan zone area in Kobe, right in the port area easily enough. Kirsty decided to buy an umbrella to ward off the intense sunshine and that proved to be a really good move, given it gets really sunny out here and then rains at no notice for a short time and then gets sunny again.

Sunshine on a rainy day… either way you are covered with this

I absolutely loved Kobe, the port area reminded me of San Francisco in the 60’s, and for older readers it really looked like the locations used in the original Batman film. I could just imagine Adam West, Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin tearing around this place. It made me very, very happy.

A brilliant & clean port

This reminded me of Batman 1966

Pedestrian control is precise and polite

We got news that our friends Gary and Joe had not left Japan after all and were headed to the game too. This was great news as these two just make the world a happier and far better place. Add in that we were meeting up with the McCarthys we knew today would be just brilliant.

It was great to see David again and I immediately quizzed him about all sorts of aspects of Japanese life and culture that I was hungry to know more about. David was a mine of information as I expected and speaks pretty good Japanese from what I could tell. Loads of his nuggets of wisdom will be shared throughout this blog, there was literally so much it would be wrong to dump it all in here at one fail swoop. Something that particularly tickled me was the fact that his Dad, John was not on Facebook, but John’s twin brother, Tom was, and Facebook always tried to tag Tom using face recognition, when pictures of John were posted.

Mr David McCarthy looking very fit and very well

The fan zone is typically well organised with plenty of food outlets all all drinks, whether they be Heineken, cider or wine, are purchased via a voucher system. So you queue for your tokens, pay for them and then queue again to redeem them at the bars. It sounds ponderous, but it really isn’t. The price of drinks however, was on the high side and any bottles bought into the zone needed their labels removing. It’s seems that the Rugby World Cup has gone down the same road as FIFA and their sponsors ensuring competing brands are erased from all view.

The atmosphere at the fan zone was fantastic, it was packed and fans of all ilk were enjoying the pre match banter. Added to that Italy vs Canada was on the big screen. Joe, Gary, David, Clare and John all got on like a house on fire with Gary and John swapping stories and discussing plenty around people they knew back home in Ireland. Whilst all this was going on, I got approached by a lovely England fan who had spotted my ‘Midnight’ t-shirt. Turns out he was a fellow Jam fan and desperately wanted to know here I got it from, and got another customer right there!

L-R David, Kirsty, John, Joe & Gary

Eventually we headed off to the ground via the Metro and arrived in good time. Kobe port at night lit up and really came alive.

Love this place

And they know how to do lights

There was a huge picture in the Metro from a rugby match. Blow me, it was only Joe’s best mate Ryan Wilson playing for Scotland again!

It’s Ryan Wilson. Again!

Everyone split up as we were all dotted around the ground and Kirsty and I had great seats surrounded by Japanese fans most of whom seemed to be supporting England.

The cutest Japanese fan ever?

And now with the rest of the family

Volunteer helpers are everywhere and always just lovely

And the coppers aren’t too bad either

Everything is covered

The game was a pretty routine win for England 45-7 although England allowed the USA to score a try at the death. The atmosphere was electric though and just like Ireland vs Scotland it felt like a cup final. Many of the Japanese fans are pretty new to the game, so some are not used to the beats of rugby. So it does give the impression that we are some sort of super human predictors of the future when you stand up and see the try in, way before the touch down, much to the amazement of all the locals around you. As always, the Japanese fans are hugely enthusiastic, friendly, eager to high five, have pictures taken and above all are always laughing and happy. Add in that you can drink beer in the ground, and there is literally nothing to not like about watching live sport here.

Another great stadium

England playing in red threw some supporters!

This guy knew his stuff

Kirsty got lost again coming back to the seats

Gloucester’s finest on the ball

No hat swaps here

Happy with the atmosphere

England players at the end happy with a job reasonably well done

A random line-out

After the game Kirsty and I walked back to a station, I have no idea which one, and magically got on a train which ended up in Kyoto and we jumped on the Metro and got back to our hotel and to our bed. We were exhausted, but happy England and Italy had won, and made sure we got our bags sorted for another early start in the morning. Next stop Hiroshima.

Brilliant day all round. And here’s a team shot with Clare in it.


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Hey Ho, Let’s Kyoto 25.9.19

Yet another early start on our Japanese road trip, this time we are off to the city of Kyoto. In my world Kyoto is famous for being the headquarters of the makers of the greatest videogames of all time, Nintendo. I’ve been before, but only on business and never made or indeed had the time to see the sights of this wonderful city.

This time I was determined to make up for lost time and get round as many of the famous sites as we could. We were certainly going to need our walking legs!!

It was a bright sunny day in Kanazawa, in total contrast to the day before and we felt excited. Kyoto has more shrines, temples and castles than any other city in Japan and we knew we would never be able to get round them all. So as usual, focus was required. Kirsty had done all the research and had a clear plan of attack.

The Kyoto underground system

A quick scoot via the Kyoto railway system and we found our hotel which was brilliant, again. We dropped our bags and headed straight out.

Our hotel’s restaurant booking policy

We walked to the Nino-Jo castle which dates from 1679. Pictures inside the castle were forbidden and shoes-off was the order of the day. Absolutely no smoking was allowed given that the inners of the castle were all wood and all on one level. The wall paintings were exquisite. Kirsty and I both remarked on the differences between this architecture and interior design versus European castles and country houses come chateaux. Once again the simplicity and minimalism won the day. No clutter, no over the top garish decoration, no artefacts just room to move, breathe and above all think. The castle was enormous and the gardens serene and magnificent.

These castles never cease to amaze


In case you get too hot, there are external water mist sprayers called Uchimizu everywhere in Japan which help you to cool down. It has to be said that the humidity in Japan has certainly been a factor. Something the rugby players have noticed, often to their cost, reducing the ball to a bar of slippery soap!

Uchimizu in action

Koi Carp in the moat

The inner castle keep

A residence in the inner castle gardens

We popped back to our hotel as it was 3pm and we could get into our room. A quick turn around and a bite to eat from the 7Eleven and we were all set for some temple and shrine visiting. We had to take the bus to Kiyomizu Dera which is a big temple in the east of the city. It’s a Buddhist temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in 778 with the present buildings being built from 1633 and is a short yomp up the hill along with hundreds of other tourists. There were plenty of fellow hikers in traditional Japanese dress and so many people you had to wonder if the place could cope. It does make me laugh to see so many people posing for their Instagram and Facebook pictures all of which are taken as if the subjects are the only people around. We are as guilty as the rest of course, but it’s like a massive film set with the actors doing their selfies only for the rest of the world to be the other side of the camera.

This place was properly packed

A rare moment of calm

Instagram won’t show these crowds

One of many shrines here

As usual there was no rubbish or litter anywhere and very few litter bins. This never ceases to amaze and inspire me, given the litter epidemic we have back home in the UK. And there is never any graffiti, unless it’s an art installation!

Self explanatory

We saw the sun go down over Kyoto, walked around the whole site and then decided to find the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Sundown over Kyoto

The non Instagram ‘look at me’ picture

Thousands of people leaving the Temple at sundown

Using Apple and Google Maps, we navigated what promised to be a 45 minute walk reasonably well. At one stage we were very much off piste in a residential area at dusk. In any other country in the world, one would have felt a little bit anxious. But this is Japan and aside from a few people out walking their dogs, we saw and heard no one.

Eventually we reached our destination and enjoyed another massive site which dates from 816, but the main construction dates from 1499. The site is enormous and we couldn’t get to it all given it was now dark. Thousands of iconic Torii, the orange uprights, line the route uphill from the lower gate to the inner shrine. Above that are thousands of mounds (tsuka) for private worship, much like a graveyard. There are statues of little foxes with red neckerchiefs (kitsune) all around the mounds and these are apparently symbolic of the messengers. The mix of natural darkness and bright light by the mounds and these fox statues reminded m of the scene in the graveyard in The Omen. It was pretty spooky and a little unnerving if truth be told.

The entrance gate, eventually

The start of the thousands of Torii

These go on forever uphill

One of the tens of thousands of mounds reminding me of The Omen

The foxes – Kitsune.

We walked back to the station, pretty exhausted and if I am completely honest, slightly fractious. We eventually worked out which station and line would get us to the Gion district which was the traditional Geisha area and had a late dinner in a small, but excellent restaurant upstairs somewhere before walking back to our hotel in Shijo Street. We got in around midnight completely knackered but pleased to have seen so much of Kyoto on foot.

The lower gate on the way out

The river bank downtown Kyoto calm and perfect

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