Another early start in Beppu given we wanted to make sure we experienced the hot sand bath. A short bus ride and we were there. Along with many other mainly Welsh fans. Basically you register, pay and take your place in the queue or go off and come back at your allotted time.
Once in, you separate into male and female changing rooms which were small to say the least. In there you strip down naked and then clean yourself via the Onsen style bucket and water and then put on your Yakata. You emerge from the changing room to be ushered into a long hole dug in the grey volcanic, hot sand. Our resting places resembled shallow graves. Once you are on your back the female team set about covering you in this incredibly hot sand until your head and neck are only visible. 15 minutes in there and you completely relax, get warm and feel incredibly peaceful. And 15 minutes is about all I could handle. Once you have been dug out of the sand, you head back to the changing room, shower off and discover that your skin feels like.you are two years old again, a rather wonderful feeling.
But we had no time to mess around. We swung by ours, changed, grabbed some Sushi from the supermarket and got weaving. We needed to get to the station and take the train a short hop, skip and a jump to Oita to meet our Welshfriends Lizzie, Alex, Lewys, Paula and our South African friends Ryan and Ian at one of the fan zones.
I was very pleased to be dressed in red as an honourary Welshman for the day. The Welsh supporters were out in force and in fine spirits. Today was going to be a real test for the team, but beat the Fijians and Wales were on track to win their group.
We found a great fan zone just the other side of the station and managed to talk ourselves into the ‘sold out’ big fop to watch the Argentina vs USA game. The layout was typically Japanese and idiosyncratic feeling like a mix of a big darts tournament and a family crèche. As usual there were all ages of Japanese there to experience the atmosphere. We met some lovely families all of whom seemed to enjoy the fact that we were visiting their home town, which we found out was not really on the tourist circuit so to speak, and this World Cup had definitely brought more foreign tourists than ever before. And that was positively welcomed by the locals.
Before our friends joined us in the big top,Kirsty started talking to a Welsh gentleman who turned out to be called Glynn who was a lovely chap. When Alec, Lizzie, Paula and Lewys joined us, the Welsh were in full voice and the atmosphere was cracking. Much like the Irish and Scots, the Welsh know how to have a good time and many people know each other often quite randomly. So we shouldn’t have been so surprised when it turned out that Glynn had built Alec’s Mum and Dad’s house back in Wales! Small world eh?
We met up with Ryan and Ian again and then descended on the 7Eleven to get some beers for the bus journey to the stadium. As always the stadium was out of town seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Kirsty led the singing on the bus much to the amusement /astonishment of our fellow Japanese travellers.
When we got to the ground at dusk it felt like an invading army had descended, given the sheer numbers of Welsh at the game. Kirsty and I finally met up my friend Mel and her husband Gavin who were over from Australia supporting Australia and Wales. Facebook can be an amazing thing, and yet again had enabled old friends who hadn’t met for 30 years to meet up. That was a lovely moment for me, it was so lovely to see Mel after all this time.
The game was brutal, both teams really going for it and each other. Eventually the Welsh prevailed and won the game, but this had been the closest and best match we had seen thus far.
Getting back to Beppu was surprisingly easy given plenty of buses being on hand and we only had to queue for about 30 mins. If England went through to the quarter final knockout stage, either as group winners or runners up, they and Wales, if they did the same, would play in Oita and we were pleased that this relatively unknown region of Japan and that would be a win win for everyone.
We got back to ours, pretty exhausted and definitely ready to sleep. We had an early start the following day as we planned to head back to Tokyo for the next stage of our adventure. England’s next game was France in what would be the group decider.
Next day we took the bus back to Oita airport. All the talk on the news was about the impending arrival of Typhoon Hagibis which was due to be very severe and it was clearly worrying pretty much everyone in Japan. We heard that there would be a decision about some key final group games the coming weekend, most notably the group decider between England and Wales and Japan and Scotland.
By the time we arrived at the airport, it had been announced that there would be a press conference at 12.30 local time about the England, France, New Zealand and Italy matches.
We met up with Lizzie and Alex who were heading home, sadly and all heard the news that those games had been cancelled and declared 0-0 draw. The Typhoon Hagibis was due to arrive and wreak its havoc.
Kirsty and I decided to head for Thailand for some R&R and a chance to consider what to do next.
And that was that, the end of our Japanese adventure, at least for the time being. As we left Japan, I for one, had a nagging doubt that we must go back for the knock out stages. Time would tell.