Finally it’s not the winning that matters….

As that saying goes it really isn’t the winning that matters, it really is the taking part. Well for Kirsty and I at least, if ever there was a statement more apt to this Rugby World Cup then we don’t know of it. It’s been amazing, it’s been the best and we are a little sad to get back to reality.

We came back from Japan too early really, and so when the chance came to return we had to take it. Despite all the rumours and nonsense around about the costs of match tickets and flights, we managed to get our return to Japan all in for a really reasonable price.

We arrived back in Tokyo on Friday just in time to catch the New Zealand vs Wales ‘bronze final’ on TV. The All Blacks returned to winning ways and two great coaches, Messrs Hansen and Gatland, waved goodbye for now. It looked emotional from where we were sitting.

We then headed out from our hotel in Kyobashi over to Shinjuku and the famous Golden Già district. The Golden Già is a unique place. In half a dozen narrow streets lays about 80 of the smallest and wackiest little bars anywhere in the world. There are strict rules of engagement so to speak, noise and loitering on the streets is frowned up, loudness inside the bars is also not widely appreciated and all littering including smoking and drinking on the street is definitely verboten.

We met up with our friends Simon, David and Josh and visited a number of bars some at street level and some up the narrowest of staircases. Each bar is owner operated and has its own particular idiosyncrasies. It’s as if you are drinking in someone’s front room, decked out with all of their own ephemera, which can reflect pop culture, music, videogames, films and retro toys. All in all each bar is it’s own place and each owner is their own person. If you are ever in Tokyo you must visit the district.

It was a very late night and we had a very big day. It was the final of the World Cup and we didn’t want to waste any of it. We had our very good friends at Special Effect’s flag to take and get some pictures to share for this wonderful charity.

We headed back to Yokohama on the Shinkansen and headed to the street party which is was the mashup of The Hub pub and the Lawson. We met more mates there who had flown in for the final and drank, ate and made merry.

We had a very stressful hour or so trying to hook up with friends who had our tickets. The plus side was bumping into old friends who we had not seen for ages, Mark and later Tim. Small world! And we got some great pictures for Special Effect.

We bumped into Mark!

And then Tim!

After much rerouting we finally managed to get to the right entrance to meet our friends. Yokohama stadium has a very big footprint and is not the easiest place to get around. We found out later that the England team had underestimated their journey to the stadium and had arrived late too. Perhaps that was a bad omen!

We managed to get in for the kick off and anthems and it was an absolute pleasure to find ourselves bang in the middle of the main South African support in the ground. I also bumped into an old school mate Bruce and another games industry friend Alex in the ground.

And then Bruce!

The game was the game. The South African gentlemen we sat next two were more nervous than we were. After ten minutes I was convinced England were nowhere near the pace and I feared it was not our day. England had a good chance to score a try deep into the first half but the South African defence were too strong. Definitively a ‘what if moment’. At the end of the game the South African gentleman said to me ‘you should be a sports commentator ‘, which I found both flattering and a bit baffling. Pretty much everyone around us was as happy as they could be. Strangely enough Kirsty and I were both pretty circumspect and joined in the fun. In amongst the revelry, Kirsty borrowed one of the gentleman’s hats which was a rather wonderful customised yellow hard hat.

And this is Solly the owner of the hat!

In all the confusion and admittedly with an air of hazy inebriation, Kirsty ended up with the hat and by the time I went back to the owner he had left the stadium. I was not happy and it felt like bad karma.

The evening was fantastic and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Roppongi and more idiosyncratic bars including a bar on the 8th floor of a derelict feeling tower block where the lift only went to the 7th floor!

Somehow we got that hat back to our hotel at 5am. We woke up late, looked at the hat and I said to Kirsty we have to find the owner and get that hat back to him.

So we took to Facebook , Twitter and Instagram tagging all our South African friends, asking if anyone knew this man who owned the hat.

We headed back to the Golden Gai again, this time to meet up with another friend called Simon (I know so many Simons). By the time we were safely ensconced in the 5 Gallons bar, named presumably because it could hold five gallons and no more, we got a message that the owner of the hat had been identified by an old mate of mine from school who now lives in South Africa, Dom. Dom only knew one South African in the stadium and it was the owner of the hat! Now that really is a small world!

This put us in fine fettle and closed the loop of guilt we were feeling. Thank you to Mark, Simon, James, H, Vikki, Laura, Harriet, Emma, John and the two Micks, one from Australia and one from South Africa for a pretty amazing 12 hours or so.

Monday morning we laid plans to meet up with our friends at the old Tsukiji Market, which is a legendary fish market, for lunch. It was great to meet Angela and James who had been in Japan since the England vs Argentina game, where we had last met up,. They, like us, had had the time of their lives and would never forget Japan. We hugged and kissed after another fine Sushi lunch and remembered we would all be meeting at Cheltenham in ten days or so for racing.

Our friends James and Angela

We then headed off to see the hat owner, Solly and his friends Tim, who I had sat next to at the match, and Anthony. They were staying in The Square in Ginza the same hotel we had stayed in for that England vs Argentina game. Coincidences just keep happening. We shared a few drinks with the boys, many laughs and felt good that that hat had been returned to its rightful owner. The Karma police could take the day off. And we felt good that South Africa had won the Rugby World Cup held up by one of the nicest men on the planet right now, Siya Kolisi. As I say, Karma.

The presentation of the hat back to Solly!

Anthony and Tim on both flanks

And that’s about it. As I write these words we are headed to Osaka to then fly to Munich and back to a cold and wet London. The sun is out here, it’s autumn and everything is calm. Calm is a great feeling and Japan has given Kirsty and I so many fantastic memories, we simply can’t wait to come back. To all the Japanese people, the families old and young and especially to the children all of you just threw yourselves into the spirit of rugby and being very active, welcoming hosts, we cannot thank you enough, you all made this World Cup so, so special. Sayonara Nippon. You have been the absolute best.

Sayonara Japan. We love you. Until the next time

Footnote – aside from the friends mentioned in this post, I would like to thank Gary, Milly, Joe, Tom, Ian, David, Darren, Alec, Lizzie, Lewys, Paula, Victor, Jim, Andrew, David, Carl, Ian, Ryan, Tim, Solly, Anthony and Maria all of whom made this trip exceptionally special.

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