Category Archives: World Cup 2010

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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It’s like coming home

We spent an amazing time in Thailand starting in Bangkok and finishing up in Krabbi. All the time we were there, I kept looking for tickets for the England vs Australia. Bingo, I finally got a basket with two tickets. All we needed to do was find flights back to Oita!

Kirsty didn’t appreciate the panic buying under time pressure of the RWC2019 site where the clock was ticking. It got hugely expensive very quickly and we ended up agreeing to stay in Thailand and maybe think about the final if that was ever to happen.

We watched Scotland play Japan in a bar in the Japanese quarter in Bangkok with our long lost friend Maria, thanks again to Facebook for making that happen. That was another incredible night of emotion and passion. Typhoon Hagibis was a bad as predicted and at the time of writing this blog over 80 people had lost their lives. The Japanese beat the Scots to win their group and dedicated their win to the victims of Hagibis.

We hooked up with Maria after 9 years!

We ended up watching the England vs Australia quarter final at Bagkok airport. What a game and what a performance by England. We also watched the All Blacks sweep aside the Irish to set up a semi final against England. Surely England would be up against all the odds in the semi final?

Well the rest is history. We watched the semi final before we went racing at Cheltenham last Saturday. Kirsty has gone with our friend Mary to see some horses and by the time she got back to our friend Mick’s house, I had booked flights to Tokyo and was on the case to get final tickets. Our friends Mick, Jack, Sinead, Drew, Beth, Alex, Rosie and Ruth all enjoyed the game and it was fantastic when Ruth persuaded her parents James and Angela who we had met up with for the Argentina to stay for the final.

And here we are now. At Heathrow ready to fly back to visit our old friend Japan. So many idiosyncratic and contradictory ways and yet my favourite country on the planet bar none. A country with the best people who make me laugh and cry with their humility and politeness. A country of order and yet one where cycling on pavements without any protocols seems to be mandatory. A country where you hear crazy cover versions of computerized Beatles songs in shops everywhere you go. A country where smoking is allowed in bars and restaurants but never in the street. A country where vending machines are ubiquitous but there are no litter bins because the Japanese take their little home with them. A country where you hear synthesized bird song on escalators, in lifts and at traffic lights. And above all a country that has once again made sports fans so welcome it makes grown men cry. Japan we have missed you and we can’t wait to see you again.

Brilliant in flight video on ANA

And we’re back!

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Oita – an honorary Welshman for the day

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.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

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.

I loved these two with their pints!

This armband ‘Team No Side’ sums up why this World Cup has been so special

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?

Here’s Glynn

Lizzie and Daffy

And Lewys and Paula enjoying the Daff

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.

Note my red shirt – Ryan and Ian were in non Bok civvies today

Loving the recycling

Alec post fanzone and pre match loading

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.

Brill to see Mel and Gavin

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.

Another amazing stadium

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.

Kirsty with Simon

The biggest rugby ball ever

Artwork made by the local school children in honour of their visitors. Amazing

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.

Love this lot. Seeing everyone out of Oita with a smile

We were handed some amazing Origami from the women who were at the airport to see us off

More amazing plastic food

Watch out for those hazardous bananas !

What an airport at Oita

Kirsty and the Btave Blossoms

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.

One more time for the great Mount Fuji

n

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Did anyone mention Beppu? 6-8.10.19

And so we headed to Oita, or more accurately Beppu which is a seaside town just outside of Oita, set in the south, or the west end of Japan, depending on how you look at these things on the island of Kyushu. For once we took a flight and sadly increased our carbon footprint, as the train journey would have wasted time we didn’t have to waste. So we duly flew out of Haneda and down to Oita. We arrived about 9.30pm on Sunday night alongside the ITV RWC crew, led by Jill Douglas. A really helpful station master helped us find the bus to Beppu, I am not really surprised that he was so helpful, as that is the way in Japan as I have written so many times before, but this guy waited by the bus and waved us off. So sweet.

Finding our way through Beppu at night

We soon got talking, or more accurately Kirsty got talking to a fellow traveler who had just arrived for the rugby. His name was Paul and he was off to see his son and his friends. Paul mentioned that his son Tom, was a musician and had justfinished a long tour. It turned out his son was Tom McFarland, the founder of Jungle a band I had seen at Glastonbury earlier in the year.

We decided to get an early night and settled in to watch Inception, which had been left hanging on Netflix by the previous occupier of our hotel room, purely by chance. And then it all started to come back. When I was in Kyoto, I kept referring to Mr Saito and Kirsty would wonder what I was talking about. I also remember, when walking through the Nijo Palace, where photographs were forbidden, thinking to myself I had seen this before, somewhere. And that was it. It was in Inception, the Nijo Palace and Mr Saito. What a coincidence! Here’s a little video of our room…

Next day we laid in for a bit and I recorded some more for BBC 5 Live and got those files delivered before deadline which was a load off my mind.

We decided to explore the local area of Kitahama which was known for natural hot springs. We jumped on a bus and then walked a pretty long way and decided to visit a couple. It seemed that there were a total of seven of these hot springs all of which were known for a particular feature. The Hell one, the blue one, the live geyser one, one that had some crocodiles, one that had bubbling mud resembling a monk’s tonshure and some that we weren’t sure what the unique feature was!

This was Hell…

This needs no caption

This was the blue one and so beautiful

We visited three of the seven and decided to call it a day. It has to be said, they were pretty spectacular and well worth the effort.

We headed back to base, jumping off the bus early so we could see the sun go down on the beach. Beppu was a mix of 1960’s seaside style town with some pockets of technology and plenty of illumination at night. It was a little tired and yet very, very charming.

The Asahi Tower by day

And by night

Beppu at night

This was a brilliant restaurant come bar….

Eventually we decided to find somewhere to eat and ended up in the equivalent of the greasy spoon, but instead of a fried breakfast, the two old guys served just two choices of dish, Ramen or Gyoza and one brand of bottled beer. Everywhere we looked the walls were pasted with old magazine pages and newspapers. In a corner I spotted pasted magazine pages featuring Thunderbirds, then I spotted The Saint, James Bond,,Godzilla and loads more 60’s pop culture icons. Anyway, given we love Gyoza, it was a no brainer. And what Gyoza it was. Probably the best I have ever eaten, so simple and so perfect.

The Greasy Gyoza

And the beer fridge

We then went onto another bar come restaurant for a drink and ended up eating some more amazing food. This bar also had a retro vintage toy theme, this time there were cabinets full of the kind of toys I have carefully looked after since I was a child, and for those who know me well, you will know what I mean. I was literally in my idea of toy heaven.

My idea of heaven

Our amazing toy restaurant

Before we left we met an Aussie called Mick and his daughter who was half Fijian. Mick only needed a big knife and a crocodile to actually be ‘that’ Mick’, but he turned out to be a font of knowledge about all things rugby in Australia. Mick had clearly played the game, given that one look over his facial features confirmed he had seen plenty of real action. Upon further investigation we found out that Mick had played rugby league and when I asked him about Australia’s chances in this World Cup, he was pretty damning. He told us that the Aussie team was badly coached and was packed full of ‘tweed wearing public school boys’. He said categorically that if Australia played England in the quarter finals, England would win by a considerable margin. We parted as friends and shared plenty of laughs. You just new you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of Mick, ever.

And so another great day and night in this wonderfully weird and quiet town full of bizarre surprises drew to an end.

But we were on a roll now and in danger of setting a new world record of consecutive nights in the same bed! Tomorrow, Tuesday would be our record breaking third night in the same place. We decided to take the air and head to the Takasakiyama monkey sanctuary down the coast. Against all my better instincts, this place turned out to be pretty cool with two groups of monkeys numbering around 800 each taking turns to come down from the hills and get a free feed and observe us humans. The monkeys were well looked after and rules of engagement for human visitors were strict and for good reason. We spent hours there and the time did not drag. After the crazy schedule we had, we were grateful for some tranquil down time.

These monkeys groomed each other all day

If a monkey walked under your legs it was good luck. I got 7 monkeys through mine.7 games to win the World Cup anyone?

We just missed the famous Beppu hot sand bath by about 10 minutes, which was a shame given it was a lovely evening but we resolved to revisit the next day, which was match day. Wales vs Fiji.

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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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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 http://www.philosophyfootball.com 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.

n

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