Ireland v Scotland – Yokohama, Japan – Sunday 22 September 2019
Boarded flight ANA608 on Friday morning from Miyazaki to Tokyo Haneda. As usual I was the only foreigner on board. This time it felt stranger than usual. I was going to a Ireland Rugby World Cup match!
I spotted a few Japan shirts in the terminal. One local lad was clocking my Leinster rugby jacket and trying to work out where I was from. We had a short chat in the security queue. He was going to the opening ceremony while I was off to the Ireland match in Yokohama. But, I had some other business before.
Friday night was the opening ceremony and Japan’s first game so I headed to the “Hub” (British style pub chain) in Kamata early doors, to get a seat. Was not just fortunate to get a prime seat, but also got a free glass of red as a belated birthday present from the bar manager. My birthday was early June.
Japan started nervously and had the mainly local crowd in the bar seriously worried. But as yer man with the hair, Kotaro, started running in the tries, the roars and cheers were deafening! A chance meeting and conversation with a new acquaintance, Kodai san, led to him taking my spare tickets for the Ireland Scotland match, I didn’t tell him he was going to have to sit with John McGinley and Paul Boyle, I didn’t want to put him off!
I was up at sparrow’s fart on Saturday morning, down to Yokohama to find Paul Boyle, to give him his rugby tickets, because I was off to the Bloodaxe Festival in Kawasaki. A full day of local hardcore metal bands and a few travelling over from America. One of the bands I wanted to see was on at the ungodly hour of 2pm, so I was watching the clock.
On the way, I was planning to go to a standing bar, also in Kawasaki. I had seen it featured on a television programme hosted by Yoshida Rui san, who travels the country finding interesting pubs and bars. This standing bar is very unique, selling booze, tinned fish & meats, nuts & snacks, and…..retro model aeroplane kits, tanks, ships, etc. There is room to fit five customers at the bar, any more would be a squeeze. The other three customers when I arrived were drinking cheap cans of beer. Panicking slightly (don’t drink beer), I was relived to see, out of the corner of my eye, “ワイン” scribbled on a poster above one of the fridges. So I ordered a glass of red, or three!
As 2pm fast approached I was on my toes over to Club Citta, in the very European looking part of Kawasaki. I knew the gig was sold out but did not expect to find it rammed just before 2pm. Maybe there were more than just me wanting to see the band Varials? Not a rugby fan in sight. The next bands I wanted to see were not on until 8pm so a quick exit for a “break”. Stumbled across another “Hub” and went in to see if there was anyone in there I knew. It was not an Ireland away soccer match so, alas, no familiar faces! Nevertheless I met another three great people that I hope to meet again, from Edinburgh, Laois, and North Wales.
Sunday arrived and I arranged to meet Kodai san, Joe Loughran, and John McGinley at a cheap restaurant chain (Saizeriya) near Shin Yokohama station. I texted the Irish lads at 10am and gave them location and said I would be there about 11:30am. Got the usual responses: on my way, be there in about an hour, etc. Joe and Gemma arrived at 1pm and John at 2pm! I texted Kodai san and arranged to meet him at same place at 2pm – he arrived at 1:55pm – I rest my case.
Seventeen years ago I was lucky to have been to the Ireland vs Saudi Arabia match in Yokohama. It was great to return to the same stadium. Paul Boyle was waiting for me and he had loads of stories from the night before. You can ask him all the details! What a fantastic person to sit beside. Paul reads the game like a professional. The comments, reactions, and exclamations from him during the game are better than some radio commentators.
Kodai san and his fiancée, Tomo san, are a truly wonderful couple. They arrived in matching green shirts and had the tricolour painted on their always smiling faces. They are to be married on November the 1st. Should Ireland make the final scheduled for the next day, John McGinley has threatened to gate crash their wedding! I hope they misheard that bit of the conversation.
of all the bars….
After the final whistle we decided to go to the bar Garvan Hickey was in pre-match to see if he’d be there again. Garvan wasn’t there but Tommy Feeley was, and Emelda. She had arrived the night before and was smiling, despite the 27 hour journey. We found Garvan in the bar next door. In reality, Shin Yokohama really is quite small! Tommy was in great form, planning trips, buying drinks, and of course reminiscing.
The world cup continues on for Ireland in a southerly direction to Shizuoka, Kobe, and Fukuoka. And then a quarter-final in Tokyo. After that the semi-final and final are back in Yokohama, we would love two more trips back here. Can the dream become a reality? We live in hope.