Rugby World Cup: Irish fans grapple with stereotypes, queues and loos in Japan

Country’s famous hospitality is rolled out for more than half a million tournament visitors

The Dubliners bar in Shibuya, central Tokyo. Photograph: David McNeill

The Dubliners bar in Shibuya, central Tokyo. Photograph: David McNeill

 

The barman in Dubliners, a pub in Shibuya, central Tokyo, is not about to dispel any national stereotypes: Irish visitors nearly drank him dry.

“We ran out of beer before the Ireland-Scotland game on Sunday,” says Yosuke Yamashita, eyes nervously scanning the bar. Even the one-foot leprechaun on the counter looks shamefaced.

Every bar in the capital was warned to prepare for the onslaught of beer-swigging foreigners. And Sunday was but a trial run for this weekend, when Ireland meets Japan in Shizuoka. Yamashita-san says he and the staff have learned their lesson. ‘We will redouble our efforts,’ his expression seems to say.

Two Tipperary men at the bar are an oasis of Zen calm before the showdown with the hosts. David Quirke and James O’Brien have been noting the cultural strengths that keep the world’s most populous city humming. “The Japanese are good at queuing,” says Mr Quirke. The two spent an hour queuing for breakfast, they said. Nobody complained.

The arrival of over half-a-million gaijin (foreigners) for the World Cup was expected to test the patience of this still strikingly homogenous country. Yet, the odd cultural blip aside, it’s been smooth sailing. One group caused a flap last weekend when they performed a mass scrum on a packed train. But that was the French, celebrating their win over Argentina. The Irish were elsewhere.

Irish fans at the game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22nd, 2019. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Irish fans at the game between Ireland and Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22nd, 2019. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Most have been quietly sampling Japan’s famous omotenashi (hospitality) in between games. Not all are as easy to spot as Conor O’Hey, who wears a Cavan GAA T-shirt. He’s been to Kyoto and Hiroshima with his sisters, his dad, Michael and mum Fiona. “We’re loving it here,” he says.

A highlight for the family was the Hiroshima Peace Museum, which commemorates the atomic bombing of August 1945. “We were all so angry [looking at the exhibits], but it’s something you have to do,” says Fiona. The remarkable thing, she says, is the Japanese don’t blame anyone for what happened.

Everyone notes the safe streets, pristine hotels and high-tech loos with their confusing array of squirts, blow-dries and recordings to drown out the sounds of the body doing its business. “They look like instrument panels of airplanes,” says Frank, an Irishman in the Dubliners who says he’s on his way to Kobe.

There are the inevitable miscommunications. Two Irish lads wrapped in a tricolor entertained onlookers by wrestling each other outside a convenience store in Yokohama before the match. Yusuke Saito, a Japanese onlooker thought they were imitating sumo wrestlers before told it was a scrum. “What’s a scrum?” he asked.

A small party of Jehovah’s Witnesses in kimono and suits gamely tried to enlist converts from the river of green jerseys streaming into the Yokohama Stadium. Some Irish fans later buried the hatchet with Scottish fans in local pubs over such timeless classics as “We Hate the English More Than You.”

Everyone compliments the forbearance of the hosts, endlessly helpful as they struggle with accents from Limerick, Cork and Galway. “The Japanese are the nicest people going,” says Jack Scales, who is in Yokohama with his father, Paul.

For most, the World Cup is the trip of a lifetime. James O’Brien says he planned the visit for two years.

One Co Monaghan man whom The Irish Times meets carries a spreadsheet of the games and song lyrics for various national anthems, including “Flower of Scotland’, ‘God Save the Queen’ and ‘Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ (Land of my Fathers). Not to be outdone, Toshiaki Hirose, the former captain of the national team, has been touring the country teaching local people all 20 national anthems – including Amhrán na bhFiann. Feel the omotenashi.

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