Letter from Japan: Ireland fans here to party – whatever the result
Ubiquitous use of plastic bags strange in an extraordinarily tidy country
Irish fans in Yokohama. They’ve come from far and wide, spent fortunes and in many cases have travelled with friends and/or meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in yonks. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images
Maybe everyone who is supporting Ireland back home should be here. Of course, perspective is coloured by it being a holiday for the Blarney Army, but you wouldn’t think the boys in green were having a bad tournament in their eyes.
Work done, myself and a colleague from this fine organ wandered down the hill in the dark from Shizuoka Stadium after Ireland’s defeat by Japan and you could hear them before you saw them. As ever, the Irish supporters, all clad in green, were intent on having a few beers. Cans from a burger joint. Whatever they could lay their hands on.
There were about four sing-songs on opposite pavements. Time was when this used to bug me no end. How could they celebrate a defeat? Maybe it’s because we’re invariably sober, and there’s no catching up with the fans.
But who can blame them?
They’ve come from far and wide, spent fortunes and in many cases have travelled with friends and/or meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in yonks. And as well as wearing the colours, it’s a chance to be Irish for a day or three, and a night or four. Later that night there were videos doing the rounds of the various parties dotted around Shizuoka, by which stage most of the green had been removed in several cases.
There wasn’t a Japanese fan in sight, and needless to say there wasn’t a scrap of rubbish anywhere. Teams of volunteers are collecting any few scraps there might be within 20 minutes of the full-time whistle, and there are no bins, but this comes at one surprising cost.
Apparently to maintain tidiness in the absence of bins, plastic bags are issued like confetti. For a country which rightly prides itself on its fish, this is surprising. Japan must be one of the countries with the most excessive use of plastic bag. Buy a bottle of water in the 7/11s (and appears to be about seven million and eleven of them in Japan ) and it comes in a plastic bag. “No thanks.” For such a disciplined nation, all it would take is one government decree to solve the problem.
As well as a good queue, the Japanese love their little dogs. The smaller the better. And they are doted on, perfectly groomed and treated like replacement babies. Coats shampooed and blow dried. Some are even escorted in doggy prams. I saw one couple wiping theirs with baby wipes. It would only take a couple of Alsatians to gobble them all up. But there’s not a big dog, ie a proper dog, in sight.
The extraordinary tidiness is just one of the things that make match days here such a unique experience. Last Monday, before the Scotland-Samoa game, in the 20 odd metres from the gate for the two team coaches and the entrance to the dressing-rooms, there were 26 staff, ranging from police to security to JR19 staff and volunteers clad in fluorescent orange bibs and matching fluorescent batons.
No more than a few yards apart, they wave you through everywhere you go, although there’s no real need. As ever, there were at least three people for a task that one person could have adequately done.
At least everyone back home who’s interested gets to see all of the World Cup if they so desire. The worst thing about covering a World Cup is that don’t really get to see all of it, or even as much as you would back home.
I only caught the highlights of Uruguay’s win over Fiji which, of course, carried a resonance way beyond a rugby match. Played in the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, a stadium built in honour of the victims of the 2011 tsunami on the site where schools were destroyed, it was clearly hugely significant.
This was also the greatest result in Uruguay’s history, whose squad happened to be on the same flight from Heathrow at the start of the tournament. They travelled at the front of the bus, taking up the entire business class section. But you didn’t begrudge them, not least when I asked them how long their journey had taken. Their initial flight via the USA was cancelled, meaning a reroute via Heathrow. One of their party explained that this meant three days’ travelling, door to door.
That seems like a lifetime ago now. Kobe was gone in a flash. An Onsen is an experience which has to be done. Likewise a visit to a Buddhist temple in the company of the other fella from this fine organ. Ribbons for 300 yen offer the promise of Love, Health, Money or Travel, which you then place in a mini fountain, and the water turns one of the quartet into five stars, which are they tied to pyramid-shaped wooden fence.
It’s a place of tranquillity, the worldly Gavin tells me, which all journos could do with every day during a World Cup. No wonder the Japanese live longer than anyone.
As for the famous Kobe beef? It’s supposed to be absolutely wonderful, tender, barely cooked, melt in your mouth. And, of course, comfortably within the generous Irish Times per diem.
Fukuoka, where the Irish camp is now billeted, is famous, amongst other things, for its sake. Oh and it’s Friday night in Fukuoka. Like Tokyo, Shizuokoa, Kobe and presumably almost everywhere else in this vast country, the vast army of men in white shirts have already been hitting the whiskey and the sake in celebration of it being Friday. On the trains home, even after midnight, it will be standing room only.
It’s only tea-time, but it’s already kicking off.