Trip of a lifetime – make the most of a visit to Japan for the Rugby World Cup
Thousands of Ireland fans are expected to travel to the Land of the Rising Sun
Ireland fans at the Rugby World Cup game against Australia at Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand in 2011. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The financial commitment required to follow Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in Japan (Sept 20th-Nov 2nd) represents a significant outlay, no matter what package is chosen from a substantial list offered by Irish travel agents.
These range from €6,388 including taxes for a 14-night stay, taking in three of Ireland’s pool matches, to a 30-night odyssey that comes in ay an eye-watering €11,750 and incorporates all four Irish pool matches and two of the four quarter-finals.
There are a host of options in between, catering for those who prefer shorter trips, taking in quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final. The packages generally include air travel, transfers, accommodation, sightseeing excursions and match tickets with opportunities to upgrade and extend the stay.
Ireland’s pool matches take place in four different venues with trips ranging from Yokohama, a short commuter train ride from Tokyo – a return ticket costs €15 – to a 1,092 kilometre trek from Japan’s capital city to Fukuoka, where Joe Schmidt’s squad face Samoa in their final game, hopefully ahead of the knock-out part of the tournament.
For those who eschew the travel agent route, getting to Japan is straightforward while travelling within the country given the outstanding rail network and reasonably priced internal flights is very manageable once appraised of a few pointers that should enhance the experience of enjoying the country.
David McNeill is an author, journalist – he has written for the Economist and Irish Times – and lecturer at Sophia University and has been based in Tokyo since 2000.
“In terms of general advice people need to be conscious of their surroundings, polite and respectful. Manners are an important part of Japanese culture.
“There is no visa or vaccinations required for Irish visitors to Japan. ATM services are improving. All post offices and 7-11 convenience stores accept foreign cards (I use a Visa debit) and some banks. But I’d advise people to have a bit of cash, just in case.
“Credit cards are accepted in most large outlets but you can be caught in smaller businesses (bars, for example) so same advice as above; have a bit of cash on hand at all times.” The exchange rate at the moment is that €1 is worth 122 Yen.
For those looking to use the rail network in Japan there are a couple of cards that will make life a great deal easier. The first, which can be purchased ahead of arriving in Japan, is a JR Rail pass.
McNeill explained: “It gives you the right to board trains including the slower Bullet trains (Shinkansen).”
A couple of things worth noting are that a seven-day ordinary pass for the Bullet train costs €239 euro – it’s possible to purchase 14 and 21 day passes – while a ‘Green Car’ (First class) pass will cost €320 but a seat must be reserved ahead of travelling. That can be done in a station; with the ordinary pass it’s possible to jump on and source a seat.
McNeill ventured: “What you are paying for in a green car is space, seats further apart, with the facility to stretch out your legs. I always pay for a green car. The Metropolitan train service in Tokyo is horrendously crowded and can be a shock for people; combination of people and heat.”
Ireland play Russia in Kobe City (534km from Tokyo) and Samoa in Fukuoka (1,092km from Tokyo) and an alternative to the Bullet train is an internal flight.
McNeill said: “It is just one of the anomalies of Japanese transport that it is far cheaper to get a plane for 10,000 yen (€81) rather than a Bullet train for 30,000 yen (€245) depending on where you are going.
“The problem with internal flights, English is getting better over here and credit card transitions too but it does take a little bit of negotiation to go in and book a flight. The Rugby World Cup is a dry run for the Olympics next year; lots of things have changed so it might be that they have hired a lot of English speaking staff, be it in ANA and JAL, the main domestic carriers, so that they can handle the influx of foreigners.”
The Tokyo Metro is the cheapest and most accessible way to get around the city and in that respect purchasing a Suica or Pasmo card is preferable; they can also be used on buses. It resembles a Leap card but essentially it’s a debit card that can not only be used for travel but to purchase items in vending machines and in a variety of shops.
The Pasmo card costs 500 Yen (€4) which is refundable and can be purchased and topped up at vending machines and station offices. McNeill advises those who arrive in main Tokyo train station by the airport or from another city to know the Metro line and number applicable to the hotel in which they are staying. It will be available on the hotel’s website in English.
“People are used to getting on a train in Ireland where there is lots of room. In Tokyo keep your backpack in front of you as a courtesy to others and don’t wave your arms around too much. Be prepared for the heat. September when the first matches take place, it will still be very hot. Some people are taken aback by that.”
A recent survey confirmed that taxis in Japan are the second most expensive in the world. McNeill advised: “When getting into a taxi, don’t close the door because it breaks the electronic system. The doors open and close automatically. Don’t scream English at the driver, talk slowly.
“Have the address, preferably in Japanese script for the name of the hotel or restaurant. There are an awful lot of foreigners coming over, breaking doors and shouting unintelligibly at the drivers. Always have the name of your hotel. I wouldn’t overestimate the amount of English spoke by taxi drivers; very few speak English.”
In the smaller cities that figure goes up even more.
It’s possible to buy a pre-paid Japanese SIM card at stalls in the airport. IIJMIO is considered to be one of the best; it costs €32 for 2GB with a three month time limit. Wifi coverage is excellent in the bigger cities.
Eating out can be cheap with no compromise on the quality of the fare offered particularly in Ramen and Gyudon establishments. McNeill explained: “They are at the cheaper end of the scale. They are actually the easiest to use because they have pictures. You put your money in, take the ticket and bring it inside.
“There are Izakaya and family restaurants where they show you the food with plastic mock-ups of the dishes. You can point at it. If you are careful you can survive on €40 a day. A good meal in Japan, a set meal, is available for under a 1,000 yen (€8). You have to work out where you are going. As long as you don’t get into taxis, go to expensive restaurants and stay in expensive hotels.
“The nice thing about Japan is you don’t tip. It can be regarded as an insult. Staff do not expect it and they certainly don’t look for it. I have known them to come out after people who have left a tip to return the money.”
There are a couple of ‘no-nos’ at the dinner table; blowing your nose at the table is considered to be extremely rude as is sticking your chopsticks in the rice, a ritual reserved for funerals. If enjoying sharing platters, never pick up communal food with the end of the chopsticks that you put in your mouth; reverse them.
Real estate is so expensive in cities that commercial premises are rarely at ground level so it is commonplace for bars and restaurants to be five, six floors or higher above ground level, something worth remembering when searching for the ‘The Mottled Duck,’ in Kobe city.
It’s also worth bearing in mind for those that sport tattoos, they may find themselves refused admission to the very popular Kustatsu Onsen (Japanese hot springs), swimming pools or basically anywhere that requires a person to remove their clothes in public because of their association with the yakuza (organised crime) culture: be prepared to cover them up.
Smokers have become an endangered species in Japan. McNeill explained: “Up until five years ago Japan was a very easy place to be a smoker but it has changed rapidly and there are only a small number of designated smoking areas.
“Many places in Tokyo have banned smoking on the street, where you very rarely see people smoking. The restaurants have tried to ban smoking in all bar the small ones, the Izakayas or pubs. Smoking can be tricky.”
Away from the rugby, Japan boasts a rich culture and heritage that is worth exploring. Asked to nominate three things to see, McNeill said: “There is an automatic train, no driver, no conductors that goes around Tokyo Bay. The line is called Yuri-Kamome and it leaves from Shinbashi; get it at night time. It is a fabulous trip and you can see the Tokyo skyline. It’s about 300 yen (€2.45). You can hop on and off.
“If you’re into Buddhist temples then go to Kamakura. Hiroshima is worth the trip. It’s on the way to Fukouka, four hours south of Tokyo. It’s a nice city, well laid out and pleasant to be in as a city. It has a very, very good and moving peace museum. You have the Hiroshima Dome. The Tokyo Tower and the Sky Tree Tower are also worth a visit.”
Japan will be geared up for the World Cup, the foreigners arriving, and the support structure will be in place. There are just a few things to remember to make the experience all the more memorable.