Real, live rugby – at last!

Kobe Fanzone was down by the water, packed with people to watch Italy v Canada. I managed to snap the picture of our very own Conor Keys during the anthems and he looked to have a bruising game in the first half, and hopefully the tape round the boot won’t stop his World Cup journey. We have tickets to see him against the All Blacks next week!

The Fanzone was staffed by volunteers who were delighted to try and help, even if they looked bewildered by the fancy dress options of some of our more extreme supporters! Knights of the Round Table – check. Escapees from Rourke’s drift in full uniform – check. Dodgy boating blazer outfits – check. Possibly the kamikaze head bands added to many outfits puzzled the Japanese volunteers a bit.

My favourites have to be the geishas in England yukatas!

All very friendly, and the trains whisked us away to the stadium well in time for kick off. In fact the last connection even held the train in the station to pack on more fans – a Japanese train leaving late is unheard of but this one did. Thank you or we’d have missed it!

I don’t know what I was expecting for the rugby stadium but it was a bit of a surprise. We got off the train at a tiny station, platform just about long enough, and just one little gate into a residential street. No signposts, so followed the throng though more small residential streets to the stadium itself, hemmed in by houses and a bit of grass, which was packed with picnicking Japanese families. Huge queues for everything; food, merchandise, beer but all very well ordered.

Inside the queues continued and the heat really hit when we climbed to our seats right up at the top. Cheap tickets – not really at 15,000 yen each so god knows what those down the front had paid!

So who decided the roof should be closed, when the heat was 30 degrees and the humidity was over 70%?

I’ve never watched a rugby game in a sauna before, my asthma wasn’t helping, and as for the players who did the full 80 minutes, they deserve medals for getting through that! Not surprised there were handling errors. Lots of dropped pints in the crowd too, due to the humidity of course!

As for the match, it felt like a very stop/start affair, with some pieces of brilliance from England and poor old USA never getting much time with the ball. Great to see one of Roth’s loan players get his first try for England – well done Lewis Ludlam!

There were a few MAGA hats in evidence but most of the USA fans were just up for a good time. The local Japanese fans seemed evenly split between the 2 sides, and often one half of a couple or pair were in England gear, the other dressed for the USA.

We met one Exeter Chiefs fan who had converted a 20 year old Land Rover ambulance into a camper van and driven it all the way from England! They left in May and are planning to ship the Landy home and return via the Trans Siberian railway. His blog is https://swinglowsweetchariot.blog/ and the whole conversation just sums up what this weird and wonderful trip is all about. Great rugby, fantastic people and one of the most bizarre countries you will ever experience.

Off to cuddle the deer in Nara today, then onto Kyoto tomorrow and Hiroshima on Sunday, before our next live game down in Oita, All Blacks v Canada. Fingers crossed for Conor Keys ankle being ok……

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