This word defines Japanese hospitality. It doesn’t exactly translate, but it’s about doing more than your very best to please your guest. I have to say, as a guest in their country for the last 3 weeks, the Japanese have done everything possible to make us feel welcome and make sure we had a wonderful time.
The last week or so has been dominated by the weather and, while we were lucky that Typhoon Hagibis turned north and avoided Kyushu, I don’t think anyone who has been here will be able to forget the images of the damage done in the areas further north. Discussions on social media and with everyone we met at games, in bars, or on trains, showed that, for some people, the understanding of just what a typhoon can do is a bit limited, and most people here felt that the rugby shouldn’t be the priority. Not sure that attitude was reflected in what we were seeing from back home, where the assumption was that moving games to a different venue was easy, rescheduling should have been sorted and perhaps there was some ulterior motive from the Tier 1 teams involved. Bizarre.

A quick recap on our final travels; after our days in the sun at Kagoshima, a second trip to Oita finally gave us a competitive live game with Wales v Fiji. It was brutal, thrilling and passionate from both sides, on and off the pitch. A win for Wales seemed to come at huge cost, with Dan Biggar seemingly knocked out, and several others hobbling off before the end. Oita again was incredibly well organised, with hundreds of buses and much shorter queues, so for those lucky enough to have tickets for the next stage, you’ll be well looked after, admittedly at a price! Hotel rates were some of the highest we’ve paid anywhere, for some very small rooms, but again, service was excellent, friendly and the buffet breakfasts interesting to say the least.

Back in Fukuoka for the last few days, we explored the city, mainly on foot, finding fabulous parks and gardens, awesome shrines and museums, great food in weird little restaurants hidden away up in tower blocks and enjoyed the last few pool games in bars and the Fanzone. Our final ‘away-day’ was down in Kumamoto, for Wales v Uruguay and a chance to meet up with friends again, this time to watch the game. Our Sheffield Wednesday Football fan had never been to a live rugby game, and refused to wear red – couldn’t possibly be seen wearing any colour associated with the Blades. It was a fair mix of nationalities at the game – a couple of guys originally from Yorkshire, a Russian, a Kiwi, a Scot and a Canadian, plus 2 Roth supporters. The beer flowed, dodgy snacks were purchased, and eaten, and again we were bussed to and from the stadium very efficiently, although 50 minutes on a coach does feel a bit extreme!

On the way back to the city and the Shinkansen home to Fukuoka, the tv on the bus was showing the preliminaries for the game between Japan and Scotland. As we headed onto the train a few minutes later, there was a huge cheer from the crowds in the station and we assumed Japan had scored. We didn’t know then that Scotland had gone over for their first try before that.
Trains, buses, trams – all public transport in Japan runs almost silently. People don’t chat, there’s no ‘muzak’ or gangs of hen/stag parties heading for weekends away – or if they are, they do it quietly! That night the 40 minute trip back into Fukuoka was unlike any other trip we’ve ever taken, as the whole carriage was following what was happening via social media or live stream. They were absolutely enthralled and we just enjoyed the reactions of people around us. It felt very un-Japanese!

Getting off the train, the noise from the Fan Zone outside the station was deafening. We got there for the start of the second half but there was no way of getting inside! The gallery around the concourse was the best we could do. I have to say the last 10 minutes were some of the most exciting I’ve ever seen at a game, and the emotions running through that crowd were incredible. We couldn’t understand most of what was said afterwards, but just enjoyed watching the normally reticent Japanese really let their hair down and enjoy the moment.
As we left this morning, heading for the airport, there wasn’t a trace of anything left from the night before, apart from one Japanese guy asleep on a bench, clutching his phone. The entire Fanzone had been demolished, there wasn’t a piece of litter to be seen and it was as if the chaos had never happened. Apparently no-one expected Japan to reach the quarter finals so there’s no provision for an area for people to watch together next weekend. Or there isn’t yet!
As we left the Blossom Hotel for the final time we were bowed out of the door, with endless smiles and offers to help with luggage, taxis etc. We’ve been given sweets and snacks by Japanese families we’ve been seated next to at the stadiums, we’ve been bowed to and thanked for coming to Japan so many times, we’ve been looked after, and cared for by ordinary people and by those paid to do a job, always with a smile. This is a special country, with an attitude that, if it can be fixed, it will be.
Less than 24 hours after some of the worst flooding they’ve ever seen, I got a message from the train company to say all trains were back to normal from this morning. How do they do it? At the stadiums yesterday we all observed a silence to honour those who lost their lives because of the typhoon. The number dead or missing continues to rise and the damage shown on tv this morning looks horrendous. The ‘Brave Blossoms’ put their passion and determination last night down to their need to support their country and their people in what they are dealing with, and I’m sure that is going to drive them forward again next weekend.

I wish we had the chance to stay on and enjoy their omotenashi a little longer, and see just what happens next. For now, thank you Japan. We have had the most wonderful time.

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