'If only we could all be like the Japanese'
My journey to the Rugby World Cup in Japan began on February 3, 2018. It was a cold, rain-drizzled Parisian night and Johnny Sexton had just set in motion what would become a Grand Slam.
This game was the inspiration for my good friend Cian and I to take our 16-hour journey to the World Cup in Japan.
On arrival at our apartment, well...what can I say? It was extremely traditional. From the low ceilings and doorways too narrow to walk in straight, we knew we had arrived in Japan. Every nook and cranny is utilised space, but I guess when your population is so big and space is limited, you need to be pragmatic.
Game 1: Ireland v Scotland
We have organised to meet a friend of a friend who is organising a day trip to the game in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. Alan Fisher, a native of Dundalk, has been living in Japan for over 10 years and is truly full of what it means to be Irish abroad.
We were welcomed into the local community centre with open arms, where Alan had organised two buses to the match along with the standard full Irish breakfast and Irish music to kick-start the day. We take off our shoes, sit on the floor, eat our breakfast and sing along to Irish songs for about two hours. I am not sure whether the elders whose pictures were looking down on us would have approved of 'Seven Drunken Nights' and 'Dirty Old Town' being belted out by enthusiastic Irish supporters.
Once we get to the game, it's plain to see that the Irish ranks outweigh those of the Scottish.Everything is gearing towards a great day and just waiting for the cherry-on-top victory.
It wasn't long into the game to have to wait to know it would be an Irish victory, as the Scots weren't having their best day at the office and Irish eyes were smiling broadly.
Cian and I are like children waiting for Christmas. We have decided to do some sightseeing and have taken in the Sens-Ji and the Meiji Jungu shrines, which are simply stunning examples of Japanese architecture and design. We went to the world-famous Shibuya traffic-light crossing, which sees roughly 2,500 people crossing each time the lights change.
Away from the sightseeing for a day, and we took to the streets of Tokyo dressed as Leonardo and Raphael from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cruising around the city in go-karts.
Our guide was very relaxed and easygoing, and when we asked for helmets, he gave us a shrug as if to say 'what kind of question was that?', and just told us "wear your seatbelt if you want to". A surreal experience in the midst of rush-hour traffic, but it was an incredible way to see as much of the city as we did. The highlight was the Rainbow Bridge. which had breathtaking views of the harbour, but was hard to take in doing 80kmph in a go-kart!
We found a very unique part of Tokyo called Golden Gai in Shinjuku, which has over 200 shanty-like bars and restaurants. Each bar can fit roughly five or six people, but it is evident it is a real locals' spot. It is really a sight to see, with people in one bar sitting on stairs drinking beer as it is an allocated seating area. These bars wouldn't be any good for the Friday of Listowel races, mind you!
As the week goes by, we can't help but notice subtle differences between our two cultures; there are hardly any bins in the streets, yet the whole city is spotless. Crime levels are extremely low, with Japan being named as one of the safest places in the world. But for me, it is the people.
Respect and honour are the two words that come to mind when I think of the Japanese.
Bushido is the term that was used to describe the ideals and codes of honour employed by the Samurai.
Some of these include respect, loyalty, compassion and, of course, honour.
Bushido is very much alive and well in the mannerisms of Japanese culture.
Christmas morning has finally come around and we are off the beautiful scenic area of Shizuoka, which is about 150 miles south of Tokyo.
Game 2: Ireland v Japan
As soon as we board the two-hour train south to Shizuoka, the green army is assembling, but I had a sneaking suspicion we would be outnumbered. Half way there, as we travel down the coast, we pass beautiful mountain ranges and, at its core, the sleeping giant, Mount Fuji. Simply breathtaking.
Finally we arrive at Shizuoka Ecopa stadium, and I don't think I have been to a more picturesque ground before. We are greeted by enthusiastic Japanese stewards wishing us well and to enjoy the game (little did we know).
The Japanese National Anthem was spine-tingling. I have not heard an anthem being sung so passionately since Ireland belted out Amhrán na bhFiann in Croke Park in 2007.
From the word go, Japan were magnificent; from the ferocious tackling down the middle to the dancing feet on the wings, they provided their fans with something to cheer at every minute.
It was an extremely difficult loss to swallow, but we have to give credit to where it's due - Japan were simply better.
There are no what ifs, buts or complaints. We simply have to bow to the Japanese on this occasion and acknowledge their fantastic display.
It is back to reality on Monday, but after these eight days I will never forget the impression the Japanese people and their culture have left on me.
If only we could take their humility, compassion and sense of respect for one another, and spread it across the globe; we would be a far better place for it.