Tuesday 15 October 2019

Gracious hosts: Mayor of Fukuroi gives Ireland fans a warm welcome ahead of clash with Japan

Wearing the green shirt: Mayor of Fukuroi Hideyuki Harada in his Ireland jersey at the Fukuroi City Hall yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Wearing the green shirt: Mayor of Fukuroi Hideyuki Harada in his Ireland jersey at the Fukuroi City Hall yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor and Cian Tracey

The mayor of Fukuroi hasn't been elected six times over a 19-year period without knowing how to work a crowd.

The little known city in Shizuoka opens its doors to Japanese and Irish rugby fans today and will welcome the Irish Olympic team in a year's time as they gear up for the Tokyo games.

They have turned a wedding venue into an Irish bar for the day, while the fan-zone is up and running to accommodate the expected 53,000 crowd.

Decked out in an Ireland jersey, like many of his staff at City Hall where 'Ireland's Call' blared out from the speakers yesterday, Mayor Hideyuki Harada welcomed Irish journalists to his office to take questions over a cup of green tea and some locally grown watermelon.

We are not the only recent visitors from our neck of the woods - the mayor is sitting alongside a signed Ireland rugby jersey and tells us how Joe Schmidt has already dropped by to say hello. It sounds like they got on famously.

Mr Harada presented Schmidt with a watermelon when he visited, and he also paid a visit to Dublin back in April.

"I said to Mr Joe Schmidt that Japan is a really weak team and you needn't be worried about it at all, and he said, 'Oh no, Japan is a dangerous team, we have to look out for them'," Mr Harada said with a smile.

Meanwhile, the green army descended upon Hamamatsu in their droves yesterday.

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The city has been fairly quiet on the rugby front all week with supporters opting to base themselves in the more touristy parts of Japan, but they arrived on cue ahead of this morning's clash against the hosts.

Dublin native Amy Anslow and her partner Craig Stewart, who despite hailing from Melbourne was decked out in his Ireland gear, have spent the last two weeks in Japan with their two-year-old son Felix, who was delighted with a visit to the Tokyo zoo last week.

"We arrived on the 18th, on the Wednesday before the first game. We spent five nights in Tokyo and went to the Scotland game, which was obviously amazing," Amy said. "The atmosphere was just brilliant."

Despite being in one of the busiest cities in the world, the couple managed to bump into a friend from home by chance in Tokyo.

"We did the standard Irish thing of walking 100 metres from the station and running into someone we knew from back home," Craig laughed. "We knew she was going to be here but we didn't expect to see her," Amy chuckled.

"Same side of the road, sitting there having a pint. It was very Irish alright!"

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