Sunday 20 October 2019

Japanese hug hedgehogs as World Cup takes a back seat

Calm descends on capital after tournament starts with bang

There were signs for animal cafés featuring hedgehogs, hamsters, weasels and all other manner of vermin
There were signs for animal cafés featuring hedgehogs, hamsters, weasels and all other manner of vermin

Gareth Morgan in Tokyo

Tokyo is an easy city to get lost in - I should know. Yesterday I walked so far in search of my platform in a subway station (790 metres, to be exact) that when I got there I realised I didn't really need a train, I was already almost back at the hotel.

It's easy to get lost in the city's supersized architecture and almost eerily calm atmosphere too.

That's the challenge the Rugby World Cup faces for, after an opening weekend that started with a bang, Tokyo was back to business as usual yesterday.

It may be branded a "global" tournament but Tokyo is bigger than the Rugby World Cup.

It seemed there was only one Irish or New Zealand or South African fan walking the streets for approximately every 1,000,000,000,000 Japanese people all going about their day with purpose (and in silence! The Irish accents stood out a mile away).

The calm is such that some districts can seem quieter than Dublin, until you brave the jammed streets of tourist traps like Takeshita Street in Harajuku.

But even in this Asian version of Temple Bar at its gaudiest, it was more orderly queue than raucous scrumdown.

While a few shops were selling knock-off rugby shirts, the majority of sartorial designs were devoted to pink unicorns and kittens dressed as rock stars, vampires or nuns.

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There were signs for animal cafés featuring hedgehogs, hamsters, weasels and all other manner of vermin - to be clear, this is so customers can pet the creatures and nothing to do with the establishment's hygiene standards.

However, the thought of eating sushi with one hand while caressing a rodent with the other did not entirely appeal, so I passed.

There was an owl forest too. Naturally, it was located in a basement.

In search of sanity, I found the Rugby World Cup megastore (actually not a megastore, more like a big tent) in Shinjuku. It was doing a roaring trade with both tourists and locals grabbing replica shirts and toys of the scary-looking fluffy tournament mascots Ren-G, who look like they might murder you in your sleep. Still, it beats cuddling a hedgehog I guess.

Tokyo's race for space means shops and restaurants seem piled on top of one another. It is a city where endless possibilities lie behind every closed door, but unfortunately you'll never get time to experience them all. Nor will you be able to find the door you're looking for without constant reference to Google Maps.

Locating one of Tokyo's rugby pubs was a challenge in itself. Google Maps brought me to the edge of a dual carriageway - the distant traffic only interrupted by the slightly clichéd chirruping of crickets. Then it brought me 1km in another direction.

It was 2,000 yen (€17) just to get in the door but you got two "free" pints. Normally 1,200 yen each (€10). We left at halftime and came back in again hurt to try the "bargain" price.

All the chat among the rugby crowd was of Ireland, England and New Zealand - but the gossip was all about Johnny Sexton. Even the Japanese people are worried about him... despite them facing us this Saturday. Was he really fit? Would he go the distance? God knows we need him to.

Just keep him from Tokyo subway stations, I guess.

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