G-Dog’s tour diary: Carpools, Nagoya Castle and the stadium roof that doesn't close

G-Dog’s tour diary: Carpools, Nagoya Castle and the stadium roof that doesn't close

In my second tour diary of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, I look back on my visit to Nagoya Castle, hilarious car pools with fellow journalists and a stadium roof that can’t close.

Nagoya Castle
Gareth Jenkinson

My second week on tour in Japan began with my first ever trip on a bullet train.

These modern marvels, known locally as Shinkansen, travel at speeds in excess of 250km/h across the length and breadth of Japan and are a comfortable and convenient way of travelling the country.

I made the trip from Yokohama to Nagoya with photographer Steve Haag and together we lugged our bags down the busy streets of Shibuya, through a couple of train stations before we boarded the serpentine-looking Shinkansen.

The trip was a pleasant experience although I did feel slightly seasick when the Shinkansen took off from the platform. 

Some two hours later we arrived in Nagoya where we would spend the next seven days leading up to the Springboks clash against Namibia.

The APA hotel I stayed at in Nagoya offered a small but comfortable room which had an epic view of the street below. There wasn’t enough room to unpack my bags but I immediately felt at home and was happy to be calling this home for the next week.

Once I’d settled in I decided to go for a long overdue run in Nagoya. Looking at my map, I found out that Nagoya Castle and a large park was less than a kilometre down the road.

Aside from waiting for pedestrian street lights to turn green, the run was a welcome change of pace after a week of work that didn’t allow any time for exercise. 

The park surrounding Nagoya Castle was beautiful and had a 1.2 km running track around it, all under the cover of ancient trees and flowing streams. I ran in the rain and really enjoyed getting my body moving again.

With a good 5km run in the bag, I joined SA Rugby Magazine journalist Jon Cardinelli at an Irish pub he’d discovered near his hotel a good 2km away that evening.

Irish pub
Gareth Jenkinson

I took a brisk walk while taking shelter under a borrowed umbrella and eventually found the gem of a pub down a side street. Around 30 people were crammed into the small tavern to watch the highly anticipated clash between Ireland and Scotland.

We drank Guinness and Kilkenny, made friends with some tourists from New Zealand, Ireland, Wales and England and soaked up the atmosphere of the Rugby World Cup.

Hilarious carpools

There is not much difference between normal work Mondays and rugby tour Mondays. All the travelling South African media converged on the Springbok team hotel around midday to get the latest from the camp.

We had all been expecting the worst for Trevor Nyakane and those fears were realised as the Bok management confirmed that the Bulls tighthead would be heading home. It is a stark reminder that injuries can quickly end player’s campaigns in Japan.

After the press conference, everyone quickly filed their stories and prepared to take a long trip to Ichinomiya Park where the Springboks would be training for the week.

Ichinomiya Park
Gareth Jenkinson

Ashfak Mohamed had been given a rental car by the Rugby News Service so Cardinelli, Haag, Adnaan Mohamed and I agreed to share the cost of petrol to form a carpool for the week.

We had to take trips to Ichinomiya three times during the week, with each drive an hour each way, so we spent a lot of time together. 

The car drives were hilarious, with plenty of banter and heated conversations about rugby, past tours as well as some murky industry secrets which I cannot share - lest I break my vow of secrecy!

We had a good many laughs at each other’s expense and I will fondly remember these trips.

A taste of Japanese history

After two days of busy trips to Ichinomiya, filming interviews and practices, Wednesday was declared an off day by the Springbok camp and I took the opportunity to go and do my first real bit of sightseeing in Japan.

I went to visit Nagoya Castle, which I had only cruised past during my runs in the week.

Nagoya Castle
Gareth Jenkinson

The sight is quite a marvel considering that it is over 400 years old. The fortress was built by a ruling Shogun in the 1600s and stood the test of time for the next 300 years. 

Unfortunately the site took a hammering during World War 2 as blanket bombings across Japan saw the Nagoya Palace, which is located inside the walls of the Castle, completely burned down while the surrounding buildings took significant damage.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that the Japanese government began a restoration project which saw the palace completely rebuilt. The Nagoya Castle itself is currently closed to visitors as it undergoes a restoration of its interior.

Nagoya Palace
Gareth Jenkinson

I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the grounds, taking pictures of the architecture which is so authentically Japanese. I think it’s fair to say that the Japanese were masters of war because it is hard to fathom that any opposing force would be able to scale the high walls and deep moats in order to take the Castle.

Once I’d fully explored the Castle I stopped for lunch at one of the restaurants in the surrounding park grounds. 

A sign advertising a ‘soft-shell crab burger’ grabbed my attention and I knew immediately that I would regret not trying it out. I ordered the burger, which arrived a few minutes later. It was literally a crab, deep fried in batter. Needless to say it was delicious!

Soft-shell crab burger
Gareth Jenkinson

With my belly full, I decided to walk a good 4km across Nagoya to visit the Science Museum and Planetarium. The building is a massive 8 stories high encompassing a massive amount of scientific exhibits.

They have everything from fully-built dinosaur fossils to a tornado machine and I spent at least three hours just walking around enjoying all the sights and sounds. The museum also has a fantastic space exhibit with some amazing historical items. Sadly I had to miss the planetarium show but I left the building amazed at what I had experienced.

Space rocket engine
Gareth Jenkinson
Dinosaur skeletons
Gareth Jenkinson
Rocket engine
The retractable roof that doesn’t close

The rest of the week sailed past as we got closer to game day. We took two trips to Toyota where the Springboks would face Namibia. 

The highlight was the City of Toyota Stadium, which ranks up there with one of the nicest stadiums I’ve ever been to. It was built for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

What I found most interesting was that the roof, which is able to fully open and close, has not been closed in over 10 years. According to a local Japanese journalist, the cost of fixing the fault is far too expensive so the stadium has been left exposed to the elements.

Nevertheless, it is a breathtaking venue and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the game on Saturday evening.

City of Toyota Stadium
Gareth Jenkinson
Sad to say goodbye

The seven days I spent in Nagoya have been my favourite so far. The city itself is big and busy but its streets and avenues don’t feel anywhere near as cramped and crowded as Tokyo.

I will definitely regard Nagoya as one of my top destinations I’ve been to in Japan - but I will reserve writing my list in permanent ink until we have visited Kobe City in a few days time.

READ: G-Dog’s tour diary: Wrong stadiums, overflowing pubs and Shibuya Crossing

Our next stop of our tour would take us to a more remote location, Omaezaki which is a small seaside town in Shizuoka. It is also home to a nuclear power plant and is considered to be a major earthquake zone - all of which makes for an interesting tale which I will cover in next week’s tour diary.

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