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

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

In my first tour diary of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, I recall some epic moments and major fails during my first seven days.

G-Dog at the Rugby World Cup
Gareth Jenkinson

It has been a full week since I touched down at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan.

Seven days have flown by in a flash, mainly because of the seemingly sleepless nature of life in one of the world’s busiest cities.

My journey to Japan wasn’t as straightforward as I would have liked after I was bumped off a flight in Doha and forced to catch a connecting flight through Bangkok. As a result, I arrived at 05h30 on Tuesday the 16th as opposed to the night before.

Tired from travel but excited by the prospect of adventure in a new foreign country, I hit the ground running. Once I was through passport control and customs, I quickly bought a bus ticket going directly to my hotel. With an hour to kill, I also bought a handy Japan Rail Pass that gives users access to a variety of rail and bus services around the country.

READ: ‘Japan feels like home’ - potential RWC debut for Jantjies

My first hotel was based in Tokyo Bay, a major tourist destination with hotels flanking the gargantuan Tokyo DisneyLand. It was just a stone’s throw away from the Springbok’s base for the beginning of the week.

Short walks to the hotel weren’t a problem but the Boks' training ground was way too far to go on foot, so I took my first ever train ride under the guidance of seasoned journalist Ashfak Mohammed. 

Having done the trip to the Arcs Urayusu Park a couple of times, Mohammed led the way and I eagerly followed. We hopped on a local train and got off at our first stop. 

G-Dog and Bokkie
Gareth Jenkinson

This is where I had my first experience of Japanese courtesy. Climbing onto the local bus service, I waved my Japan Rail Pass at the driver as I entered the bus. The driver shook his head and hands in an unmistakable ‘no’ motion, but decided to wave me past with a line of people behind me.

The trip wasn’t short either, so by the grace of the local bus driver, I saved a few hundred Yen on the trip.

Exploring the World’s busiest street - Shibuya Crossing

After two days in Tokyo Bay the Springboks moved into central Tokyo on Thursday to be closer to the Nissan Stadium, where they would face the All Blacks in the tournament opener.

I had booked a hotel around the corner from the Boks’ base in the big city and began my first solo journey using the amazing public transport network in Japan. I caught a shuttle from my hotel to the nearest train station and hopped on a line into the heart of Shibuya City.

I have to give all the credit to my trusty tour guide - Google Maps. The app gives you exact stations, trains and platforms to take and is very accurate with departure and arrival times. 

Busy Road

Nevertheless, I puzzled my way through the connecting train station and arrived at my destination. The station was right around the corner but I had to lug my 32kg bag and backpack up a steep cobblestone road. I definitely got my exercise in for the day.

I arrived at the hotel a few hours before check in, so I left my travel bag in the safe room and headed down the road to catch the subway to the All Blacks team announcement and press conference.

I didn’t quite realise where I was until I reached the bottom of the street. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve seen this place before’. It was then that I realised I was in Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest intersection. 

rugby ball pic g-dog

At 11am in the morning, it wasn’t exactly pumping but there was still a considerable amount of people crossing the intersection.

After attending press conferences and filing stories, I decided to go and watch the opening game of the tournament between Japan and Russia at a fan park in Chofu. It was a festive atmosphere as thousands of locals packed the square outside of the train station to watch the game which was being screened on the side of the building.

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Following the example of the fans around me, I bought a couple of beers at the 7-Eleven and watched the game. The Japanese fans enjoyed the match and cheered whenever their side scored but I did notice that they were slightly more reserved than our South African fans at home.

At the end of the game, I chatted with a couple of young fans next to me who were enjoying the festivities more than others around them. This video summed up their attitude, and left me smiling for the rest of the evening.

Going back to Shibuya Crossing, you need to visit the area after 5pm to truly appreciate how busy it can get. After an epic day watching the Rugby World Cup begin, I made my way back to my hotel through the subway.

Emerging onto Shibuya Crossing from the station below, I joined the swarm of thousands of people making their way to various destinations. At first I was completely disoriented because of the sheer number of people but I managed to figure out which direction to go by recognising a Springbok billboard on the side of one of the skyscrapers at the crossing.

At 9pm I checked into my room, which wasn’t much bigger than a shoebox! But its central location was a blessing and I was so tired that I didn’t care about anything else other than getting into bed.

Yokohama Stadium - Same same but DIFFERENT

Friday morning got off to an excellent start as myself, SA Rugby Magazine journalist Jon Cardinelli, photographer Steve Haag and Supersport producer Sean Everett were present to take some shots of the Springbok team photo.

It is an intimate, but extremely well-run and fast-paced event on the eve of the match. The players entered the room, a good 40 floors up in their hotel, milled around for a couple of minutes before taking their spots for the photo. 

Springbok director of rugby Rassie Erasmus burst into the room a few minutes later, took his spot in the front row and the cameras snapped away for a couple of minutes. As quick as that, it was all over and the players left the room with their captains run at the stadium next on the agenda.

That meant that I, alongwith Cardinelli, Haag and Everett, had to rush against time to make our way to Yokohama Stadium - which was a good 40 minute trip by subways and trains.

No one really put up their hand to be navigator, so Everett and I punched Yokohama Stadium into our Google Maps apps and began making our way. Eventually we arrived at our station in Yokohama and walked onto the street.

The absence of any Rugby World Cup advertising was a bit weird but we continued towards our destination. Walking down the road, the view of the stadium was obscured by the park in front of us.

Coming around the corner, we were dumbfounded to find a massive baseball stadium. I almost immediately realised our mistake. We had entered Yokohama Stadium, and not International Stadium Yokohama (Nissan Stadium), which are two very different arenas separated by many kilometres.

No one really took the blame for the blunder, but Haag couldn't help telling us he knew we were going the wrong way... 

We eventually reached the right venue but missed the captains’ run as a result. It was a valuable and comical lesson for all of us and I was happy to have made the mistake on the Friday rather than Saturday, the day of the big game. 

Black, Green and Gold on the streets of Yokohama

The day of the Springboks’ clash with the All Blacks finally arrived and I made my way to Yokohama with nearly 6 hours to spare. 

I wasn’t surprised to see fans walking up and down the street around midday, given the magnitude of the clash. I found what ended up being one of the only local pubs in the area.

Even at 12pm, the small establishment was packed to the brim and I joined a mix of South African and New Zealand fans that were watching the Australia-Fiji out on the street with the TV inside visible through broad glass windows.

Over the next two hours tens turned into hundreds and fans started buying beers from the 7-Eleven across the road. Drinking on the street, a festive atmosphere built as people from different countries bantered about the upcoming game.

Fans in Yokohama
Gareth Jenkinson

The situation reminded me of the power that rugby has to unite people. Even though fans want their teams to win, people were jovial and friendly to each other as they swapped predictions and joked about potential outcomes.

Even after the match, as I asked different fans for their views on the All Blacks’ win, there was no bad blood. 

The consensus seemed to be that the Springboks will meet the All Blacks in the final of the competition. 

Holding on to that thought, I packed my bags on Sunday morning and began my trip to Nagoya for week two...

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