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World Cup diary: Travelling 500 miles just for Pete Nelson is easier on a Japanese bullet train

The Ireland squad and Jonathan Bradley all got to grips with Japanese train travel last week.
The Ireland squad and Jonathan Bradley all got to grips with Japanese train travel last week.
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

Trainspotting has never been treated like the most exciting of hobbies but in Japan the public transport is a genuine tourist attraction all on its own.

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Those Irish players who weren’t on the 2017 tour to Japan had their first experience of the famous bullet trains this week as they left Yokohama for Nagoya, and it was no surprise to see them snapping pictures of themselves on the platform.

Each train’s arrival prompts at least one or two tourists doing the same. The sleek, futuristic looking vehicles are an essential part of the Japanese experience and I’ve spent more time on them than most this week.

On a bit of a whim, Dungannon man Peter Nelson’s selection to start for Canada prompted a last-minute trip from where we’re staying with Ireland in Hamamatsu down to Fukuoka in the south of the country — almost 900km away (559 miles).

While it would have taken half a day in a car, the equivalent of going from Londonderry to Kerry and back again, the bullet train gets you there in a little shy of four hours.

The country whizzes by outside the window, through several cities, tiny Japanese towns and miles upon miles of rice fields.

It’s a bit different from the Metro bus into town... the journey is taken in near silence as mobile phones are encouraged to be on silent and even conversations between friends are whispered.

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The only thing that breaks the quiet are the stop announcements, reminding passengers to prepare themselves to get off the train long before their stop as time spent sat at a platform is brief. Even a minute delay to the service is seen as unacceptable.

The Ireland team departs Yokohama via the bullet train.

Kiwi fans cram away with greater expectation

The Shinkansen isn’t Japan’s only memorable train experience though, they’re famed of course for their crowded subways too.

I had my first experience of it when heading back to the hotel after South Africa v New Zealand last week as staff on the platform genuinely seem to be employed to push passengers into the already jammed carriages.

It’s fair to say the Kiwis were embracing the experience more than the South Africans — winning will do that.

“One down, six to go,” reflected one All Blacks fan in a chipper mood.

I guess never having lost a pool match in this competition will do that to a man.

“Should we get off and try a taxi?” asked a woman in a Springboks jersey. “NO!” came the emphatic reply. “No team ever won a World Cup getting taxis.”

Unfortunately, nobody has told Joe Schmidt. The Ireland coach has his players out in the sticks this week, although the nearby presence of one of the country’s premier golf clubs no doubt helps.

The only way for the Irish press corps to reach the base is via taxi — at an eye-popping expense even for a short enough journey.

It’s not been the most surprising price though, that award goes to official match programmes coming in at almost £11.

Stockdale on his bike with Yamaha

Japan's team hotel is much more central than Ireland’s this week, the Brave Blossoms staying at the Okura Act City Hotel right in the heart of Hamamatsu.

The tallest building in the city, you can see Mount Fuji from the top on a clear day while the distinctive structure is shaped like a harmonica in a nod to the city’s musical history.

Torakusu Yamaha was a local, the world’s largest piano manufacturing company still based here. Famous for motorcycles too, the Irish players, including Jacob Stockdale, chose to visit the factory this week.

Jordan Larmour, Jacob Stockdale, Garry Ringrose and Andrew Porter at the Yamaha Motorcycle Factory.

Irish join in an almighty bow

It's been sweeping the Rugby World Cup, starting with the hosts themselves in the first game and carried on by New Zealand the next day.

A bow towards the Japanese crowd now seems to come at the end of every game and Ireland have got in on the act too.

Dave Kilcoyne said this week: “I don’t know who came up with it actually. It was probably Besty or Sexton.”

The Ireland team bow to the fans

Japan stars doing it their own way

If the Irish have been embracing Japanese culture, it’s very western in the Brave Blossoms’ team room.

When asked if the side were using any music to pump themselves up in the build-up to their games, full-back Ryohei Yamanaka replied “Yes, Backstreet Boys — ‘I Want It That Way’”. Each to their own!

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