18 Sep 2019

Brilliant off the field, but game day problems loom for Rugby World Cup

10:55 am on 18 September 2019

First Person - All Blacks fans will have a brilliant time outside of the stadiums at this year's Rugby World Cup in Japan, but there could be more than a few fans frustrated on game day.

Shibuya crossing, Tokyo.

Shibuya crossing, Tokyo. Photo: Joe Porter RNZ

Japan is a beautiful and wondrous country for a first time visitor. It's filled with friendly and kind people and some of the best food, shopping and entertainment in the world.

Former Wallaby Stirling Mortlock said a few years ago that the World Cup is a celebration of rugby and of the host nation. In that sense, Japan should be the best one yet.

Fans will be immersed in culture, cuisine, nightlife and geographical beauty. They'll likely fall in love with a country that's often a fascinating contradiction between conservatism and outright madness.

However, they might not find their match day experience quite what they hoped.

Yokohama (Nissan) Stadium, venue for final of 2019 Japan Rugby World Cup.

Yokohama (Nissan) Stadium, venue for final of 2019 Japan Rugby World Cup. Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

Some of the stadiums aren't ideally located and fans could face issues getting to the games. At some of the stadiums the infrastructure isn't great.

I wonder if they'll cope when large groups of fans descend on the grounds at once. There's running tracks around half of the stadia being used, so the view is far from the stands is far from brilliant.

Another issue could be the way Japanese bars/restaurants are typically run. Most places are small, holding 20 people at most.

While this provides a wonderfully intimate experience, there's concerns over how the eateries and bars will deal with groups of 20 World Cup fans descending on them at once.

A typical, small, Izakaya bar in Yokohama

A typical, small, Izakaya bar in Yokohama Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

Japan tourism is aware of this and are trying to come up with solutions, such as setting up seating outside the izakaya (pub) and closing surrounding streets to cars to create pedestrian only zones.

Drinks can be cheap too, especially if you know where to go. You drink in public in Japan (it can be deemed offensive to drink while walking, but not sitting in a public space. As an aside, eating while walking is a definite no go).

There are vending machines with booze on almost every street corner. It's likely to be common to see a big group of World Cup fans drinking in a park.

Typically packed subway car in Tokyo.

Typically packed subway car in Tokyo. Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

When it comes to public transport, the train system in Tokyo and Yokohama is fantastic.

Google maps is fairly good at helping you navigate one of the biggest and most complex rail and subway networks in the world.

I noticed, however, that Japanese Google Maps the locals were using, suggested different and often more direct routes than my english Google Maps.

The locals are also incredibly helpful when asking for directions, an elderly couple insisted on walking with me for 45 minutes to make sure I got to the right station.

The Japanese hospitality is second to none and the kindness towards strangers is something to warm the coldest of hearts.

This is a World Cup where fans will have the best off the field experience they may ever have, but they may be left feeling frustrated on game days when suddenly they realise they're not going to make it to the match.

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