July 2020

Yaizu is not the first stop on many traveller’s lists when coming to Japan. My visits here were limited to teaching (jumping around) at a local kindergarten and a few overnight stays in a pleasant hotel in order to be able to use the Internet to watch sport.

Why didn’t I have Internet? Well, I was still scarred from my run-ins with the dreadful company that is Softbank, which lasted well over a year. If you are thinking of using any of their services, don’t.

Apart from the fish market, which enjoys some renown locally, Sapporo also runs a brewery here, where some of my students worked. The harbour is quite atmospheric on an overcast day with the backing of the green hills that separate it from Shizuoka.

Somewhere tucked away in those hills lies the little hamlet of Hanazawa. It’s worth a look if you’re after some real countryside.

Overall, a deep melancholy infuses the town, perhaps caused by the fact so many have moved to higher ground out of fear of the next great earthquake. Yaizu wouldn’t stand a chance against the ensuing tsunami.


February 2017

I briefly got off the train at Odawara on my way to Hakone, knowing that a historic castle was located here. A ninja museum is located on its grounds, where you can test out your skills on an obstacle course.

The castle’s most famous moment came when it was taken by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 on the way to creating a unified Japan.

Odawara Castle is a short walk from the train station. When you come out of the east exit, you will probably just need to follow the crowds heading in that direction.

The castle is popular in cherry blossom season. I was too early for that, but I did see some plum blossoms, which visitors new to Japan often confuse them with.

I was happy to have made a quick stop here. If you want to break up a longer journey on local trains with a rest of an hour or so, Odawara could be the perfect answer.

Ryusozan (竜爪山)

July 2020

Shizuoka City may not be huge in terms of population, but the area that it covers is vast. Whilst most people live at sea level or slightly above, its highest point is a whopping 1051m, meaning it rises to a higher altitude than the entirety of England. It’s certainly a different world up there if you choose to hike to the top.

Dragon Claw Mountain, made up of the twin peaks of Healing Buddha Peak 薬師岳 (Yakushidake) (1051m) and Transcendent Wisdom Buddha Peak (Monjudake) 文珠岳 (1041m), is visible from much of Shizuoka. It is the city’s northern guardian, with the Japanese Alps lying in wait just behind. If you’re planning on getting there under your own steam (with no engine), it’ll be a whole day’s outing.

I had been up four years previously with a group of friends in a hire car. We’d parked at Hoizumi Shrine and then walked up the well-maintained albeit steep combination of steps and path to Yakushidake then Monjudake and back again. This time, however, my girlfriend and I would be getting there via a combination of old mamacharis (city bikes with a basket) and our own two feet.

We set off at around 10 and made our way up through Sena along the lovely Nagao River all the way to the picturesque village of Hirayama (平山). Although there is a discernible gain in altitude, it’s possible to make it up without gears. Only one or two brief sections actually require pushing. As we were planning on doing a loop, we left our bikes in the village park and turned left towards the Sokusawa (則沢) trailhead.

There’s a box there (as there is at every trailhead) for you to leave your hiking plans for the day. This is supposed to help the rescue team if you have an accident/get lost. The first part of the climb especially was a lot hairier than we had anticipated, with multiple ropes (often necessary) to help you skirt along the edge of rocks without taking a tumble. Many of these more dangerous sections can be avoided if you take the car road up as far as it goes before transferring to the trail.

After a good couple of hours climbing, we reached the Sokusawa fork and turned right for the final brief climb to Monjudake. Unfortunately, it was far too foggy to get any views and after a light lunch on top of the world, it started to rain. This developed into a massive downpour as we reached Yakushidake, before descending to Hoizumi Shrine.

At this point the rain was so heavy and the fog so thick we could barely see a metre ahead of us, but we needed to keep going to make it back to our bikes. Instead of taking the hiking trail (we didn’t want to risk something similar to what we’d done in the morning in slippery conditions and zero visibility), we decided to stick to the road. There was no traffic at all and we were able to fill up a few water bottles with the beautiful fresh water available next to a torii at head of the old trail we had opted not to take.

Gradually, the storm subsided and we could enjoy the beautiful deep green of the area without the obscuring raindrops. Some of the views down the mountain are simply breathtaking. It’s hard to believe you’re actually still in Shizuoka City and that you’ve got to where you were under your own steam.

We started our roll back down to central Shizuoka around half past five and, after getting drenched in another powerful shower, finally made it home. We had only seen two other hikers the whole time we’d been walking plus a solitary scooter on the high mountain road.

I’d highly recommend a trip here if you’re in the Shizuoka area. You can get a bus as far as Hirayama (there is only one you can catch in the morning), or cycle. From there, you can choose the hiking trail (if you’re feeling adventurous) or the regular road to Hoizumi Shrine, which actually had the best views of the day in my opinion.


Before the main event today, New Zealand cruised past Wales in Tokyo to claim third place and the bronze medal. After that, all eyes were on Yokohama for the grand finale.

As an England supporter, you could look at the things that went wrong: the team bus arriving late, Sinckler getting knocked out straight after kick off, a very forward looking pass in the build-up to the first South African try.

But to be honest, that would not do the Springboks performance justice. They were monstrous in defence, particularly towards the end of the first half, when England could only register three points after an all-out assault on the try line.

Those three points were immediately cancelled out and more as South Africa registered two unanswered penalties to take a six point lead into the interval, putting them firmly in the driving seat.

They never really let England get into a groove in the second half and in the latter stages, South Africa expertly picked England off as they were forced into running the ball in search of a try.

The writing had already been on the wall at half-time, and although England threatened to get back into the match on occasion, they didn’t really deserve to.

So well done South Africa. You were worthy winners.

Last but not least, well done Japan. The tournament has been a great success, and hopefully will leave a legacy that propels the national team forward into even greater achievements in the future. Next up the Olympics!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog. There’ll be a lot more travel stuff coming soon so please keep checking back or alternatively give the Twitter or Facebook page a follow/like for updates on what’s new.

I’m off to climb a very high mountain in Nagano in a few hours, so this is me signing out from the Rugby World Cup 2019. It’s been emotional.

Bronze Final
Friday New Zealand 40-17 Wales (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Saturday South Africa 32-12 England (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
以上です。(ijou desu)
Which means…
(That’s it.)

Previous Day


Halloween starts in Japan pretty early. As soon as you flip the calendar over to October, pumpkin flavoured drinks and cakes start popping up. Orange decorations adorn most shops and the weekend before Halloween itself means costumes and photo calls with random people you’ll never meet again on the streets.

Costumes don’t have to be scary. Wallys/Waldos of Where’s Wally/Waldo? fame, Marios and Luigis and Sailor Moon cosplayers are always out in force. For kids, Disney princesses and Minions are perhaps the biggest hits. Tokyo and the surrounding cities have megaevents and parades for children and adults alike.

Leaving Halloween aside, the All Blacks will be having nightmares about their semi-final loss to England for a long time to come. I have seen New Zealand take England apart on numerous occasions in the past, but this was the first time I’ve seen England do it to New Zealand. It was a repeat of the All Blacks win over Ireland, only this time they were on the receiving end.

England’s back row were rampant and the tone was set from the very beginning with England bundling over for an early Tuilagi try. New Zealand couldn’t even get on the board in the first half, the first time this had happened since the 1991 World Cup. They wouldn’t have in the second half either if not for the misthrown line-out that gifted them their only score. England’s defensive performance was simply breathtaking.

The second semi-final was more breathless than breathtaking, as South Africa and Wales traded punch for punch. The scores were still level with just a few minutes to play as Wales answered every score that South Africa made with their own: first one penalty, then two penalties, then a converted try.

In the passage of play around 60 minutes that eventually resulted in the Welsh try, you could almost feel every tackle the Springboks were putting in as the Welshmen lined up in seemingly endless waves to be the next one carrying the ball into the try line melee.

After an ambitious late Welsh drop kick attempt had fallen short, South Africa got the penalty they needed and man-of-the-match Handre Pollard made it a perfect 5/5 with a kick that was never in doubt. South Africa were through to meet England in the final, a repeat of 2007.

There has been a little of an after the Lord Mayor’s show feeling about the World Cup here after Japan’s loss last weekend, but that was almost inevitable. On the other hand, some of my students wrote in their weekly essays about how impressed they had been watching rugby for the first time. Memories have been made at this tournament that will last long after next weekend’s grand finale.

Saturday England 19-7 New Zealand (International Stadium, Yokohama)
Sunday South Africa 19-16 (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Bronze Final
Friday (1800 JST) New Zealand vs Wales (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Saturday (1800 JST) England vs South Africa (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
恐ろしい! (osoroshii)
Which means…

Previous Day Next Day


After a rest day at the World Cup yesterday, the action returned on Tuesday in Kobe for an encounter that was both a mismatch and a dead rubber. As expected, the Springboks crushed the Canadians with the minimum of fuss, running in ten tries to take the game 66-7. However, the Canadians did do well to restrict the South Africans to three tries in the second half and to score one themselves with a man disadvantage.

We had a look at Kobe itself last week, but Himeji, home of Japan’s largest and most famous castle, is just a little ways down the train track. I visited the city myself in my first summer in Japan, and I think it’s fair to say I was a little taken with it reading back the blog I wrote then. I wonder how I’d feel now after seeing so many other castles.

The Japanese themselves have nicknamed the castle either ‘White Egret Castle’ or ‘White Heron Castle’ due to the brilliant white that the castle regained after renovation in 2015. But it seems there’s no pleasing some, as it is now perhaps most famously known as ‘Too White Castle’.

A quick word to the wise on my experience of Japanese castles in general. With few exceptions, the exterior is far more impressive than the interior. If you want to just walk around the grounds, it is most often free, as they normally serve a double function as a park for local residents.

The Japanese love numbering and ranking their attractions. Himeji is one of Japan’s “three great castles”, alongside Kumamoto (mentioned yesterday) and Matsumoto. There are also “three great gardens”, which are located in Kanazawa, Okayama and Mito. I’ve been to all three of the castles and one of the gardens. They were all worth it.

Tomorrow is a day of reckoning for Scotland. They need to beat Russia, and they need to secure a bonus point. Even if they do manage that, it’s going to be a tall order facing the tournament hosts just four days later. Wales will also have the chance to all but secure first place in their pool against Fiji in the late game.

Today’s Match
South Africa 66-7 Canada (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Argentina vs USA (1345 JST) (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)
Scotland vs Russia (1615 JST) (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
Wales vs Fiji (1845 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)

Expression of the day
白すぎ城へ行ったことがありますか ? (shiro sugi jou e itta koto ga arimasu ka)
Which means…
(Have you been to “Too White Castle”?)

Previous Day Next Day


Uruguay shocked everybody with a performance full of heart to take their encounter with Fiji 30-27, but the islanders were the architects of their own downfall as their kicking badly let them down.

They outscored Los Teros by five tries to three (which would normally be enough to win a game), but their conversion and penalty kicking was woeful, leaving them facing up to the likelihood of an early exit from the competition.

Kicking a rugby ball is not easy. If you get the chance, try to placekick through the posts of your nearest rugby field. The technique needs to be perfect and on top of that you need an enormous amount of power in your legs.

Dropkicking is even harder, as the ball can bounce in all manners of directions off an uneven field. That’s why having a master of the art is so important to any side harbouring ambitions of progressing to the latter stages of an international tournament.

Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking technique was key to England’s 2003 World Cup victory and his methodical, controlled build-up routine revolutionised the art. Exceptional kicking has now become the rule rather than the exception, which is why Fiji were punished so harshly for their waywardness.

In Japan, what you do with your feet is also important. I once heard a story of a teacher who was dismissed from a kindergarten for using their feet to move heavy boxes around, which I learnt is a big faux pas. Doing so is considered both disrespectful and rude.

However, that faux pas is nowhere near as big as wearing shoes in the house, a custom which Japan shares with many other Asian countries. Japan goes even further by having special bathroom shoes, which you should change into when using the facilities.

I’m fully on board with the no shoes indoors concept and now it seems positively weird to me when I see Western shows in which people wear their shoes indoors. Leaving aside the debatable health benefits, it’s simply more comfortable.

So why not go barefoot for today’s matches? Italy vs Canada is the antipasto, which Italy should take comfortably, assuming they’re not too tired. The main dish is England vs USA and there’s always a lot riding on this historic rivalry, whatever the sport.

Will North America shock Europe today as the USA and Canada make their tournament bows? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Yesterday’s Match
Uruguay 30-27 Fiji (Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, Kamaishi)

Today’s Matches
Italy vs Canada (1645 JST) (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium (Fukuoka)
England vs USA (1945 JST) (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Expression of the day
靴を脱いで下さい (kutsu wo nuide kudasai)
Which means…
Please take your shoes off.

Previous Day Next Day


Today will hopefully be the last horribly humid day of the year. However, I did say that last week…and the week before that. The Japanese summer takes no prisoners; just stepping outside or sitting at home will leave you dripping in sweat. The temperature hasn’t dropped below 20 in months. But now it’s over…hopefully.

In the rugby yesterday, Wales delivered a sensational first half performance, running in four tries to put the match to bed early. Georgia managed to tie the second half thanks to a couple of tries of their own, but it proved to be little more than a consolation.

Today, Russia are back in action, just four days after they opened the World Cup against Japan. This kind of scheduling is disappointing, as you are only really supposed to play rugby once a week on medical grounds.

Aside from the health considerations, it’s also a big disadvantage to the team forced into this schedule and Japan were the most obvious victims of this at the last World Cup.

After their legendary victory over South Africa, they only had four days to recover before their other crunch game against Scotland, which unsurprisingly ended in a heavy defeat.

England will also be affected on Thursday and they have already announced that they will be making 10 changes to their starting 15.

Hopefully, more thought will go into the scheduling of the next tournament.

Russia would be unlikely to beat Samoa in any case, however. Samoa, or Western Samoa as they were called back in 1991, were a big reason I got into rugby during the first World Cup I watched.

One of the most enduring memories I have of the tournament is of their surprise victory over Wales that qualified them for the last eight.

Peter Fatialofa (Fats) was the captain of the team back then and, quite fantastically, specialised in moving pianos when he wasn’t on the pitch. With his enormous frame it wasn’t hard to see why.

On searching what he was up to today, I was saddened to discover that he had passed away at the age of 54 in 2013. Happily, he had been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit by the Queen prior to that in 1996.

This year, he was posthumously inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame, a fitting tribute to the man.

RIP Papali’itele Peter Momoe Fatialofa.

Yesterday’s Matches
Wales 43-14 Georgia (Toyota Stadium, Toyota)

Today’s Match
Russia vs Samoa (1915 JST) (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)

Expression of the day
蒸し暑いですね (mushi atsui desu ne)
Which means…
It’s rather humid, wouldn’t you say?

Previous Day Next Day


Typhoon Tapah (no 17 of the season) has bisected Japan and South Korea, passing along the Korea/Tsushima Strait and into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. There’s not space to get into the naming dispute here, but you should use the former names if you’re in South Korea and the latter when in Japan.

As is the norm, the cyclone has caused a great deal of transport disruption, although it seems not to have been a particularly damaging one as typhoons go. If you live in Japan, you can expect twenty or so a year, but only a handful will probably hit closely enough to affect you personally and it normally is just a matter of staying indoors.

That’s why I found comments made by Eddie Jones (England head coach) about how England were prepared to deal with the effects of the previous typhoon puzzling. He lived in Japan, so he should have known that the chances of them seriously affecting his team’s preparation were small to non-existent. It just seemed alarmist for the sake of it.

Having said that, the big ones can do a lot of damage: overturning vehicles, ripping off roofs, causing landslides and flooding that all can lead to the loss of life.

I’m into my fifth typhoon season here but it was not until the fourth, when Shizuoka took a couple of direct hits, that they were truly alarming on a personal level. It’s a rather unpleasant feeling when your apartment block is swaying like a ship and you’re watching your washing rock back and forth in the middle of your room…and your room is on the eighth floor.

Returning to rugby, there was a dearth of close contests yesterday. Italy got over an early scare before asserting themselves in a high scoring clash with Namibia. After that, Ireland and England comprehensively shut out Scotland and Tonga respectively. Both winners can feel they’ve put down a marker for the rest of the tournament. Italy might need to shore up their defence.

Today’s match is the first in Toyota as the land of my fathers, Wales, take on Georgia, a team I watched twice while I was living there. I’m expecting a very physical battle between two countries renowned for power and strength, although it’s hard to look beyond Wales for the win.

Yesterday’s Matches
Italy 47-22 Namibia (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Ireland 27-3 Scotland (International Stadium, Yokohama)
England 35-3 Tonga (Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)

Today’s Match
Wales vs Georgia (1915 JST) (Toyota Stadium, Toyota)

Expression of the day
風が強いですね (kaze ga tsuyoi desu ne)
Which means…
It’s fairly windy, isn’t it!

Previous Day Next Day


Every team to have featured in the competition so far has been trailing at some stage. Japan, Australia and New Zealand all managed to hold onto their advantage after fighting back from behind, but the Pumas let it slip.

In a gripping evening encounter which both sides attacked with vigour, the All Blacks and Springboks upped the quality and intensity of RWC 2019, but in the end New Zealand were able to keep South Africa at arm’s length to record a deserved victory.

Today, Italy will be expected to see off Namibia before Ireland and Scotland do battle in a crunch clash in Yokohama. The night game sees England open their campaign against Tonga in Sapporo.

England will be quietly confident about their tournament prospects, as only Wales have managed to defeat them this year (winning 2 out of 3 encounters). They also matched up well against the All Blacks in their friendly last year, going down by a single point.

Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido and renowned for its Snow Festival in winter when massive sculptures are carved out of ice. Skiing/snowboarding is also available with slopes located very close to the city centre.

In terms of food, Sapporo ramen and the quirkily named Genghis Khan enjoy the most fame, although as a vegetarian I won’t be partaking.

Beer is fine for me, though; the Sapporo brewery is located centrally and worth a visit. Get the three drink sample set to warm up for the game.

Sapporo Kuro (Black) Label is my go-to for non-craft beer in Japan. I actually prefer Sapporo Classic, but that is normally only available in Hokkaido.

If you’re looking for a day trip, Otaru is a short train ride and well worth a visit.

Enjoy the games today!

Yesterday’s Matches
Australia 39-21 Fiji (Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)
France 23-21 Argentina (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
New Zealand 23-13 South Africa (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Today’s Matches
Italy vs Namibia (1415 JST) (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Ireland vs Scotland (1645 JST) (International Stadium, Yokohama)
England vs Tonga (1915 BST) (Sapporo Dome, Sapporo)

Expression of the day
生を一つ・二つお願いします (nama wo hitotsu/futatsu onegaishimasu)
Which means…
One/Two draught beer(s), please!

Previous Day Next Day