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.


It’s got a little cooler in Japan now, so humidity and heat will no longer be a factor in the rugby. When the temperatures drop here, there’s nothing like a trip to the onsen, but there’s also nothing like enjoying a kotatsu (a heated table with blanket). It heats up the room and keeps you snug while eating your dinner or catching your favourite show. The only problem is trying to escape it before you fall asleep.

As far as the rugby goes it’s business time. No more minnows. No more dead rubbers. No more one-sided victories (probably). Just good old-fashioned knockout rugby. Anybody can beat anybody. So what are my predictions?

England face Australia in the first game on Saturday. Although Australia edge the historical head-to-head 25-24, England have come out on top in the last six encounters and ten of the last twelve. They’ve met each other in the World Cup final twice, Australia denying England in their own backyard in 1991 before England returned the favour in 2003. I predict an England win this time round, although they may be a little undercooked after three matches in which they were barely challenged. Australia will be more battle-hardened after a tough defeat to Wales. Georgia kept them honest until the closing stages too.

In the late game, the Irish take on the All Blacks in another mouth-watering tie. Ireland finally managed to register a victory in this fixture at the twenty-ninth attempt in Chicago in 2016. They then repeated the feat two years later, this time in Dublin. Ireland also got off to a great start this tournament by thrashing Scotland, but came unstuck immediately after against the hosts. The All Blacks beat the Springboks in their opening fixture before strolling past Namibia and Canada. I’m going for a New Zealand victory based on their performance against South Africa and the fact they’ve taken the last two tournaments, but the Irish can certainly not be ruled out of causing an upset.

On Sunday, the unpredictable French take on Wales. Wales lead the historic head-to-head 50-44 and have taken seven of the last eight meetings. Whilst France snuck past both Argentina and Tonga in the group stages and could easily have lost either match, Wales won all four of theirs, one of which was an impressive performance against Australia. It’s got to be a Wales win for me, but having said that the French have often found a rich vein of form late on in World Cups in the past. The team it is normally at the expense of is New Zealand though, not Wales.

The final quarter has the hosts taking on South Africa. I honestly believe that if they play the faultless, flowing rugby that they did against Scotland, Japan can get the win again. The head to head is one apiece. Japan performed the “Brighton Miracle” at the last World Cup, but were beaten heavily 41-7 in a warm-up match for this tournament. That recent result is why I’m going for the Springboks to win. It’s very much a case of the head saying South Africa, but the heart saying Japan.

So my semi-final predictions are:

England vs New Zealand
Wales vs South Africa

In a difficult to comprehend move, the Shizuoka fan zone has been closed down for good, so there will be nowhere to watch the quarter finals from in a large group in the city. There will be a fan zone in Hamamatsu and the Ecopa stadium will be open for all of the knockout phase (free entrance), but the capacity will be limited to 5,000, which means there’s a risk of going there only to be turned away at the door. I may try to get in on Sunday.

Saturday Quarter Finals
England vs Australia (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
New Zealand vs Ireland (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Sunday Quarter Finals
Wales vs France (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
Japan vs South Africa (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)

Expression of the day
ブライトンミラクルが再現するのか? (buraiton mirakuru ga saigen suru no ka)
Which means…
(Will the Brighton Miracle repeat itself?)

Previous Day Next Day


The massive Typhoon Hagibis is currently making its way directly for Shizuoka and is expected to make landfall in the next few hours. It seems like it’s been here for ages already, though, as the wind has been howling and it’s been tipping it down since last night.

The central supermarket had rows upon rows of empty shelves yesterday, as people stockpiling (including myself) cleaned it out of goods. I had to go to four different places before I could find any water on sale.

There are fears of power outages and cuts to the water supply, so the bath is full just in case and plenty of rice is cooked and ready to go.

Evacuation advisories have also been issued, so our bags are ready if we are ordered to move to a local school, where people assemble to wait out natural disasters. The elderly and young children have already been moved there.

Luckily for us, our area is fairly elevated and we live on the third floor, so the risk of flooding is low. However, there is a large hill relatively nearby, so landslides cannot be ruled out.

Spending the day with the heavy shutters down makes you think it’s still night and is pretty depressing. We’ve opened the windows a few times to let some air in and to get some natural light, but it’s not really enough. I can’t imagine how people living in the far north cope.

Meanwhile, the nation holds its breath as to what will happen when the typhoon actually hits. Rivers are close to bursting as it is, and homes and roads have already been flooded and roofs blown off.

It seems pointless to talk about rugby at this time, but a game will be going on in Fukuoka later on and tomorrow the group stage will come to an end.

Hopefully the damage from the typhoon won’t be too bad and Japan can quickly move forward, as it has done so many times before.

Today’s Match
Ireland vs Samoa (1945 JST) (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Namibia vs Canada (1215 JST) (Kamaishi Memorial Recovery Stadium, Kamaishi)
USA vs Tonga (1445 JST) (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Wales vs Uruguay (1715 JST) (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)
Japan vs Scotland (1945 JST) (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
気を付けて下さい! (ki wo tsukete kudasai)
Which means…
(Take care.)

Previous Day Next Day


Yesterday I was talking about how Fiji were lucky to escape a red card. Today, there was absolutely no escaping that fate for Italy. In fact, there should really have been two red cards issued for the same foul, as two Italians were both culpable in the assault.

Andrea Lovotti and Nicola Quaglio picked up Duane Vermeulen, turned him upside down and dropped him headfirst into the ground in a horrific spear tackle that will hopefully see both serving lengthy bans. It was more like WWE than rugby, but this was for real.

The Springboks were already comfortably ahead at the time of the “tackle”, which effectively ended the game as a contest, and cantered off to an easy 49-3 win after the dust had settled on it. They will now be watching Japan’s group closely to see who their quarter final opponent will be.

This was the second match in Shizuoka, the place I’ve called home for the past five years. The prefecture is the leading producer in Japan of both green tea and wasabi, so a multitude of wasabi and green tea flavoured products are on offer everywhere. The wasabi ice-cream in particular is well worth a try.

Historically, Shizuoka is synonymous with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded the Tokugawa Shogunate that brought to an end the warring of the Sengoku Jidai. Watch a great explanatory video series about that period in history here.

To put it briefly, Ieyasu was held hostage in Sumpu castle as a child. After many wars and much intrigue, he became shogun of a united Japan. Upon retirement, he chose to spend his final years in the same castle he was previously held hostage, handing over the reins to his heir Hidetada.

Numerous statues can be found of Ieyasu around town, including one just outside the train station and one in the centre of the castle park. The park, outer walls, moat and a couple of towers is all that remains of Sumpu castle, however, as it was dismantled during the Meiji Restoration by political opponents.

The fan zone in the castle park is far from being dismantled yet, however. I’ll be heading there for the third time tomorrow to catch the beginning in earnest of England’s World Cup against Argentina and the hopefully ongoing fairy tale of the Brave Blossoms.

Today’s Match
South Africa 49-3 Italy (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Australia vs Uruguay (1415 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
England vs Argentina (1700 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Japan vs Samoa (1930 JST) (Toyota Stadium, Toyota)

Expression of the day
このアイスがバカうまいです! (kono aisu ga baka umai desu)
Which means…
This ice-cream is really tasty! (in the Shizuoka dialect)

Previous Day Next Day


Both of yesterday’s matches turned out to be strolls in the park in the end; Italy and England showed very few signs of weariness as they picked up seven tries apiece whilst conceding just the one. The US in particular were delighted to get on the scoresheet in the final action of the second half. For the victors, tougher tests lie ahead.

Climbing Mount Fuji is not such a stroll in the park. Unfortunately, climbing season coincides with typhoon season and the two are not happy bedfellows. If you were thinking about going up this year, I’m afraid the mountain officially closed on September 10th.

Mind you, that didn’t stop somebody I know with an ‘adventurous’ spirit (who will remain nameless) from waltzing up to the summit solo with a tent on his back and camping overnight out of season. Don’t try that at home folks. Seriously. People die up there.

The first time I tried to go up myself was as a Japan newbie. By the time I got to Fujinomiya fifth station and started up in zero visibility, strong wind and pounding rain, I was the only person ascending and everybody was telling me to go back. So I did.

Funnily enough, I bumped into some teachers from the same company as me who had made it up to the eighth station before being beaten by the weather gods.

Even more peculiarly, I met one of them on Japan’s second most famous volcano, Sakurajima, also by chance, a few months later. Small world!

My second attempt at Mount Fuji was in glorious weather. I went up with relatively little fuss wearing a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and trainers and wielding a climbing stick . I’d forgotten the sunscreen though, so I had to tie a towel round my head and neck.

Coming down, I realised I had gone up a little too fast and felt a bit giddy. It’s advisable to rest overnight in a hut rather than go straight up and down, but the prices are fairly exorbitant for what they offer.

Although I went up the Fujinomiya route, I came down the Gotemba trail. The latter features the ‘Great Sand Run’. This section of the mountain consists of a steep slope covered in black sand and the easiest way to negotiate it is by running.

It was far easier on my knees than standard descending, but it did destroy my trainers. I could barely get them off my feet afterwards and when they did finally come off they went straight in the bin.

Mount Fuji lies on the border of Yamanashi and Shizuoka prefectures and Shizuoka, my adopted home, will be hosting the big game tomorrow, Japan vs Ireland.

I could hear plenty of Irish accents on the streets heading home this evening and I’ll definitely be heading to the fan zone tomorrow for the match. I’m hoping the Brave Blossoms keep it respectable.

Where will you be watching?

Yesterday’s Matches
Italy 48-7 Canada (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka)
England 45-7 USA (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Argentina vs Tonga (1345 JST) (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Japan vs Ireland (1615 JST) (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
South Africa vs Namibia (1845 JST) (City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota)

Expression of the day
富士山を登ったことありますか? (fuji san wo nobotta koto arimasu ka )
Which means…
Have you ever climbed Mount Fuji?

Previous Day Next Day

RWC 2019 IS GO

The Rugby World Cup kicks off in Japan today with the hosts taking on Russia in Tokyo at 1945 local time. I will be posting daily on the action and throwing in a bit of culture and language for good measure to try and give you a clearer picture of modern Japan.

12 fan zones have been set up in the 12 host cities (Sapporo, Iwate, Saitama, Tokyo, Yokohama, Shizuoka, Toyota, Osaka, Kobe, Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Oita) for fans to follow the action on big screens.

The Ecopa stadium, which will host four matches (Japan vs Ireland, South Africa vs Italy, Scotland vs Russia and Australia vs Georgia), is actually an hour’s train journey from the city of Shizuoka itself, but the connected fan zone is located in Shizuoka city proper.

That’s where I’ll be following the action this evening once I get off work. I’m tipping the Brave Blossoms to win fairly comfortably, hopefully on their way to a quarter-final berth. Who will you be supporting?

Today’s Match:
Japan vs Russia (1945 JST) Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo

Expression of the day:
日本へようこそ (nihon e youkoso)
Which means…
Welcome to Japan!

Next Day