(written by Azul, October 24th, 2021)
In early September, the Japan Rugby Union suddenly announced that the Japanese national rugby team would play a test match against the Australian Wallabies on October 23. Until then, the Japan national rugby team had been scheduled to play three matches this fall in November (Ireland, Portugal, and Scotland). For Japanese rugby fans, this was a sudden addition of one more match. And it was to be played in about a month’s time, prior to the three matches that had already been decided. The Australian national team is ranked third in the world and will be coming to Japan in top form, having won back-to-back matches against the RWC 2019 world champion, South Africa Springboks, just before the tournament. I was left with the impression that this was going to be an amazing event. When I looked at the venue of the match, it was the Showa Denko Dome (Oita Prefecture).
This was a troublesome situation. First of all, the distance is too far. At the time of the RWC 2019, I was able to get to the venue in about an hour even if I left my house in the afternoon, but in Oita City, I would have to prepare for a trip of at least one night and two days. The game started at 1:45 p.m. on Saturday, so I checked flights and there were none available. Even if I left at 5:00 a.m. early on the day of the game by Shinkansen, I was scheduled to arrive just before the kickoff. I was in a bit of trouble. And what I finally chose was the following itinerary.
10/22 (Fri.) 9:50 p.m. departure from Tokyo Station – Sleeper Express Sunrise Izumo. 10/23 (Sat.) 6:05 a.m. arrival at Okayama (Okayama Prefecture).
10/23 (Sat) 6:50 a.m. Transfer to the Kyushu Shinkansen Mizuho 601 – Kokura (Kitakyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture) 8:11 a.m.
10/23 (Sat) 8:34 Transfer to JR Limited Express Ni-chirin Seagaia No.5 – Oita (Oita City, Oita Pref.) 10:03 Arrival
10/23 (Sat) Rent a car from Oita Station. Arrive at Showa Denko Stadium at 11:30.
11:30 Arrive at Showa Denko Stadium, 11:50 Enter the stadium and watch the game. 15:30 Finish the game.
10/23 (Sat) Rented a car from Showa Denko Stadium and drove on the expressway to Oita Airport.
10/23 (Sat) ANA Flight 800 departed from Oita Airport at 18:15 and arrived at Haneda Airport at 19:50.
10/23 (Sat) Transfer from Tokyo Station to Hachioji-Minamino Station. Arrived home at 22:30.
The above itinerary is quite a hard schedule.
Even so, I had been looking forward to this day’s game from about a week before my departure.
Then, the day of departure. I finished my work around 8:40 p.m. and arrived at Tokyo Station around 9:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, it was raining that day. Moreover, the temperature was only 10 degrees Celsius, the same temperature as December. It was cold. Our train was due to arrive at 21:30, so I walked around Tokyo Station to get some dinner before then. However, there was one miscalculation here. Due to the new Corona, all the stores selling station lunches were closed at 21:00. I had nothing to eat, I was starving. I looked around and found that McDonald’s was selling takeout items. Here, I bought a Samurai Mac. Now then, I went to platform 9 for the Sunrise train.
Here it comes. The Sunrise. Actually, this train is said to be a favorite of train enthusiasts, and it’s very difficult to get a seat. As you can see in the photo, train fans were waiting for the train and taking commemorative photos, and I made a reservation in mid-September, but it seemed that everyone was hesitant to make a reservation because of the new Corona. I found out later from the announcement, but of course it was fully booked that day. I was lucky.
As you can see in the photo above, the train is a double-decker, and it’s so gorgeous that I couldn’t help but smile. Now, let’s go inside the train.
This train is a double-decker car, so there are stairs inside. This is not like a train, but more like a hotel. As for the grade of the rooms, there are about four different ranks.
Rank 1 – A sleeper single deluxe: Private rooms that are the envy of train enthusiasts. There are only a few rooms available, so it’s hard to get a reservation on weekends. However, the cost of a sleeping room is about 13,000 yen, which is about the same as a regular business hotel. That’s probably why it’s so popular.
Rank 2 – B sleeper single: This is the most common room available in private rooms. This is the type I booked. It’s hard for a 2-meter tall rugger man to sleep in, but it’s enough space for me, a 174cm tall man. The cost of a berth is about 7,500 yen.
I would have preferred a room on the second floor, but I was satisfied with the first floor. I’m looking forward to enjoying my first sleeper train trip.
Rank 3: B-Sleeper Solo: This is a private room, but the ceiling is slightly lower than that of Rank 2. It is also said to be about 1,000 yen cheaper.
Rank 4: General seating. There is a space for each person to lie down. There are curtains and head partitions between each person. There is no sleeper charge, so if you are a frequent user of this train, this seat is also available.
It took about seven hours from Tokyo to Himeji, but it was a comfortable trip. The original stop was Okayama Station, but there was an accident in Nagoya on the way, and the train was delayed for about 30 minutes, so I got off at Himeji Station, one stop ahead of the station, at 6:05 a.m. to connect to the Shinkansen.
I got off at Himeji Station, one stop before the Shinkansen, at 6:05 a.m. Since it was early in the morning, the convenience store in the station was closed. I wanted to have some kind of breakfast, but for some reason the ekiben shop was empty. Luckily, I bought an ekiben, and now I was ready to change trains.
Even though it was late October, the sun was shining after six o’clock. It was not as cold as Tokyo yesterday, but it was chilly in the early morning in Himeji. The Kyushu Shinkansen Mizuho 601 arrived at 6:29 a.m., right on time.
As expected, the Shinkansen is very fast. The Sunrise Izumo is also a limited express, so the average speed is 100km/h, but the Shinkansen runs at more than twice that speed, so it takes less than two hours from Himeji Station to Kokura Station in Kyushu.
We arrived at Kokura Station. I realized later that the Kyushu Shinkansen is connected to the mainland by an undersea tunnel, not a steel bridge. I didn’t know this until I took the Kyushu Shinkansen. And here is the last transfer train for the outward journey: the 8:34 JR Limited Express NICHIRIN Sea Gaia No. 5.
In the photo above, I couldn’t get a good shot of the front of the train, but the express Seagaia is a popular train among train enthusiasts for its robot-like face.
Even from the side, the train looks quite stern. We will arrive at Oita in 90 minutes. The express train “Sea Gaia” ran along the sea coast on the way to Oita, so I could enjoy the scenery of Beppu Bay. Before Corona, a hovercraft used to operate here. It was a sightseeing specialty of Beppu Bay, but it is no longer in service.
10/23 (Sat) 10:03 a.m. We finally arrived at Oita Station. When I arrived at the station, I saw many people wearing rugby jerseys. Not only tourists, but also local station staff and people in the tourism industry were wearing the uniforms of the Japanese national rugby team to liven up the event.
The Showa Denko Stadium in Oita City has been a joint effort of the public and private sectors as a tourism hub, as it hosted the quarterfinal matches of the RWC 2019. It would be great if the new corona infection finally dies down and this stadium can again attract a large number of spectators.
In the case of Showa Denko Stadium, it is the home of Oita Trinita of the J1 soccer league, and although there is no team in Kyushu that has designated this stadium as their home for Rugby League ONE, which will start in 2022, I hope they will make good use of it. Of all the stadiums I’ve seen this year, this one is about the same size as Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, but the local city of Oita has a high sense of excitement about it.
From here, I rented a car from ORIX Rent-A-Car for 5,000 yen for 6 hours and headed for the stadium. Why did I rent a car?
1) Oita Station, Showa Denko Stadium, and Oita Airport are quite far away from each other.
2) There is a shuttle bus service, but it takes only two and a half hours from the end of the game until the plane leaves for home.
(3) It takes about an hour to get from the stadium to the airport, even if you drive on the highway.
(4) If I return to Oita Station from the stadium and then go to the airport, I doubt if I can board the plane.
So, I chose to rent a car as my transportation in Oita City. On the way back to Oita, there were about 600 supporters who came to Oita Airport, and most of them had taken tour buses, cabs, or rental cars prepared by the tour companies. In other words, if we took the shuttle bus to Oita Station and then went to Oita Airport, I would not be able to catch the 6:15 p.m. flight.
I arrived at Showa Denko Stadium in 30 minutes from Oita Station as planned. This stadium has plenty of parking space, but it’s a long way from there to the stadium. If you walk slowly, it will take you almost 30 minutes.
On a sunny day like today, it’s not a problem, but in bad weather, this distance is quite tough. The Showa Denko Stadium has a retractable dome, so you don’t have to worry about rain.
We finally arrived at the stadium two hours before kickoff, just like the RWC 2019, where they used to have satellite broadcasts of matches being played at other venues to keep things moving, but in today’s case, there was no such thing, so they invited local comedians and celebrities to the event.
Commemorative photo board
Past uniforms of the Japanese national team
Near the main entrance
I couldn’t wait to get inside the stadium myself. This stadium was built during the FIFA 2002 World Cup and is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The stadium is so well maintained that it doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years. I quickly went to the south stand to check my seat behind the goal. This time, my seat was the cheapest, Category 3, 1st hh row 137. I looked around to see where I was.
Row hh means the first row. This was great. It’s a great position to take pictures. There is no obstacle in front of me.
Regarding today’s match, I checked the past data. The most recent time Japan played the Australian national team was on November 4, 2017. The venue was the Yokohama International Stadium (Nissan Stadium). The score of the match at that time was 63-30, a stunning victory for the Australian national team. Coincidentally, the Wallabies were ranked third in the world at that time, as they are now. In the case of the Wallabies, if you look at the players who played in this match, they had almost the entire first team. The faces of the national team can almost be said to be the members of RWC 2019.
Almost a year after this, on November 3, 2018, the All Blacks came to Japan and played a test match against the Japanese national team. The final score was 69-31, and the Japanese team at that time was also almost a regular member of the RWC 2019 squad. The All Blacks, however, were in the third class. Only a few members of this team played in the RWC 2019. There were quite a few players who were capped for the first time. To my recollection, more than five of them were first-time caps.
What we can see from the data of these two games is that the Japanese national team, up to this point, had a large gap in strength with the world’s strongest nations. This means that they rapidly gained strength over the next year or so. During this period, there was growing criticism of HC Joseph for his lack of results. It was widely believed that the team would not be able to advance to the final tournament.
Now, the time for the game to start is approaching and the seats in the stadium are filling up. According to the publicity, there were 17,004 spectators that day. The capacity of this stadium is 40,000, so it was almost 40% full. Because of the new Corona’s limited entry, only half of the tickets should have been sold, which means 80% of the tickets were sold.
This time the Wallabies were in almost as good a shape as they were the last time they played Japan. Depending on the outcome of this match, the next three matches in Europe will be decided. Although the Japanese team will be up against a higher-ranked opponent, I hope that they will do their best to win the match.
The national anthem of the Australian Wallabies (Advance Australia Fair).
Next, the national anthem (Kimigayo) of the Japanese national team was sung.
Then the kickoff. The Wallabies scored first in the 7th minute of the first half, when SO Cooper cut in from near the enemy 22-meter line and handed an off-load pass to WTB Tom Wright, who scored a try near the center of the goal. Cooper then converted to give the Wallabies a 0-7 lead.
Japan’s first score came in the 16th minute of the first half. Japan’s SO Matsuda scored a PG in the enemy line, and the Wallabies were behind by 4 points.
22 minutes into the first half. After a series of attacks by the Wallabies, the ball went right in front of the enemy’s goal, and FB Petaia scored a try. The Wallabies converted the try to take an 11-point lead at 3-14.
25 minutes into the first half. Japan national team SO Matsuda kick-passes to the right from the center of the enemy 22m line. WTB Lemeki catches the pass, passes it to another player, and scores a try in the right corner. Matsuda also converted the try, and Japan was behind by 2 points, 10-14.
32nd minute of the first half. In the 32nd minute of the first half, Japan SO Matsuda scored a PG in front of the opponent’s goal, 13-14.
In the last minute of the second half, Wallabies SO Cooper scored a PG to make it 13-17, and the first half ended with the Wallabies leading by 4 points.
The Wallabies led by 4 points at the end of the first half, but Japan made many mistakes in the set piece, especially in the lineout. They were also penalized for scrummaging at crucial moments. In addition, they were turned over more often than usual in dense battles at rucks.
Two minutes into the second half, the Wallabies scored a try from a lineout in front of the opposition goal, with prop Folau Fainga scoring in the right corner. The Wallabies lead by 9 points, 13-22.
Eight minutes into the second half, the Wallabies score another try. The Wallabies lead by 14 points, 13-27. The Wallabies lead by 14 points.
15 minutes into the second half, the Wallabies move wide to the left as the Japanese team moves into enemy territory. Japanese team CTB Nakamura intercepted a long pass to the outermost player. The conversion goal was scored by SO Tamura, who came on as a substitute, to bring Japan within 7 points at 20-27.
Nakamura’s try brought the game back from the Wallabies. Nakamura’s try was priceless. It was the most exciting moment of the day in the stadium.
33 minutes into the second half. Japan’s SO Tamura scored a PG from the center of the field, nearly 50 meters, to bring the score to 23-27. Only one more try is needed to turn the game around. Good luck, Japan!
78th minute. The Wallabies form a maul from a lineout in front of the opposition goal, and prop Alaalatoa pushes it in for a try.
The conversion goal failed, and the game ended. The Wallabies of Australia beat the Japanese national team.
Although the national team lost, I was thrilled to be able to enjoy my first test match in Japan since RWC 2019.
I was going back to Tokyo in the afterglow of the game. Thank you, Oita. I’ll be back soon. Next time, I want to relax in a hot spring.
On the way back, we rented a car and headed for Oita Airport. After about an hour of driving on the expressway, we finally arrived at the airport. According to the meter in the car, it was 64km from the stadium to the airport. Well, that’s what I call a trip, isn’t it? “It reminded me of Tetsuya Takeda’s song, “I’ve come a long way.
At 6:00 p.m., it was indeed getting dark. I had some ramen noodles for dinner inside the airport, went through the ticket gate, and finally went to the boarding gate. It’s been two years since I’ve been on an airplane due to the new Corona.
Now I’m going back to Tokyo. After this, I want to go to Europe to follow the Japan national team, but I’m going to be patient and cheer on the team on TV. Good luck, Japan national team!