Postcard from Japan: Japanese efficiency a thing of beauty

Long-distance Shinkansen bullet trains at Tokyo station. Picture: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images
Long-distance Shinkansen bullet trains at Tokyo station. Picture: Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images
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Back to Tokyo for my last week here including a quarter-final weekend which sadly doesn’t involve Scotland but two mouth-watering matches to cover – New Zealand v Ireland on Saturday and Japan v South Africa on Sunday.

It’s amazing to think back to when I first arrived in the country’s intimidatingly large and mind-scrambling megalopolis capital just over a month ago.

Back then I felt like ET just arriving on Earth, although that little fella wasn’t restricted to WhatsApp to “phone home” to avoid crippling roaming charges.

After the first week and then a subsequent three moving around this incredible country it’s amazing how quickly things change and you find your feet.

A bit like when you first encounter the London Tube and are initially overwhelmed but, after a few cracks at it, you feel like a proper geezer born within the sound of Bow Bells, barging tourists out of the way and avoiding eye contact with the best of them.

So it was for me arriving back at Shinagawa Station on Tuesday feeling almost like an Edokko, which is the nearest Tokyo equivalent to a Cockney, meaning people of Edo, which was the city’s name in pre-modern times.

My Japan Rail Pass expired on the day Scotland played Japan so no more Shinkansen bullet trains for me, regrettably. But, not to labour a point I and anyone from back home who visits this country makes, the astonishing efficiency, to the point of beauty, of the Japanese rail network never ceases to amaze.

After checking out of my Yokohama hotel I headed straight to the nearest station as there were still murmurings of understandable transport disruption in the wake of Typhoon Hagibis. Upon arrival the guy in the Japan Rail booth told me 400 yen (£2.89) at the ticket machine, then get to platform two but hurry as the train comes in three minutes. Forty minutes later, on a busy standing room only local train, and I was in Tokyo. Remarkable.

I left Yokohama behind for the second time after zooming in and out for the Ireland game previously, without experiencing it much, sadly. A hectic workload and the small matter of 36 hours confined in a hotel room as all hell broke loose outside throughout Saturday put paid to that.

Just south of Tokyo, effectively attached to the capital but with an identity of its own and technically the country’s second-biggest city with a population of 3.5 million, I hope one day to get more time in better circumstances to explore.

It was the city where Japan’s first daily newspaper was published and Kirin beer (my favourite here) comes from, so it’s my kinda town. It also has a museum dedicated to Pot Noodles, or Cup Noodles as they’re called in Japan, which were invented in Yokohama in 1956. It may sound far-fetched but the attraction gets rave reviews and, to top it off, you get to design your own flavour of pot (cup) noodle at the end of the tour. Kobe beef and Kirin beer-flavoured would have been my choice but not to be, this time. Consider it added to the bucket list.

Sunday’s game, the extraordinary build-up, the astonishing match, and the continuing aftermath is dealt with in-depth elsewhere in these pages and on our website. On a personal note all I’d say is that it was a simply magnificent occasion played in an unforgettable atmosphere that I felt lucky to attend. Truly an “I was there” moment.

I have a little ritual where I only take with me the match programmes for games which Scotland have won. But I kept this one. I’m not sure if my programme-obsessed colleague Aidan Smith would approve of such non-completism or appreciate the niche aspect.

All we need now is for a Scotland rugby international to be played on Christmas Day (match programmes from football games played on 25 December being Aidan’s endlessly burning fixation). Win, lose or draw I’d keep that one, too.

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