Search icon


21st Sep 2019

Gavin Cummiskey in Japan – A Guide For Irish Fans

Gavin Cummiskey

There’s a scene in Ridley Scott’s classic 1989 film ‘Black Rain’ when slick New York cop (Michael Douglas) is forced to witness his partner (Andy Garcia) beheaded by a member of the Yakusa at the end of a messy night out in Osaka.

There are two reasons for this introductory paragraph referencing an overly Hollywood portrayal of Japan’s dark underbelly.

Firstly, tourists – even Americans – do not get their heads lopped off in Osaka. This is my second visit to the land of the rising sun and not once have I so much as sensed any trouble. Rambling around the dodgiest parts of Tokyo – Roppongi and Kabukicho – you feel safe even with eyes locked into Google maps.

View this post on Instagram

Osaka colours ? #osaka #osakajapan #japan #travel #travelphotography

A post shared by Senka Pulic (@sendzili) on

I accidentally tested the waters by using myself as bait on the train and strolling down a few dark alleyways when lost. Nobody tried to unzip the backpack or lift a needlessly bulging wallet from open pocket.

They get you another way, as Yen flows from your credit card.

Japan is weirdly clean. People are friendly to the point of seeming like they were programmed to be this way, especially in the service industry, where tipping is simply not done, so that’s not their motivation.

It seems so strange. Then you realise you are the weirdo. Not them. This is their society. Not yours.

These are not complaints, just a reality for Gaijins (foreigners); they are never going to tell us what we are doing wrong. Japanese people are too polite.

View this post on Instagram

Yazdan sonbahara geçiş için güzel paylaşım değil mi?. . . Burda olmak istediğin arkadaşını etiketle? . ? @dchantie . . . . . . . . . . #osaka #tokyo #japonya #japan #doğa #natur #osakacentralpark

A post shared by Şimdi Burada Olsak (@simdiburadaolsak) on

Secondly, if by the off chance your best mate does get beheaded in the coming weeks at the Rugby World Cup, reach out to me on Twitter as I recently had dinner with the consul from the Irish embassy. He seems whip-smart and would know exactly where to drown your sorrows while he cuts through the red tape to ensure both ceann and body find their way
back to Dublin.

The restaurant, by the way, where diplomats and journalists chowed down comes highly recommended – check out for a never ending supply of delicious local cuisine, and the slickest table service imaginable. In Yokohama you can find this fairly exclusive chain beside Sakuragicho station, a 30 minute spin on the green line from the stadium where Ireland faces Scotland. This is the same 72,000 capacity ground where the original Ronaldo plundered two sneaky goals as Brazil beat Germany in the 2002 World Cup final. Heads up: there’s nothing around the ground or any stadia in Japan. Get downtown as quick as you can.

After dinner roll around the teeny tiny bars of Nogecho.

Yokohama is easy living after a week in hectic Tokyo.

This weekend most of the highfalutin rugby folk are on package deals so they will probably be transported in and out of Yokohama from their Tokyo base.

That would be a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, the sprawling metropolis is a magic experience that takes weeks, months, even years to fully explore (For one night only in Tokyo I’d point you towards Omoide Yokocho, known locally as ‘Piss Alley’ – although none of that goes on unless you want to end up like Andy – near Shinjuku station for an essential dinner in any of the shebeen type eateries. Squeeze in and devour what you’re given before the wandering the lanes of Golden Gai until sufficiently lubricated).

But Yokohama, with its slower vibe, is well worth stalling for a night or two. It’s only 35 minutes from the capital on the Blade Runner transport system.

View this post on Instagram

Hell of a first night ?? #yokohama #gyukaku #gassrootsbar #rwc2019 #fanzone

A post shared by ? Alasdair ? (@alasdairsucks) on  

Chinatown, with a rich 160 year history, offers a few fascinating hours during the day. The seafront is equally worth a stroll to clear the head and moving a street back, opposite the Silk Museum there’s a collection of bars with rooftop terraces that might float your boat on these humid nights.

Soon all the oak tree humans – Afrikaners and Kiwis – will have departed. Ideally, we’ll see these giant men come mid October when they’ll have to take Ireland seriously. You know how it goes. The Springboks and All Blacks need to be beaten at a World Cup before they ever truly believe Ireland rugby can dine at the top table.

In the meantime, don’t let the thrill of the rugby overly intrude on the discovering Japan.

Listen to the locals. Their OCD is off the charts but when they grow accustomed to your presence, and you respect their ways, deeper elements of an alien yet fascinating culture will be revealed.

How about your tattoos?

This could be the rock that Japan’s youth fight their elders upon. For now, it makes them cringe when asking visitors to either cover up their body art of leave the onsens (hot springs that are a cleansing experience when you are separated by gender for a naked soak). A strict no tattoo policy still exists. This is due to the Yakuza, for real this time, covering themselves with full body irezumi even on their genitalia.

Still we ask the locals why it matters so much?

“Japanese rule.”

But why?

“Japanese culture.”

These sort of conversations loop around forever.

“The Japanese are very circumspect on foreigners,” says a rugby coach
living here five years.

You can discover all this for yourself, and constantly disagree with their polite demands over what seems the smallest issue, and they will keep serving up pints if you just want to get smashed in the World Cup fanzone.

Or you can do what they do and see where it goes…

Most of all, eat your heart out.  Must visit Osaka next.