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Tripped on first hurdle, but abundant adventures ahead

By David O’Sullivan 

It’s the morning after the big Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand. The KayaFM team was there, courtesy of FNB, proud supporters of the Springboks and our partners for this trip to Japan. It’s time for us to take stock of the memorable events of the day.

While the result wasn’t what South Africa wanted, the response from the fans at Yokohama International Stadium was not one of dejection and misery. Rather, there was an upbeat sense that, despite the relatively poor performance by the Springboks, this is a team that still has the mental and physical strength to get to the Final. This result means a tougher route to get there, with the prospect of meeting Ireland, ranked number 1 in the world, in the quarterfinals and a rematch against the All Blacks in the Final.

The atmosphere outside the stadium was fantastic. The KayaFM team arrived three hours before kickoff to find many of the pavement restaurants and pubs packed with South African and New Zealand fans. As with rugby crowds, there was no animosity between the rival camps. There was a huge amount of respect between the supporters, as they wished each other good luck for the match with high fives.

The Japanese people appear to have adopted one or other of the teams for the day, and we saw many locals decked out in either Bok or All Black jerseys, many with the country’s flag painted on their faces.

The Japanese police know how to handle a crowd and the streets were cordoned off to allow easy pedestrian access. Everything is done with a smile and a nod. No one tries to take a shortcut or disrupt the system. It’s all very orderly and good-natured. The Japanese are a very methodical nation. They go about their business quietly and efficiently and that’s what we saw from the crowd that swarmed into the stadium.

The vibe was electric inside Yokohama International Stadium, a world-class venue that accommodated over 63 000 people for the match. The buzz of anticipation was palpable as we strolled among the souvenir stands and food stalls selling the usual burger and hot dogs. We looked for noodles to no avail. The Springboks fans were giving each other nervous shouts of encouragement and wishing the All Black fans good luck in the expectation of another uncompromisingly tough encounter.

The match itself was played in an unfamiliar atmosphere. Because the Japanese people are quiet by nature – it’s considered rude to raise your voice in public – there was a somewhat eerie silence as the game was played. Certainly you could hear the South African and New Zealand fans shouting and singing, but for the main part the stadium was much quieter than you would find at Ellis Park, Loftus or even Twickenham. That didn’t detract from the spectacle on the field and when Cheslin Kolbe went on one of his dazzling runs, the Stadium erupted.

After the match, the disappointed Springbok fans commiserated with one another while gracious Kiwis consoled them by looking forward to the next potential match-up between these two teams in the final.

Earlier in the morning, the KayaFM team had gone down to the Shibuya District where thousands of people gather for the shops and restaurants. We wanted to meet up with rugby fans and weren’t disappointed.  We saw many fans from Argentina, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and, of course, from Japan. We were the typical tourists, taking in the beautiful sights of Tokyo.

We travelled on the magnificent Yurekamome rail transit line. It’s the Gautrain on steroids with the most amazing views of the city. This is the easiest and quickest way to see the breathtaking views of Tokyo and Tokyo Bay.

Shibuya Crossing is one of the tourist attractions in Tokyo. It’s the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world, rivalling Times Square in New York or Piccadilly Circus in London. At its peak, 2000 people could cross the intersection at one time. Typically of the Japanese, no one jaywalks.

It’s also the place to find a statue of a little dog named Hachiko. In 1924, he lived with his owner Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the Tokyo Imperial University in Shibuya. Every day the dog would walk to the station to wait for Ueno to come home from work. One day Ueno didn’t come home. He had had a stroke and died. Every day for the next 10 years Hachiko walked to the station to wait for his owner. He became a symbol of faithfulness and loyalty. His statue is a tourist attraction and on Friday Hachiko was dressed in a Japanese rugby jersey. He had briefly become a symbol for the Red Blossoms (or Brave Blossoms). People were queuing to have their photo with him.

Shibuya Crossing is also the site for huge advertising billboards, and the largest and most prominent of them all was for Asics, the footwear supplier to the Springboks. A large advert featuring Siya Kolisi, Eben Etzebeth and Beast Mtawarira looms large over the famous crossing.

Also Read: Navigating different identities in a Pseudo-Pan-African society

We’ve been here for a three days, but we have so many memories and experiences that it feels much longer. Many more adventures lie ahead.

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