With the Rugby World Cup and ABTA Convention both being staged there next year, and the Olympic Games in 2020, now is the time to ‘think Japan’ but many games will be played in Japanese cities which are unfamiliar. We look at some of the best host cities.

Trying times

Next year’s Rugby World Cup is set to attract a host of visitors to Japan from across the UK and Ireland.

With games featuring England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland taking place throughout the country for six weeks between September and November, it will provide visiting fans with an opportunity to explore a country that’s still a mystery to many.

England fans can see their team play in Sapporo, Kobe and Tokyo; Wales fans will follow their team to the cities of Aichi, Tokyo, Oita and Kumamoto; and Scotland and Ireland supporters will be visiting Yokohama, Kobe and Shizuoka.

David Higgins, General Manager of Japan specialist Links Travel & Tours said: “As some matches are in lesser-visited regions and cities, it is an excellent opportunity for visitors to see the ‘real Japan’. For example Sapporo, a world-famous ski resort, is also known for its beer, and the cosmopolitan city of Kobe produces some of the best beef in the world.”

With ABTA having announced that its next convention will take place in Tokyo in October 2019, and with the Olympics being held in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan’s visibility is sure to soar. UK visitor numbers have been growing steadily, from 220,000 in 2014 to more than 310,000 in 2017. And for the first half of 2018, numbers were up 8% on the same period of 2017.

Tickets and travel packages for the rugby are being sold direct by official providers. Individual ticket sales on a first come, first served basis, can be obtained from rugbyworldcup.com

However, trade-friendly operators including Links Travel & Tours and Inside Japan Tours have put together packages based around the tournament without match tickets.

The rugby games will be spread out across three of Japan’s four main islands – Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu. The tournament begins on September 20, 2019 and ends with the final in Yokohama on November 2, 2019.

 

Hokkaido

Japan’s most northerly island will be on England fans’ radar when the team kick off their World Cup campaign against Tonga at the Sapporo Dome on September 22, 2019.

The mountainous island is well-known for its natural splendour, both for flora and fauna. It is cooler than other parts of the country and bright autumn colours look spectacular against the crisp blue skies.

Capital Sapporo, which hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics, is Japan’s fifth-largest city. The Sapporo Beer Museum traces the history of brewing in the city and the beer named after it, and offers tastings. Jozankei Onsen is a mountain hot spring an hour from Sapporo.

Honshu

With eight stadiums hosting games, Japan’s main island will be the focal point for much of the tournament. Tokyo will host several group games, including one each featuring Wales and England, and two quarter finals. The bustling city has many sights to take in, among them the soaring Tokyo Skytree tower with its two observation decks and historic Sensoji Temple. Getting around by train and subway is easy.

Scotland and Ireland are both in Pool A and will play games in three Honshu cities.

Yokohama

To the south lies Yokohama, the country’s second-largest city, where Scotland and Ireland face each other on September 22, 2019 in the first of their Pool A games, as well as a later game each. It will also host the semi finals and final. The Minato Mirai port area of this futuristic city is the main hub, housing entertainment, shopping and cultural attractions besides its boardwalk-style Osanbashi Pier where cruise ships dock. Another must-see is Sankeien Garden, a traditional garden that features historic buildings reconstructed from all over Japan.

Shizuoka

Two hours from Tokyo by bullet train, the city of Shizuoka lies at the foot of Mount Fuji. View it from places including Miho no Matsubara beach and the Nihondaira Plateau, where a cable car links to the 17th century Kunozan Toshogu shrine. Enjoy hot springs and beaches on the Izu Peninsula, and stay in a traditional ryokan inn.

Kobe

Kobe, in the far south of Honshu and a 75-minute flight from Tokyo, has numerous tasty attractions along with its marbled beef. Take the Shin-Kobe Ropeway cable car past the Nunobiki Waterfall up Mount Rokko for panoramic views over the city. Arima Onsen is Kobe’s most famous hot spring.

Toyota City

Toyota City, 35 minutes from central gateway city Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, will host the opening game for Wales against Georgia on September 23, 2019. The city is home to car-maker Toyota and changed its name to that of the automobile brand in the 1950s. Visitors can take a tour of its main plant and visit the Toyota Kaikan Museum or head to Asuka and Korankei Gorge (pictured) to enjoy their stunning autumn colours.

Other Honshu cities with stadiums hosting group games are: Kamaishi in the far north of the island: Kumagaya, north-west of Tokyo; and Higashiosaka, located in Osaka Prefecture.

Kyushu

Wales fans can explore Kyushu island, the most southerly of Japan’s main islands, before or after their team’s final Pool D game against Uruguay on October 13, 2019 at Kumamoto City. Warmer than Honshu, it is covered in lush green countryside, with quiet beaches and dramatic volcanoes and steaming hot springs in the south.

Oita’s stadium is where Wales play Fiji. It also stages two semi finals. The city is the capital of Oita Prefecture, which is famed for its “Hells of Beppu” onsen (hot spring) with its eight steaming thermal pools and a geyser. Main city Fukuoka is another Rugby World Cup group venue. It boasts museums, megamalls and ancient shrines among its attractions.

Where to book it

Links Travel & Tours offer an eight-day Kobe to Tokyo land-package starts from £1,745pp. It includes a seven-day Japan Rail Pass and takes in Hiroshima, Osaka, Japan’s historic capital of Kyoto with sights such as the Golden Pavilion and Kyoto Imperial Palace, the city of Hakone and Tokyo.

Inside Japan Tours has the 21-day Spirit of Samurai land-only package, from October 15 to November 5, 2019, starts in Osaka and visits Oita, Yokohama and Tokyo, allowing fans to take in two quarter finals, the semi finals and final game on a self-guided tour that also includes plenty of cultural experiences. The £4,440 price excludes flights and match tickets but includes bullet train and local train travel, and accommodation, with a one night stay in a ryokan inn in Hakone National Park.

 

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