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As well as Osaka, there’s plenty to enjoy at Japan’s other World Cup venues

Island highlights:
Behind Fukuoka’s
urban grittiness
are attractive
sandy beaches


THE Rugby World Cup runs from September 20 to November 2 and if you just stick to Tokyo, you’ll spend much of your time astonished: at facial-recognition vending machines, diligently observed subway queuing bays, incomprehensible transport maps and city-sized computer-game arcades. It’s a huge, vital, neon-soaked planet of beauty and brouhaha, of mighty Muji stores and intense, exotic culture. It’s a must.

See: The cosplaying teens of Harajuku. The red-gated, retreat-like Nezu Shrine. The famous pedestrian crossing at Shibuya. And the Imperial Palace’s double bridges and witch-hatted buildings.

Eat: Find a vintage izakaya, a seated bar — ideally small and low-lit — where whiskies and beers are accompanied by an eternal procession of steamed plates. Once you’re full, hostesses just guestimate how much you owe.

Stay: Scaffold-style design at the affordable OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka sees loft beds raised above lounges in cypress-wood bedrooms. Below is a café-bar-library common area.


Though most famous for February’s snow-sculpture festival, dynamic Sapporo rewards all year round. A gastro hotspot, it doubles as a jumping-off point for northerly isle Hokkaido’s volcanic scenery and hot springs.

See: Seafood rice bowls reward foodies at Nijo market, while the Makomanai Takino Cemetery honours spiritual icons, hence its full-size Stonehenge replica. At night, Sapporo TV Tower offers a fine vantage point above the city’s neon dazzle.

Eat: Miso ramen noodles are a regional favourite; side streets brim with devoted restaurants. Lamb is another speciality, while beer fuels the Sapporo Autumn Fest — which happily coincides with England v Tonga on September 22.

Stay: Rooms with tree-themed wallpaper and a hot spring-fed pool await at Hotel Keihan,


Spring to it: The Arima Onsen resort in Kobe

Much rebuilt following 1995’s Great Hanshin earthquake, Kobe is characterised by a cosmopolitan vibe (especially in buzzy quarter Kitano-cho), green space, and good art and fashion museums. Cable cars, ascending forested peaks above, afford fine views back over the Seto Inland Sea.

See: Some of Kobe’s best sights occupy its margins, including peaceful Arima Onsen, Japan’s oldest hot-spring resort, and Hyogo’s colossal Buddha statue, near the stadium where England, Ireland and Scotland play group-stage games.

Eat: Kobe beef, a soft-fat marvel whose delicate flavour is unrivalled. Try Wanto Burger if you’re on a budget ( Sake (rice wine) production is also extensive here — producers dot the Nada district.

Stay: Hotel Piena has chocolate-hued rooms with Italian furniture and a decadent bakery-café.


The original castle town of Fukuoka and, across the Naka river, merchant hub Hakata merged in 1889 to form the biggest city on south-western island Kyushu. Behind Fukuoka’s urban grittiness hide attractive sandy beaches and Tochoji, one of the fairest Buddhist temples around.

See: Competing with Tochoji’s perfect red pagodas is black Shofukuji, Japan’s oldest Zen temple. A different form of worship awaits at Fukuro No Mise, an owl café where you can stroke friendly tawnies and snowies or have them perch on your head.

Eat: While Sapporo swears by miso ramen, the slow-cooked pork-belly tonkotsu ramen — known as Hakata ramen — dominates in these parts.

Stay: Hotel Okura has spacious, pale-wood rooms and, unusually, its own microbrewery.


Japan’s second-largest city is the country’s spiritual rugby home so expect a vibrant World Cup atmosphere. Go also for stellar sunsets, Asia’s largest Chinatown and the jazz-soundtracked Noge district.

See: Part of redeveloped harbour area Minato Mirai 21, the Landmark Tower includes a 69th-floor observation deck. Lifts take 40 seconds to reach it. Across town, Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is devoted to all things noodle.

Eat: Ramen, of course! Yokohama’s other renowned export is Kirin beer: lagerphiles can sip that while following an official Beer Map (

Stay: Functional white-walled rooms with nice amenities await at Hotel Edit. So too does a restaurant focused, curiously, on vegetable dishes and whiskey.

Best of the rest

Oita: Together with noisy neighbour Beppu, Oita — also on Kyushu — is considered Japan’s hot-spring capital and steam-plumed resorts are omnipresent. Fugu is a local delicacy but only consume it in well-established, licensed restaurants: the pufferfish is extremely poisonous.

Kumamoto: Over on west-coast Kyushu, this castle town has an extensive Samurai history and still hosts artisan sword-makers. It also majors in yummy red wagyu beef and — eek! — raw horsemeat.

Shizuoka: Guarded by Mount Fuji — which is best scaled from June to September — Shizuoka offers a gateway to glorious sandy beaches and geopark hiking trails. Try to stay for a few days, and be sure to scoff some yellowfin tuna.