As we get closer to Melbourne Victory’s return to Asian Champions League action, Victory fan BenitoWill has written the ultimate guide to traveling around Japan. If you are thinking about whether or not to make the trip in March, give this a read.
ARTICLE NOW UPDATED WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION OF TRAVELLING AROUND OSAKA AND OUR OPPONENTS, GAMBA OSAKA
Benito’s Guide to Japan Away
Gamba Osaka, we meet once again. After the Kansei club’s Emperor’s Cup Final triumph on New Years’ Day, Melbourne Victory will make the trip to Japan’s second largest city in March, and it will not disappoint as an Asian Champions League away day experience for the fans.
The football culture of Japan in almost without peer in Asia, with three competitive divisions of 18, 22 and 14 clubs, fanatical supporters with loud and colourful active ends that actually sing non-stop (stay with me South Enders), and a wide variety of food and beverage at the stadiums, putting the fare at Swan Street or Docklands to shame.
Crowds in Japan for the ACL are generally smaller than at league games just like in Australia, but as Victory’s trip to Japan falls at the beginning of a new J.League season, there should be enough buzz amongst the locals to attract a decent crowd.
Firstly, a background of my experience and insight. My partner comes from a small town in the alpine prefecture of Nagano, so I’ve spent some time travelling Japan, learning Japanese and will be returning again in January 2016.
In 2013, I went to see my partner’s hometown team Matsumoto Yamaga play a J2 game against then-relegated Gamba Osaka, and have kept an eye on their results ever since.
I also used to work as a travel agent, selling Japan as a destination regularly.
Why is Japan great?
• Public transport: It just works. Fast, regular, easy to use and well connected.
• Food: Famous worldwide, diverse, fresh and seasonal. Get stuck into fresh sashimi, a hot bowl of ramen, or my favourite, soba noodles. Also, food in Japan is generally quite cheap, compared to everything else at least.
• Nightlife: There is something for everyone in the largest city the world (37 million people), Tokyo. Neon lights, nightclubs, bars, izakaya and the infamous ‘Love Hotels’. You’re guaranteed to have one of your greatest after-game benders in Japan’s mega-cities.
• Culture: Away from match day, you might want to actually explore the country, its culture and meet the wonderful Japanese people. There are castles, shrines, gardens and temples everywhere. It’s worthwhile getting outside of the big cities for a couple of days to see the traditional side of Japan.
Jetstar fly direct from Melbourne to Narita-Tokyo Airport daily and usually have quite reasonable prices. Book early. It’s unlikely a Jetstar sale will come on for travel dates only 3 months away, and March is straddled between peak ski season and the Sakura (cherry blossom) bloom season of April. You shouldn’t be paying any more than $850 return with bags. As of 22nd December, return airfares were around $720.00 per person with 20kgs luggage for dates around early March.
If Jetstar is booked out by the time you get around to it, try Qantas or ANA via Sydney or Brisbane, usually closer to $900-1000 though.
Buy a Japan Rail Pass. Rail travel is without doubt the best way to get around and see Japan. It’s fast, well priced (for foreigners at least), and always on time. There’s a couple of different passes you can buy, 5-day flexi, 7-day & 14-day unlimited depending on how long you stay, but don’t leave Australia without buying one, as they are unattainable once you get to Japan. Contact JTB who I believe exclusively sell them. http://www.jtbtravel.com.au/
Australian passport holders do not require visas for stays of less than 90 days. Just make sure you have proof of a return ticket.
Victory’s trip to Japan falls on March 2nd, when it is still typically quite cool, just coming out of winter. Pack a decent jacket and scarf.
Getting from the airport
Get your Japan Rail exchange order exchanged for your actual JR Pass at the airport’s JR office once you get through customs, and then protect it like a newborn. It’s impossible to get a replacement.
Then, take the Narita Express to Tokyo Station and then onward to the match day destination.
Tokyo and Osaka have your typical Western-style hotels, as well as youth hostels if you’re doing it on the cheap. Keep in mind that the Japanese style of bedding is often simply a futon (a Japanese word) on the floor or tatami mat. Most hotels in the big cities should have Western-style beds though, if you’re fussy. Just ask.
Try the Capsule Hotels for a night for an authentic Tokyo salaryman experience, or splurge on a Ryokan (Japanese Inn) outside of the cities for a day or two if you’re planning to stay for a couple of weeks, particularly if you’re travelling as a couple.
Where to stay, what to do – Tokyo
Shibuya and Shinjuku are the two most popular areas to stay for nightlife, dining and attractions.
In Shibuya you’ll find endless Izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of pubs or bars, popular for after-work drinking for the locals. Also within Shibuya is the Harujuku neighbourhood, home of Japan’s street and sub-culture fashion.
Shinjuku is the major economic hub of Japan, so lots of salarymen, but that also means plenty of nightspots where they go to unwind. Check out the Golden Gai neighbourhood for tiny bars with different music themes, popular bar-hopping area for arty types in Tokyo, I’m told.
For the adventurous, Kabukicho, located in Shinjuku, is the red-light district of Tokyo. Numerous nightclubs, ‘host and hostess’ clubs and ‘rabu hoteru’ for those that get lucky. Just be careful of the Yakuza, who frequent and control many of the establishments.
Food wise, if you’re really into sushi and sashimi, ensure you visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish market in the world. You don’t have to be a wholesaler to visit, there are a number of small retail restaurants that serve up fine fresh fish and seafood. Go early to avoid queues, but it’s worth the wait.
Where to stay, what to do – Osaka
Dōtonbori is the main nightlife, dining and entertainment district of Osaka, based around the Dotonbori Canal.
Osaka is well known for its food culture. The people even have a word that roughly means “to ruin oneself by extravagance of food” – Kuidaore 食い倒れ.
Okonomiyaki is popular to Osaka (although Hiroshima does it better), but make sure you try Takoyaki, fried balls of batter and diced Octopus.
Gamba Osaka will need little introduction to most Melbourne Victory fans, but since our last meeting in a 1-1 draw at Docklands in 2011, the Kansai club were relegated to J.League Division 2 at the end of the 2012 season (despite scoring more goals than any other club that season!), promoted straight back the following year as they walked it in as J2 Champions (99 goals in 42 games), and subsequently won the 2014 J1 title in their first attempt back in the top flight.
Midfield maestro Yasuhito Endo is still pulling the strings in the middle and is as dangerous as ever. They also have two key goalscorers in Japanese international and former Bayern Munich loanee Takashi Usami and Brazilian forward Patric, with 19 and 12 goals in the 2015 J.League campaign respectively.
This year, Gamba Osaka will finally move into their new purpose-built Suita City Stadium. It has a capacity of 40,000 and looks spectacular. Melbourne Victory fans will be some of the very first away fans to visit.
Gamba are yet to play a competitive game at their new Suita City Football Stadium, so it’s been hard to find details of the best public transport route to the stadium, but it is in close vicinity of their old Expo ’70 Stadium in Suita, north of the centre of Osaka.
The closest station appears to be Bampaku-kinen-koen Station on the Osaka Monorail line. Catch the Midosuji Line from either Namba (Dotonburi), Umeda (next to Osaka Station) or Shin-Osaka Station (The Shinkansen/bullet-train station, if you’re coming from Tokyo or elsewhere in Japan) towards Senri-Chou. Then change for the Osaka Monorail towards Bampaku-kinen-koen Station. Suita City is a 5-10 minute walk south east of the station.
Phrases to get you by:
Konnichiwa – Hello
Sayonara – Goodbye
Arigato – Thank you
Hai / I-e – Yes/No
Go–men–na–sai – Sorry
Bī-ru o o-ne-gaishi-mas – I’d like a beer, please
Su-goy gō-ru – Golazo/what a goal!
‘Melbourne Victory’ no fan des – I follow the Vuck
If there’s anything I’ve missed or you would like me to expand on, just tweet me at @BenitoWill and I’ll do my best to answer.