The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be held in Japan this autumn. Here's a handy survival guide for first-time Irish travelers.
Here are our 10 tips to help you travel to the Rugby World Cup in 2019
1. English is everywhere
Don't worry about finding your way in a nation where you can't read or speak the language. English signposting is everywhere you go. The language barrier will not the problem you may think it is.
From the airports to the subways to the ATMs and shops, you will know you're on the other side of the world but you will rarely ever feel lost.
Some travelers say the language issue is a deal breaker for them, but those travelers have simply never been to Japan. Like Ireland, Japan is one of the most ancient (and modern) cultures in the world, so as well as a fantastic sporting event it'll be the holiday of a lifetime.
2. It's easy to book a hotel room
Booking a room in Japan is a cinch. For first time visitors, we strongly recommend the Tokyu Hotels Group, which run four and five-star hotels across the nation and offer unparalleled customer service and luxury at a surprisingly affordable price point.
The Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel, located in the dynamic Shibuya ward of Tokyo is a perfect choice because it offers everything you could ask for in a first-time visit.
Featuring an ideal location, close to all the main subway lines, with first-class customer service and spotless accommodation, and western and Japanese style dining (you can mix and match if you choose) it should be your first choice.
For a five-star visit, we recommend The Capitol Hotel Tokyu, centrally located in the Akasaka district of Minato, Tokyo, which is located in view of the Japanese Prime Minister's official residence.
The Capitol Hotel Tokyu is the kind of five stars that can give customer service lessons to all others. The rooms are spacious and spotlessly maintained, with jaw-dropping views of the Tokyo skyline.
For a luxury first-time stay with easy access to the city (the subway is literally at the door) and the airport you really can't do better.
Getting to your hotel from the airport is often a much easier prospect in Japan that the U.S. (with its infinitely superior transport infrastructure).
You can choose between trains, high-speed trains, buses and taxis and all many of them will take you door to door (you'll be grateful for that after a 14-hour flight).
3. Booking a cheap flight to Japan is easy
Getting to Japan is much easier than you think and now there are a host of iPhone apps like Hopper and Flight Drop to help you book a ticket at a terrific price point (both monitor fare prices all day every day to offer you the best deals).
And did you know you can actually fly there from La Guardia on Air Canada? That's impressively close to home, easy to get to, and much less of a hassle than the huge crowds waiting in line to clear security at JFK.
Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge has just opened at La Guardia (after winning the Best Airline in North America Award from Skytrax for the seventh time in the last nine years) featuring a warm welcome before your flight.
Smart travelers know that on long haul flights like this it's better to fly Premium Economy and avail of wider seats with more recline (there's 7 inches more legroom).
We recommend flying with them as its newest fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners has 21 premium economy seats to book.
Premium Economy also offers a better inflight entertainment system and a business class meal. The sooner you book your tickets the more you'll save.
4. Get a Japan Rail Pass BEFORE you travel
You must purchase your Japan Rail Pass before traveling to Japan and it will allow you to travel on the famous Shinkansen (bullet trains) all over the country for the duration of your pass (usually a week or two).
The pass is offered by the six companies that make up the Japan Railways Group, so coverage is comprehensive.
5. Be sure to visit Tokyo
Many of the Irish Rugby World Cup games will kick off outside the Japanese capital city but don't let that deter you from spending at least a few days in what Condé Nast call the greatest city on earth.
Tokyo is diverse, fascinating, easy to navigate, full of outstanding dining options featuring the cuisines of all nations (including Ireland), and so safe.
Subway trains arrive on the dot of their estimated arrival times and things just run smoothly. Imagine New York but with a functioning, fully-funded infrastructure that takes real pride in its work and you're halfway there.
But more than that, it is quite rare to encounter public rudeness or selfishness on the streets, passengers will immediately give up their seats for elderly passengers, you will start to notice you're in a culture that puts other people first.
If you want to see what it's like to live in an ultra-modern city where things just work there is no better bet than Tokyo. The biggest culture shock you will experience will probably come from discovering that a humble 7 Eleven can actually stock fresh, well-made, delicious healthy food, for example.
You'll probably be agog at all the things that Tokyo dwellers take for granted.
6. The Japanese and the Irish have much more in common than you think
You may be surprised to hear this, but the Japanese are quite like us: an island nation, with a deep respect for their cultural traditions, they truly enjoy having the craic, and they love a good story.
One famous Irish person who noticed the parallels between his home country of Ireland and Japan was Lafcadio Hearn, a contemporary of W.B. Yeats.
Just as the famous Irish poet did in Sligo and the west, the Dublin-raised Hearn collected the folk tales of Japan in a book he called Kwaidan, which is now one of the most revered collections of spooky tales in the Japanese language.
That both of these Irishmen were collecting folk tales at either side of the world, in Ireland and Japan, just as these tales were being lost is an act of cultural rescue that is deeply appreciated in both nations.
They knew each other and corresponded. It was inevitable that people working at similar undertakings would.
And did you know an Irishman composed the Japanese national anthem? It's true. The first version of Japan’s national anthem was composed by an Irishman, William Fenton.
Why do I bring all this up? Because I realize, like Hearn once did, that what unites us is always stronger than what divides us.
7. Take your time and you'll be rewarded
Tourists to Japan can be unmoored by the surface strangeness of things. You can get into your head wondering if you're “doing it right” from the moment you arrive until the moment you take off.
This doesn't need to happen to you. Take my advice here: get out of your own way.
Japanese people warmly respond to displays of consideration. If you don't know the right way to do something - like share your business card or bow to a stranger to prevent giving unintentional offense - take a moment to look around you for all the social cues. Better yet, ask.
Watch what others do, too. Calm down and don't stress out about it. You're just practicing common courtesy, not rocket science. You've got this.
Just put the other person first and stop worrying about yourself so much and you'll be fine.
8. Dress up a little bit. Seriously.
One of the things you're going to notice pretty quickly is that wearing cargo shorts and a Walmart t-shirt anywhere in Japan is a mistake.
And since cargo shorts and a Walmart t-shirt are the tourist garb of a large slice of the American public, it can come as a surprise to them that dressing this casually really doesn't fly in Japan.
Instead of packing what you wear around the den or the man cave bring something that shows a little thought and style. Dress up a little bit. You don't need to pair every shirt with a tie but some formality is appreciated here.
9. Irish people have been making an impression on Japan for centuries
On Saint Patrick's Day in Tokyo, you will see traditional Japanese drumming and Irish step-dancing in the same parade and guess what? They get on surprisingly well. I mean look at this hurler following these samurai, what's not to love about this cultural exchange.
180,000 people turned out for the main St. Patrick's Day Parade in Tokyo this March (it's the biggest Irish celebration in Asia) and they had the time of their lives.
10. Visit the shrines and temples whenever you can
Seamus Heaney said it best: gods long outlive our mortal lives so pay them their due. The Japanese have a deep sense of the sacred, particularly when it comes to the natural world, and at times it will strongly remind you of home.
They're better gardeners than us though, there's simply no contest in that regard. If you have any time between rugby matches (and I'm sure you will) can we strongly suggest you visit Kyoto and the ancient shrines and temples that can be found all over the city?
They will quietly awe you and introduce you to one of the best parts of Japanese life: the respect that is paid to both the old and the new.
Now, what are you waiting for? Book your tickets!