JON CARDINELLI reflects on conversations about Nelson Mandela on a far-flung Japanese beach and a sleepy town with terror at its core.
‘Nelson Mandela was a great man,’ a Japanese octogenarian told me as we stood on a dune looking out to the Pacific Ocean.
My new friend didn’t speak much English. I don’t speak a lot of Japanese, but I managed to communicate that I am South African.
She gave me the name that is universally synonymous with the country. No matter how far you go in this world – and the quite coastal town of Omaezaki is about as far from South Africa as it gets – you will always find someone who will make that Mandela-South Africa connection.
Sorita asked me what I was doing so far from home and when I replied she stared at me in surprise.
She wanted to know who I write for and where I was staying in Omaezaki. I wouldn’t usually give out this information. On a whim I decided to tell her.
We said our sayonaras. She hopped into her car while I climbed onto a rusty old bike borrowed from my hotel. I rode off believing that nothing more would come of the encounter.
Change of pace here in Omaezaki after the chaos of Tokyo and the buzz of Nagoya.
— Jon Cardinelli (@jon_cardinelli) September 30, 2019
The streets were quiet. But then the streets of Omaezaki are always quiet.
My colleagues and I discovered this on the day of our arrival when we traipsed around town looking for an izakaya that might be showing the Australia-Wales clash. Everybody we met and asked assured us that no such venue existed in Omaezaki.
The World Cup may be prominent in Tokyo and Nagoya, but in this small corner of rural Japan there doesn’t seem to be much of a presence.
The hillside resort above the town is Japan’s answer to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The Boks had the place to themselves this past week. More than one coach and player described the experience as spooky.
— Jon Cardinelli (@jon_cardinelli) October 1, 2019
Perhaps the Boks should have enjoyed the peace and quiet while it lasted. The Shizuoka prefecture is a hotspot for natural disasters.
‘Tsunami Safe Zone’ screamed the sign outside my hotel. Earthquakes are relatively frequent in this part of the world, and one of my more dramatic colleagues started sketching doomsday scenarios when he learned that there’s a nuclear power station just a few kilometres down the road.
A minor earthquake rippled through the area at 2:15am on Wednesday morning. I slept through it, but was told that the building was shaking.
The Boks felt the tremors up at their hillside palace. Captain Siya Kolisi admitted later that he didn’t know whether to be excited or scared.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) October 3, 2019
Getting around was a challenge. The Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa is a 40-minute taxi journey from Omaezaki. The budget option involves a lengthy bus ride to Kakegawa Station, followed by a train journey to Aino Station, followed by long walk up to the stadium.
After the post-match media conference on Friday, we caught a shuttle from the stadium to Kakegawa, followed by a taxi back to Omaezaki. When I returned to my hotel after midnight, there was a package waiting for me at the front desk.
The Japanese are a generous people who enjoy giving gifts, even to strangers or acquaintances. I opened the package and discovered that Sorita had dropped off some green tea as well as a few newspapers.
It turned out that Sorita had been following the World Cup since the opening ceremony on 20 September. What I’d thought were two or three different newspapers was actually an extensive collection of World Cup-related articles from various publications over the past three weeks.
‘Good luck with your writing,’ the attached note said in English. ‘I hope that you enjoy the rest of your stay in Japan.’
It’s fair to say that the first three weeks of the stay have been pretty special.
Beautiful evening here at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa. Plenty of Bok and Italy fans about.
— Jon Cardinelli (@jon_cardinelli) October 4, 2019