The second annual The Real Japan MeetUp took place in Kobe on 30th November 2019.
Despite an 11th hour 'hitch' (more about that below), it was another great opportunity to say "Thank you" everyone who supports The Real Japan, and to meet existing friends and make new ones.
What's It All About?
The annual The Real Japan MeetUp is a chance for anyone in the global TRJ community to come together, in Japan, to meet fellow travellers, to catch up with friends and make new ones.
Each year I pick a location somewhere in Japan and announce it first to our subscribers and then on social media.
The MeetUps are informal and friendly, an opportunity to get together and connect with other members of the TRJ community, over a bite to eat and a few drinks.
Those who come along are a mixture of TRJ followers who live in Japan, plus TRJ subscribers who happen to be in Japan at the time of the MeetUp.
All attendees share a passion for exploring Japan
Followers living in Japan form the second largest group of subscribers, and are a combination of non-Japanese who have moved to Japan and Japanese nationals.
All share a passion for exploring Japan.
Choosing The Venue
Having decided on Kobe as the location for this year's MeetUp, the search for a suitable venue began.
Having considered a few, I whittled it down to a final two. The first was The Harbour Tavern - an independent British-style pub opposite JR Sannomiya train station.
The second was The Hub - a Japanese chain of British-style pubs also in the Sannomiya area of Kobe.
In the end, I opted for The Harbour Tavern for a couple of reasons. One, because I know it and had been there before. Two, because it was independently run and feels really close to being in a genuine British pub.
I made a booking at the venue and set up a Facebook Event page for it, announced it to TRJ subscribers and also promoted on social media.
It's hard to judge exactly how many people will come on the day as there's no formal registration process and some decide to come on the day itself.
A Last-Minute Change of Venue
The event was due to 'officially' run between 5 - 10pm. I arrived at The Harbour Tavern at around 4:45pm and there were already a couple of attendees from last year's meetup already waiting outside.
A promising sign!
One was Pete, who is from Chiba, half way across Japan on the far side of Tokyo (and the lucky winner of last year's goody bag prize).
The pub was due to open at 5pm (so you'd figure the manager would be there by now) but it did not look promising.
The bar takes up the entire 7th floor of the building and the lift was not stopping on that floor. Usually a sign that the business on that floor is not open.
As we waited, two Japanese women turned up. I introduced myself, asking if they were here for The Real Japan MeetUp - and they were (first-timers Chikoto and Tomoko). Including my wife, there were now six of us, waiting out in the cold with no sign of The Harbour Tavern opening.
I'd already messaged the owner when I saw it wasn't open. No response. But now I tried calling him. No answer.
It was probably best to assume that we needed to switch meeting places - and fast before others arrived to a closed venue. Fortunately, having already shortlisted The Hub, which was just a couple of minutes walk away, that change was easy to make.
I quickly updated the Facebook Event page and then messaged about the change on social media.
Within a few minutes I got messages from others saying they'd seen the switch and were on their way to the new location. Last minute drama over, we could get on with the night!
Happy Hour and Food At The Hub
The Hub has a Happy Hour between 5-7pm (when cocktails start from as little at 190yen), British (and guest) beers, and offers free Wi-Fi.
Their food menu includes renditions of British classics such as fish and chips, roast beef and pasties. All served in faux newspaper. (A nice reminder of when fish and chips used to be served on real used newspaper - before the health and safety police had their way!).
Their karaage (deep fried chicken) was most popular with TRJ diners (me included) and the deep fried octopus was tasty too.
I stuck to decent drafts of Guinness for the evening but others (no names!) took full advantage of the discounted cocktails during the pub's Happy Hour.
The TRJ Japan Travel Goody Bag!
Every year there's a Japan Travel goody bag up for grabs. It's packed with travel related goodies like guidebooks, maps, snacks, gifts, and more.
The lucky winner is chosen from a lottery draw. Everyone who would like to win the bag simply puts their name into the draw, which I make towards the end of the evening.
This year's lucky winner was Chris King. Chris lives in Osaka and the man behind FoodToursJapan.com - a guide to the best food tours in Japan.
Included in this year's pack (all wrapped up in a fetching orange Wakayama bag) was an official Visit Wakayama guide. Unbeknowst to me, co-incidentally Chris had plans to visit Wakayama a few days after the MeetUp.
So the inclusion of the guide and timing were 'perfect' as he said in a Tweet a few days later...
Turning Connections Into Friends
One big goal with starting these meetups was to give members of the wider TRJ community a means to come together every year, a welcoming place to meet others with a shared interest in travelling in Japan.
Having now run two of these, and seeing several return attendees, it's great to see that people who had never met before last year's meetup are now friends and using TRJ MeetUps as a way of keeping in touch and widening their social circles in the country.
This is just the kind of thing that I'd hope would be a side benefit for those attending. So it was great to see that actually happening.
People who had never met before last year's meetup were now friends
2020: Olympic Year MeetUp
2020 sees the Olympics coming to Tokyo for the second time in Japan's history. It's likely to be a busy year!
If you're interested in attending next year's meetup be sure to subscribe below, and you won't miss out on securing your place at the 2020 TRJ MeetUp.
In the meantime, here's a short video of this year's event to whet your appetite...
VIDEO: Highlights from The Real Japan MeetUp 2019
(*With thanks to @FoodToursJapan for video clips and extra photos)
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