Meeting Mihoko... the Ladies in Japan

Singing in Japan with 'Ishy'
Singing in Japan with 'Ishy'

Arsenal's first team have not visited Japan since 1968 - but another Gunners squad was there just 18 months ago.

Arsenal Ladies embarked on an 11-day tour of the country at the end of 2011 to raise funds for the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami relief effort.

Shelley Kerr's predecessor Laura Harvey was manager at the time and her squad took part in three matches during their stay, with all funds going to the appeal.

"I've never experienced that welcome before in any other country. They [the people] were out of this world and did anything for us. Anyone who goes there will love it"

Gilly Flaherty

There was plenty of time to see Japan too and the Ladies perused the sights of Kyoto, donned kimonos in preparation for a Japanese banquet and attended a concert by Mihoko Ishida.

Mihoko is no ordinary pop star - she was actually an Arsenal Ladies player before leaving the Club to start her new career in Japan. Mihoko was reunited with her old team-mates and invited Wales star Jayne Ludlow up on stage for a duet!

Gilly Flaherty was one of the players in attendance that night and she remembers the concert well.

"It was interesting!" Flaherty told "It was in a downstairs basement bit of this club in the city.

"Mihoko was at Arsenal a while ago. She sang some songs, they laid on food for us and there was a free bar. Luds got up there and was singing. It was lovely to go there. It was like a mini-concert. I thought the music was decent.

"She sang some old songs with Luds which we all knew and then she sang some of her own songs. She is massive out there and it was really nice of her to have her own private gig with us."

Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne lived with Mihoko during her time in England. "She was lovely and we got on really well," said Byrne.

"I used to give her lifts everywhere so we got to know each other very well. She's a really funny girl. She was learning English so it was tough for her but we had a laugh despite the language barrier. She was a really nice girl and we met her again when we went to Japan. She still keeps in touch with me now.

"As a player she was very quick and very technical. She had a really good touch but she got pushed off the ball a little bit. She came off the bench for the first team a couple of times. If she had stayed for another couple of years, I reckon she would probably have been starting but she was homesick."

Byrne and Flaherty saw Mihoko again in her homeland and they expect Arsene Wenger's squad to have a memorable trip to Japan this summer.

"I'd go back tomorrow," admitted Flaherty. "It was lovely out there. The people out there were probably the nicest I've ever come across in regard to football. They were so enthusiastic and happy to see us. They love Arsenal!

"We went to a signing in a Nike Town and there were hundreds and hundreds of fans outside when we pulled up. It was mental. They were all in the shop trying to get autographs. It was something that I've never experienced before and something I don't think I will ever forget.

"They were so friendly. It was really good. I've never experienced that welcome before in any other country. They were out of this world and did anything for us. Anyone who goes there will love it."

Scroll down for our picture gallery from the Ladies' trip to Japan in 2011.

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