National / Media | Japan Pulse

Social media conversation on Rugby World Cup reflects concern about 2020 Olympics

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Netizens have been anticipating the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan for months now and not just because of the action on the field. While the online masses closely followed and reacted to the Japanese team’s opening match win over Russia — not to mention anything related to the All Blacks’ haka, even if it was just to complain about the camera angles — they were also keeping an eye on the situation outside of the stadium.

One of the bigger viral clips to make the rounds during the tournament thus far took place on a Keio Line train. A group of French supporters appear to be crowd surfing in the middle of the car, presumably after consuming plenty of drinks. The post has been “liked” more than 44,000 times. The Twitter user who recorded it wrote later that the high jinks were fun at first, but they escalated quickly and soon other non-participants were getting kicked. They later updated the post to note that not all French people are like this and some French supporters later left the car to get away from them.  

Still, the clip stirred unease. Another Twitter user shared footage of other non-Japanese visitors on the streets throwing flags as if they were javelins. Other videos captured Irish fans singing a song on the Hanzomon Line. While a few more than likely rolled their eyes at this performance, it was generally well-received online, with some praising how nice rugby fans appeared to be compared to soccer supporters. 

Even the more generous responses underlined the lurking sentiment of netizens in Japan surrounding this event — unease about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While a massive event in its own right, the Rugby World Cup is seen by many online as a dry run for the world’s largest sporting event in less than 12 months.

So far, some of the most popular topics being discussed regarding the Rugby World Cup really underline fears about the games, while also offering an inverse view of how visitors coming to Japan are going to interact with the country.

Leading up to the Rugby World Cup, a charming viral story coming out of the preparation for the event was concerns that the nation’s supply of beer wouldn’t match demand. Although it’s a legitimate concern, it was the type of lighthearted content that could make audiences chuckle. In reality, however, the tournament’s official beer sponsor, Heineken, is making sure there is plenty of liquid gold to go around.

However, Twitter users at some of the earlier World Cup matches reported that the stadiums were running out of food and soft drinks. One long thread detailed what was happening, much to the shock of others following along at home. This quickly became the story online outlets and bulletin boards zeroed in on, both in its ridiculousness (how do you not have enough food prepped?) and how it signalled worry over how the Olympics would go down. The organizers of the Rugby World Cup soon allowed fans to bring in their own food, which was also picked up by internet outlets

The concerns went the other way, too. English-speaking media have been trying to find the best way to discuss Japan in their coverage at a time when social media picks apart everything, waiting to point out transgressions. 

England, so far, haven’t been faring well on this front. An ad hyping the English national team featured members of the squad dressed up as samurai and running through a field a la “The Last Samurai.” Users quickly lashed out at this “cultural appropriation,” although the uproar was largely ignored by Japanese people online. 

They were far more charmed by ITV’s attempts at including a Japanese-style backdrop for its coverage. The program invited several high-profile commentators to discuss the tournament while standing on tatami floors in the studio, which was fine until it was immediately obvious that they had failed to remove their footwear before doing so. Still, that was less of a to-do than an English military team pulling a Bieber and visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

The underlying theme running throughout this online chatter is miscommunication. Can visitors to Japan refrain from creating a scene on public transportation and provoking suggestions of cultural insensitivity? At the same time, will domestic organizers learn that Westerners can’t be sustained on pints of beer alone? More importantly — will tourists coming for these global sporting events leave after discovering a newfound love of Japan?

Japanese netizens can take heart that, for all the hiccups and food shortages, the charm campaign is also working. People are impressed by how domes transform into rugby fields, heart-warmed by Japanese fans trying to learn other nation’s national anthems and loving those trains. All that praise for the country has even given media outlets an opportunity to write pieces about how much foreign visitors admire the country when they visit. Maybe there isn’t as much to worry about for next year as netizens think — or, at the very least, they should relax and assume that online media will find a way to make it sound rosier in the end.