With a 28-21 victory over Scotland Sunday night, the Brave Blossoms, Japan’s national rugby team, qualified for the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals for the first time. Japan prevailed in an exhilarating display of speed, execution and, ultimately, brute force, taking a deserved lead in the first half and then holding off a determined Scottish side as the clock ticked down. The nation is celebrating as the Brave Blossoms head into the knock-out games and contemplating lessons from the team’s stellar performance.
While the popularity of rugby in Japan trails well behind that of baseball, soccer, basketball, martial arts and other activities, the sport has a long history in Japan. The first matches — a version, at least — were reckoned to have taken place in 1863, when foreign military personnel slogged through the mud in Yokohama. Japanese picked up the sport with conviction at the turn of the century and there are reports of games between Keio University and Yokohama foreigners soon after.