A sense of familiarity, long-standing historical ties, and a look to the future have ensured the southern island of Kyushu will resemble Little Britain in the buildup to next year’s Rugby World Cup.
England, Scotland and Wales have announced they will be based in the cities of Miyazaki, Nagasaki and Kitakyushu, respectively, in the weeks leading up to the tournament, which kicks off in Tokyo on Sept. 20, 2019, in a move that has delighted the British Embassy.
“Sport can be a fantastic catalyst for cultural exchanges and lead to new friendships. I certainly expect the Rugby World Cup to further enhance the already strong relationship between the U.K. and Japan,” said British Ambassador to Japan, Paul Madden.
England’s choice is based on coach Eddie Jones’ experience of spending five months in Miyazaki prior to the 2015 World Cup when he was coach of Japan.
In August 2016, Scotland signed a strategic alliance agreement with Nagasaki, which has a long-standing link with Scotland via the Bakumatsu and Meiji period merchant Thomas Glover.
Wales, meanwhile, has opted “to build long-lasting ties” with Kitakyushu and have kicked off its relationship ahead of the Rugby World Cup so as to maximize the local support.
“Links between the United Kingdom and Japan go back over 400 years when William Adams arrived on Kyushu shores. The Scottish merchant Thomas Glover played a central role in the modernization of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, spending much of his life in Nagasaki, and since then our trading and industry links have continued,” explained Madden.
“It’s great to see these links being built. I hope it means that the local community, as well as supporting Japan, will also want to get behind the British teams when it comes to the tournament. I’m sure the memories which will be created by the Rugby World Cup will last for a long time.”
While the memories created by Rugby World Cup 2015 — and particularly Japan’s win over South Africa — are still fresh in the mind, some of the Brave Blossoms are trying to forget their time in Miyazaki.
Not that the resort they stayed in lacked for anything, but simply because they were, in the words of one of the team, “put through hell.”
Jones for his part, though, is happy to return as he looks to lead England to the top of the podium.
“We want to be in locations that are as close to normal life, so we want our players to train hard and walk on the street and go for a coffee,” he said.
“The hotel is excellent. It’s a great training venue. We know it can operate really well. It’s a place where you can get a lot of work done.”
Former Scotland flanker John Jeffrey was just as complimentary about the facilities on offer in Nagasaki, which recently hosted a team of Scottish schoolboys.
“It’s a great place to let the boys get over the jet lag and acclimatize to the weather,” he said. “The facilities are great and there is plenty for them to do. You don’t want the boys to go stir crazy.”
As for Wales, the Welsh Rugby Union recently held the first of a far-reaching community program that includes holding training sessions for thousands of local participants, the training of hundreds of coaches and local referees.
“I know that the home nation rugby unions are already building links with the local communities in cities where their training camps will be based,” said Madden.
“When I was in Wales in August, they told me all about their activities in Kitakyushu. They held rugby training sessions for local young people as well as training local coaches and referees. It’s been such a success that you’ll now see hundreds of Kitakyushu fire engines emblazoned with stickers of the Welsh flag.”
The Rugby World Cup is expected to have a huge economic impact across Japan with over 400,000 foreigners expected to visit during the six-week tournament.
And the British Embassy is doing all it can to ensure the British travelers, which will constitute three of the largest groups of traveling fans, know what to expect.
“The Rugby World Cup is a great opportunity to introduce parts of Japan to visiting British tourists they might not usually get to see,” said a spokesperson for the British Embassy Consular Section.
“We expect many fans to travel to the area, not just to see the games that will be played here, but also to get a glimpse of their rugby heroes preparing and we’re certain they will get a warm welcome from the local Kyushu people. It might be the first time many of the traveling fans will have been to Japan, and we’re doing all we can to help them prepare for their trip.”
“With now less than a year to go to the tournament we have launched a web page full of useful information about traveling to and in Japan — www.gov.uk/fco/rugby-world-cup-2019 — and will continue to update it as the tournament draws closer.
“It’s going to be a fabulous experience and we’re looking forward to seeing Kyushu turn a little red, white and blue.”
Rich Freeman writes about rugby for Kyodo News and can be heard talking about it during Sunwolves’ home games.