Hours before Friday night’s Rugby World Cup opening game between Japan and Russia at Tokyo Stadium, tons of fans donned red and white Brave Blossoms replica jerseys.
And, of course, that number became greater and greater as the festivities drew closer to kickoff.
Hiroshi Moriyama was one of the early arrivals at the stadium, where it was hot and humid with the sun still high up in the air. The 53-year-old, who came along with a group that he had became friends with through past rugby games, said that he could not truly believe the tournament would finally begin in his native country.
“I don’t really feel like it’s time,” Moriyama said with a laugh. “I’ve always been thinking of this day since it was decided Japan would host this 10 years ago.”
Moriyama, who said he will watch a total of 26 games during the tournament, insisted that he hopes his compatriots who are not so familiar with the sport as well as rugby fanatics will cherish the World Cup, which is being held in a non-traditional rugby country for the first time.
“Obviously, you want to enjoy the rugby games,” said the Higashiosaka native, who had painted his upper body to make it appear like he was wearing a Japan jersey. “But you also want to have fun (and enjoy) the mood getting together with your friends.
“I want people who don’t know too much about rugby to feel that, too.”
Meanwhile, there were so many non-Japanese fans also dressed in Japan’s replica jerseys at the stadium. South African Peter Gerbrands was one of them.
“We have to support (the) home team,” Peter said with a smile. “And also we can’t forget Japan won (over) South Africa in the previous World Cup. I can’t forget (and) we have to become a supporter.”
Peter and his wife, Lisa, made a trip halfway around the world from their home in Durban, South Africa, to spend a month in Japan. For the couple, it’s their first time exploring Japan. It’s also an opportunity to watch World Cup matches here at the same time.
Asked what kind of experience they will look forward to during their stay, Peter said: “I’m expecting a very, very good experience. Everything in Japan is very well-organized. So really looking forward to Japanese hospitality. Yeah, we’ll have a good time.”
The two arrived in Japan last Saturday and have already been to some of the famous sites, including Mount Fuji.
Peter said that it’s “fantastic” the World Cup, which is considered one of the largest sporting events in the world along with the Summer Olympics and FIFA World Cup, is being hosted by a country where the sport has potential to develop.
“It’s great for rugby to be hosted in a different country,” the 36-year-old Peter said. “It’s certainly good for rugby and good for the development in Japan as well.”
A young Frenchman from Lille, Antoine Casier, who isn’t necessarily a supporter of Japan or Russia, was excited to be attending his first-ever World Cup game.
“Yeah, this is my first World Cup. I’m thrilled,” said Casier, who traveled to Japan with his father. “And Japan’s been amazing.”
While Casier roots for France, a three-time World Cup runner-up, he thinks that the 2019 tourney will produce closer competitions than in the past and deliver excitement.
“I’d say eight teams could possibly win this tournament,” Casier said. “It’s very difficult to tell who’s going to win it all because many are on the same level.”