The city of Higashiosaka is one of the biggest manufacturing towns in Western Japan and has the third-highest population in Osaka Prefecture at 495,000. But the Osaka suburb is also well-known as a rugby city because of Hanazono Rugby Stadium, which saw Georgia play Fiji on Thursday in Rugby World Cup Pool D action.

Hanazono Rugby Stadium was built in 1929 as Japan’s first sports facility specifically designated for rugby.

Since 1963, the venue has been used for the National High School Tournament each year. The drama and countless memorable scenes from those matches over the years have given the stadium a symbolic place in high school rugby in Japan similar to that of Koshien Stadium in high school baseball.

“It’s significant Hanazono, which has a rich history in rugby, was chosen as one of the host cities of the World Cup,” sports journalist Jun Ikushima told The Japan Times. “Now the world’s top teams play at the symbolic venue of Japan’s high school rugby. It will be the bridge between Japan and the world.”

Four World Cup matches were scheduled for Higashiosaka — Thursday’s match the third.

Hiroaki Takeuchi, a 54-year-old local civil servant from Hyogo Prefecture, made his second visit to Hanazono Rugby Stadium on Thursday, having watched the Italy-Namibia match on Sept. 28.

“Since Hanazono became a host stadium, I planned to come to watch at least one game or two,” said Takeuchi, who has been a fan of high school rugby since his younger brother played in the national tournament more than three decades ago. “I love it for the compact size. It needed to expand to host the World Cup games. I know how much effort the people in Higashiosaka and Osaka Prefecture have made. I’m happy for them that World Cup games have come here.”

Higashiosaka and Osaka Prefecture have also taken the chance to promote the surrounding area, providing free trips around Osaka for media members. The organizers take those in town to cover the World Cup to local cities in the area as a way to introduce the culture and industry of those places.

“About 25 to 30 media members, mostly from overseas, have taken part in seven of 12 trips. Not only the media of the country that plays here, but people from Tier 1 nations also join us,” said Yoshiko Tazuke from Japan Convention Services, Inc., which is organizing the trips. “We, in cooperation with Osaka, would like to introduce the whole of Osaka, especially something different from the typical Osaka images — foods, manufacturing, traditional crafts. The participants have enjoyed the tour.”

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