Rugby

Japanese fans soaking up the atmosphere while watching teams other than Brave Blossoms play

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Oita has been given the honor of hosting a pair of Rugby World Cup quarterfinals matches. But it is the only city that does not have a chance to see its national team, Japan, play there.

Some of the Japanese fans, however, do not appear to care. In fact, they insisted they can fully enjoy the World Cup experience through games not involving the Brave Blossoms.

A Japanese husband and wife, Shinichi and Ikuko Goke, called themselves “overnight fans” as they fell in love with the sport ever since Japan’s historic upset over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in England. They tried to purchase tickets for Japanese games this time yet came up short.

But that did not stop them from going to stadiums during the 2019 tournament. The two had watched a pair of pool phase matches — England vs. Tonga in Sapporo and France vs. Argentina in Tokyo. And on Saturday morning, they flew from Tokyo to Oita for their third match of the competition.

“We made up our mind to definitely come (to World Cup games ever since we became rugby fans),” Shinichi said before Saturday’s Australia-England quarterfinal. “We didn’t care if it’s a Japan game or not. We definitely made the right moves.”

What Shinichi meant by “right moves” is that he and his wife have been able to genuinely cherish the World Cup experience that is created by the foreign supporters that flew in from around the globe.

“I would rather think it’s even more fun to watch those games that are not Japan’s,” Shinichi, a company employee, said. “It’s fun to see a Japanese game. But the ways (the foreign fans) enjoy the event are totally different. The ways they enjoy sports are totally different.”

At Japan matches at this World Cup, for instance, the fans tend to say “Nippon! Nippon!” chanting the name of their native country almost monochromatically. Yet Shinichi said that the fans of other traditional rugby powerhouse nations have established various different ways and songs to support their teams in the stands.

Ikuko confessed that she has not fully understood all the rules of the sport. But she feels it was worthwhile to have visited those games to taste the World Cup atmosphere first hand.

“It’s difficult to put into words,” she said. “It just feels great to be here. I don’t fully know the rules, but it feels great to see the unity that you sense here.”

Also before Saturday’s match, 30-year-old company employee Hayato Ide was walking around the stadium to also relish the World Cup mood, painting his face with the English national flag and putting on a cloth with Australian gold and green.

“I’ve already been teased by others like, ‘Which country are you rooting for?,’ ” said Ide, who currently lives in Osaka, with a smile.

Ide was going to watch both quarterfinal matches at Oita. He, who had a ticket for the New Zealand-Italy pool-phase contest that was canceled due to Typhoon Hagibis, was delighted to watch his first-ever World Cup game in person on Saturday.

After all, Ide is a rugby fan, not a Japanese rugby fan, who enjoys good games and the mood at the stadium. That does not mean he does not support his country’s representatives. But as far as this World Cup, he feels cozier to watch non-Japanese contests.

“Japan’s games have drawn so much attention from the Japanese fans,” Ide said. “I watch matches at a rugby bar that I always go to. But I’ve refrained from going there where Japan plays because of too many people.”

Ide also mentioned about the knockout stage being spread out, not just being held in the Tokyo area. Oita hosts five matches overall during the tournament.

“I think it’s a good thing because it gives Kyushu something to get excited about,” the Fukuoka native said. “If it’s held only in Tokyo, like the Tokyo Olympics, you don’t get that. It’s a good thing that places like Kumamoto and Kamaishi hosted games. I have no problems with a city outside of Tokyo hosting games if it has a big enough stadium.”

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5