Rugby

Japanese fans find new ways to enjoy Rugby World Cup following Brave Blossoms' exit

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Brave Blossoms may have already been eliminated, but Japanese fans are still trying to take in as much of the Rugby World Cup experience as possible over the remaining days of the quadrennial tournament.

Many, in fact, were seen wearing uniforms other than Japan’s familiar red and white during the semifinals in Yokohama over the weekend. These fans weren’t necessarily diehard supporters of the nations whose colors they wore. They simply wanted to enjoy the festivities to the fullest.

Yasunori Katsukura and Hitoshi Kikuchi were among the Japanese fans at International Stadium Yokohama on Sunday. Looking forward to seeing their first World Cup match, the pair walked around the venue a few hours before the game clad in the green and gold uniform of South Africa.

The reason was simple.

“We were coming to today’s game and if we had to choose one, we thought we should root for South Africa, which defeated Japan,” Katsukura, a 60-year-old company employee, said with a smile. “We didn’t really care (about which team’s jersey we would put on).”

Katsukura said he even practiced the South African national anthem at Shin-Yokohama Station before the two headed to the stadium.

Kikuchi said he couldn’t wait for Sunday to arrive and wanted to experience everything he could at the venue, not just the game.

“I want to enjoy the global mood. I want to enjoy the cheering (of the foreign fans) and the whole atmosphere,” the 53-year-old said. “It’s not a Japan game, but we came down here to be entertained by the genuine atmosphere.”

The husband-wife duo of Koichi and Rie Ban also came to the stadium looking forward to Sunday’s final four contest. But the pair split their allegiances. Koichi wore a South African uniform while Rie dressed in a Wales’ red shirt.

“We can root for anyone as Japan’s already gone,” Koichi said. “For me, I want South Africa to do as best it can because Japan fell to it (in the quarterfinals). And it would’ve been boring for us to put on the same jersey, so my wife decided to wear Wales.’ “

While Koichi is an avid rugby fan, Rie is newcomer. For her, the World Cup has provided a good opportunity to learn a little bit about rugby outside of her own country.

“This is my first time to even know Wales competes with a team of its own,” Rie said with a slight smile. “I learned we have four teams from Britain here. I’m such a beginner that I just learned Britain is the birthplace of rugby. But it’s been a good opportunity for me to learn various things about the sport during this tournament.”

Kazuto Yamanaka has been a rugby fanatic for over 30 years and supports New Zealand. Unfortunately, he was not able to watch the All Blacks compete in person during this World Cup. The 45-year-old rugby school coach, who usually serves as a company employee in Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture, had a ticket for New Zealand’s pool-stage game against Italy at Toyota Stadium, a contest that was canceled due to Typhoon Hagibis. He wasn’t able to purchase a ticket for Saturday’s All Blacks-England contest, either.

Nonetheless, Yamanaka, who got a ticket for the Wales-South Africa semifinal on Sunday, was still going to fully enjoy the first World Cup he was able to attend.

“Rugby’s a little different from other sports like soccer and baseball,” Yamanaka said. “People root for different countries and the foreigners root for Japan so much as well. I think this is a very unique sport.”

Chika Nakano is a slightly more enthusiastic rugby supporter than some mentioned above. She’s been a Wales fan since first watching the team during the 2011 World Cup. So she was thrilled to see the squad play with her own eyes for the first time at this World Cup.

Nakano said she has had fun watching the World Cup in person.

“I’ve been so pleased to be able to sing with (other Wales fans) in the stands,” she said. “I’ve certainly seen the mood through television, but I’d never imagined I’d be a part of it.”

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