Rugby

Media members hand Japan positive grades as RWC host

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The 44th and final day of the 2019 Rugby World Cup ended with South Africa capturing the Webb Ellis Cup with a win over England in Yokohama on Saturday.

With the tournament over, it wasn’t just the teams who were preparing to leave Japan. The end of the lengthy event meant many foreign media members were also relieved of their duties and finally able fly back home.

Those who stayed for the duration of the first Rugby World Cup held in Asia appeared to have relished their experience in Japan, not only of covering games and supplementary events but also getting a grasp of the culture and hospitality of the host nation.

Catrin Jones, a BBC Wales reporter, spent seven weeks in Japan during the World Cup. Despite missing her country, the departure from Japan would be bittersweet.

“Yeah . . .” Jones said when asked on Saturday, before Wales faced New Zealand in the third-place games, if she was happy to be able to return home. “But Japan’s amazing, isn’t it. People are so lovely, so welcoming and so polite.”

Guiliano Passino, a content creator for Brazilian rugby lifestyle website Alma Rugby, said he “fell in love” with Japan during his first-ever visit. He seemed a little surprised by the interest the World Cup generated among the Japanese, as the host nation isn’t a traditional rugby country.

“Everywhere I’ve walked around, I see rugby poster signs,” said the 41-year-old, who arrived in Japan a week before the World Cup opener on Sept. 20. “So 47 days I’ve been in Japan, I’ve seen rugby everywhere. That’s amazing. (It is different) from England (at the 2015 World Cup), to be honest.”

Guiliano, who is based in Sao Paulo, added: “I cannot thank (Japan) enough for how I’ve been treated by the Japanese people, being totally honest, (and I) just fell in love with it. Amazing experience, great time. Looking forward to coming back.”

These foreign journalists were impressed with Japan’s hospitality, or omotenashi, inside and outside the stadiums.

Rodrigo Giordano Lerena, a reporter for Argentine sports website Entre Guindas Bochazos, attended the 2015 World Cup but experienced a lot of new things during the 2019 edition.

One memory that stood out was the touching sight of a Japanese fan singing the South African national anthem before the two nations’ quarterfinal clash in Tokyo.

“I asked (a fan), ‘Why are you doing this?'” Giordano Lerena recalled. “And he said, ‘I want to make them (the South African team) feel comfortable in my country.’ This is amazing.”

Felipe Caceres, a reporter for Rugby Chile, echoed those sentiments.

“It’s sort of another legacy Japan has given to this tournament,” said Caceres.

At an event of this scale, the media operations at each venue are extremely important. Reporters who spoke to The Japan Times struggled to recall any major issues.

“I’m really (trying) hard to think about something that I didn’t like,” Guiliano said. “But I don’t know.”

He later joked: “The World Cup could be longer. We could stay for two more weeks,” and both Giordano Lerena and Caceres gave a perfect score to media operations.

Jones called this World Cup “different” from the 2015 edition, hosted by England, the “home of rugby.”

“England’s different because they are used to doing World Cups, they are used to doing Six Nations,” she said. “But this is (Japan’s) first time. (Japan) are more excited about it. And people are supporting every team like Japanese. (Japanese) support Japan and (they) have a second team.

“The way (Japanese) supported Wales, when we went to Kitakyushu (where the team held a pre-tournament training camp). There was so much support for Wales. Fifteen thousand fans. That was amazing.

“Because in England, you support England and that’s it. In Wales, you support Wales, that’s it. But here, (Japanese fans) support Japan and somebody else. That’s good to see. It’s good for rugby.”

For many in the media, the ninth World Cup will be remembered for the inspirational performance by the Brave Blossoms, who reached the quarterfinals for the first time.

Former Springbok winger Bryan Habana, who attended the tournament as a media analyst, called Japan’s “fairytale” run “very special” during an event in Tokyo last week.

“I think not only them winning games but the manner, which they did,” Habana said. “And I said to a lot of people after the Japan-Scotland game that I want to take all the emotion and atmosphere that I was feeling in the stadium after the game and put it in a bottle and take it everywhere with me because it was so special.”