Members of Japan’s men’s national rugby team marched through Tokyo’s Marunouchi Naka-dori street on Wednesday in a parade held to express appreciation for the support they received from fans during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Even though its been over a month since the end of the World Cup, which was staged in Japan, tens of thousands of fans gathered in the business district to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

The Brave Blossoms came up with their best-ever result at the World Cup, advancing to the quarterfinals, with many players becoming household names in the process.

“We were able to accomplish the last-eight feat because you all sent us ‘Brave’ through television, at the stadiums and in your towns,” Japan captain Michael Leitch told the crowd before the players began their march. “We are pleased that all of Japan was united as ‘One Team’ because of you, the fans.

“Hopefully, we will continue to work hard with the support of the fans so that Japanese rugby will be even more competitive, and we’ll do our best to play fun, encouraging games.”

The parade’s start, originally scheduled for noon, was delayed 15 minutes. Unlike most other sport-related parades, the players walked the entirety of the 800-meter route, which began in Yurakucho and ended at the Marunouchi Building near Tokyo Station.

Twenty-eight of the 31 Brave Blossoms participated in the parade, which drew an estimated crowd of over 50,000.

The sidewalks were absolutely packed with people, including both long-term rugby fans and those who discovered their interest in the sport through Japan’s success at the World Cup.

As much as the players wanted to convey their gratitude to the fans, the supporters wanted to say “thank you” directly, a task difficult to do from the stands during the World Cup.

Some fans skipped their lunch breaks to attend the event, while others took the day off.

Rugby fanatic Yuki Nagata woke up before sunrise in order to see the players up close. The 28-year-old company employee, who lives in Hachioji, said he even used a paid holiday for the event, which lasted less than an hour.

But Nagata’s efforts paid off, as he was able to position himself in the front row and enjoy watching the players walk by.

“At the stadium, I could only see them from far away,” said Nagata, who watched six matches, including some featuring the Brave Blossoms, during the World Cup. “But here, they were walking right in front of me, and they even reacted to what I said.

“It felt great to be able to tell them how appreciative I’ve been.”

A pair of young women, who declined to be named, described themselves as niwaka (overnight) rugby fans. But they were happy to see players they’d fallen in love with such as Fumiaki Tanaka, Keita Inagaki and Kenki Fukuoka in person.

The two, donning red and white replica jerseys of the national team, insisted that they would continue following the sport going forward.

“I’m going to go to Top League games,” one of them said with a smile. “In fact, I’ve already bought a ticket.”

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