Chris Wyatt, City of Toyota, September 23rd, 2019
Friendly, enthusiastic, informed and polite…. These are the things that catch your attention at a world cup rugby match in Japan. Japanese fans applaud good play by either team, even when an opponent takes on their Brave Blossoms. This respect is refreshing in an age when fans in other sports are often less than considerate. Great tackles, line breaks, passes and scoring plays all get Japanese support regardless of the side playing. I’ll confess I had long heard these stereotypes but wondered if somehow, they might be incorrect. Two venues and three games hardly make for an objective sample from which to gauge things, but I suspect what I have observed thus far of Japanese rugby culture is likely the norm around the country.
Their spirit is refreshing and reminds me of why I first came to love the game myself nearly 40 years ago. The Japanese also have a reputation for a love of constantly taking snapshots. This too has been the case at each game so far. Several Japanese have asked to take photos with me, and I have even spotted the occasional photo bomber smiling in the backdrop of my own selfies. This can instantly turn into a “making friends experience,” as happened to me last night at City of Toyota Stadium. One other cultural trait that jumps out at the observant rugby fan touring the country is how smart the stadiums are. There is no refuse lying about. The Japanese either find a bin or carry their rubbish until they find one. To make this easier the stadiums have been handing out little plastic bags for fans to collect their trash so as not to leave it strewn about the stadium. This orderliness is a nice touch by the well-behaved Japanese rugby fans.
Rugby fans in the land of the Rising Sun seem to be either devout or casual ones, but they are all enthusiastic. It is almost as if those going to their first-ever rugby match here in the World Cup spent some time studying the game. They recognize the great play and seem to know and like all the big stars of the game. When Beauden Barrett was announced in the lineup prior to the start of the All Blacks – Springboks game, the massive crowd cheered wildly, as they also did when Ireland’s popular 37-year-old team captain and hooker Rory Best was announced the next game in Yokohama.
The Japanese also seem quite patient with everything. Wandering around train stations, crammed into overflowing passenger trains, feeling a bit bewildered at times as I move about, I have noticed that few of them are ever running from place to place. Moving smartly at times, yes. But sprinting to get from place to place is not something I have seen much of so far. Seeing so many people move about makes me reflect on the water and how it flows. It also brings to mind Luc Besson’s movie “The Fifth Element” with Gary Oldman in the role of the evil villain Zorg when he explains what happens after he shatters a glass on the floor:
“Look at all these little things! So busy now! Notice how each one is useful. A lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people, who will be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny children of their own, and so on and so forth.”
I do not mean to compare the wonderful Japanese people to Zorg’s robotic cleaning crew. However, the movement of so many people reminds me of this symphony of movement one can observe if only you take moment to stand aside and see it unfold in front of you here in Japan. Everyone is going someplace, and it is happening all the time. I have found myself on more than one occasion trying to figure out exactly which train I need to catch, which track I need to get to, and figuring out the end station so that I don’t go in the wrong direction. Despite (surprisingly) low English proficiency, I have found the Japanese to frequently approach and offer to help the puzzled traveler figure out where they need to be. When confronted my so many people scurrying about, an unfamiliar language and characters vice the Roman alphabet, their eagerness to help is comforting and often helpful.
The Japanese fans do rugby union proud with their conduct and enthusiasm and are helping make this a successful Rugby World Cup and a memorable experience for us foreign visitors.
Photos By Chris Wyatt
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Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.