The Brave Blossoms: How Japan is Coming Together during the Rugby World Cup
Anna Wilmot, Foreign Correspondent in Japan, gives an insight into the Rugby World Cup-fever across the country and how this event has brought Japanese people together.
In a small English-style pub in Takadanobaba, in the suburbs of Tokyo, dozens of people are crammed in, filling the air with smoke and noise. On the TV screens, the Japanese rugby team is playing Samoa. It is perhaps the busiest the pub has ever been, and strangers are stood pressed against one another – jostling to get a good view of the screens. People yell over each other to order beer or, more often, the popular whisky ginger highball. Suddenly, there is a roar of excitement… quickly followed by a groan as the Japanese rugby player on screen is tackled by a Samoan player.
The Rugby World Cup has brought Japan to a fever-pitch of excitement, and the sport is everyone’s new favourite obsession. Advertisements for the rugby are played on the subway trains, and posters emblazoned with the World Cup logo fly from almost every lamppost in Tokyo. The host has warmly welcomed the players and supporters of every other team and, as most foreign fans supported Japan as their second favourites, there is a sense of camaraderie between locals and foreigners. In the streets and in the stadiums, Irish rugby fans bellowed rousing renditions of ‘Stand up for the Japanese’ and wore headbands with supportive kanji characters – admittedly upside-down in some cases.
The native fans have themselves adopted the slogan ‘Ganbare!”, which roughly translates to ‘Do your best!’ or ‘Hang in there!’, and they chant this or wave encouraging banners at any opportunity. Whilst many fans may have taken little interest in rugby before the World Cup, it seems to me everyone in Japan now counts themselves as avid supporters of the ‘Brave Blossoms’. Perhaps the national enthusiasm for the sport has boosted the morale of the Japanese players, as the team sailed through their matches with Ireland and Scotland – carrying their country dizzyingly close to a place in the semi-finals.
Whilst many fans may have taken little interest in rugby before the World Cup, it seems to me everyone in Japan now counts themselves as avid supporters of the ‘Brave Blossoms’.
During this dazzling run, a chant starts up in a pub: “Nihon!” Clap, clap, clap, “Nihon!” Clap, clap, clap. The energy is infectious, and soon everyone, Japanese and foreigners alike, are bellowing the chant. When the final gong sounds, Japan triumphs over Samoa by 38-19 and the pub explodes into cheers and slightly drunken high-fives. Japan is through to the quarterfinals, making it further than anyone dared dream they could. It was impossible to leave the pub without at least half a dozen Japanese locals demanding high-fives on the way out – even from those of us who were clearly foreigners.
It appears to me that the Rugby World Cup has re-established Japan’s place in the global zeitgeist. Their unexpected success in the tournament has rekindled a sense of national pride, and has provided Tokyo with a much-needed lift in spirits, following the destructive effects of Typhoon Hagibis. The predictive model, RugbyVision, estimated that Japan had a 21.7% chance of reaching the quarterfinal stages at the beginning of the World Cup. But they beat those numbers and amazed viewers from around the world with their meteoric rise to the quarterfinals.
It appears to me that the Rugby World Cup has re-established Japan’s place in the global zeitgeist. Their unexpected success in the tournament has rekindled a sense of national pride…
Unfortunately, Japan’s astonishing streak was halted by South Africa, with a resounding 26-3 defeat. While the match was on in the same English-style pub, the atmosphere was packed – perhaps even fuller than before; no one anticipated Japan winning this match, but their devoted fans still turned out in droves to support their team and stayed on to cheer for them until the bitter end.
Japan has reached unprecedented heights in this Rugby World Cup. In turn, the country was able to unite in support of the ‘Brave Blossoms’ and flashing back to the quarter finals captures this… The Japanese fans still hope that perhaps they can be contenders for the crown. With the last minutes of the match ticking down, and South Africa’s victory becoming assured, the familiar chant starts up again: “Nihon… Nihon…”.