What to Expect at the Rugby World Cup 2019 Kickoff in Japan
The kickoff for the 2019 World Cup is approaching in Japan, with the host country facing Russia on September 20. It will be the first time the games are held outside what is called the Home Union of major rugby countries.
The greatest focus will be on Japan’s team. Japan was defeated by the pool in past tournaments. However, they had three wins in the Rugby World Cup 2015 hosted by England, where they also defeated this year's favorite, South Africa. With the support of fans and home team advantage, there are high expectations of Japan entering the Top 8 for the first time.
The Japan team, which has been dubbed the “Mosaic Team,” includes a cosmopolitan mix of foreign players from Tonga and South Africa. It is led by New Zealand-born Michael Leitch.
Many in the media have attributed Leitch’s exceptional ability to his roots as a Kiwi (New Zealander), which he firmly denies. As Leitch explained, “I was 15 when I arrived in Japan. Moreover, at the time I wasn’t even a good player. I am a player who grew and bloomed in Japan.”
Leitch has even explained the meaning of Japanese haiku and the lyrics of the Japanese national anthem “Kimigayo” to many of his teammates during World Cup squad training camps. He believes that understanding the more than 1,000 years of Japanese culture raises the pride of the Japanese national team and will help lead the team to victory.
Venues for World Cup 2019 Matches
Of the 12 venues for 2019 World Cup games, the greatest attention is on the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium in Iwate Prefecture. As the name suggests, it is about revival from the tragedy of the unimaginable tsunami which swept away the city during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Eight years later, the city’s recovery is ongoing and scars from the tragedy remain.
This “field of dreams” was built on a pile of rubble from the devastating earthquake. Although the stadium is the smallest of the World Cup 2019 venues, with only a 16,000-seat capacity, the warmth of the city’s residents makes up for it. Called the city of “tasty sake, seafood, and rugby,” it welcomes fans and visitors with the simple but warm hospitality of the people of Kamaishi City.
Japan has not been known as a rugby powerhouse, and this has an impact on the venues for the tournament. Many of the stadiums where some of the big games will be held, including games with popular teams such as the New Zealand All Blacks, have athletic tracks on the field. In some venues, the distance between the pitch and the stand makes the sense of realism fade.
Here is a list of stadiums recommended for watching the tournament, based on the best viewing standards, such as distance between the pitch and the stands, regardless of the card.
Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium (Iwate): This is the number one recommendation. The stadium is in a great area and has the most vivid sensory ambience.
Kumagaya Rugby Stadium (Saitama): Kumagaya Stadium also doesn’t disappoint. Its stands are close to the pitch, and fans will find it an enjoyable viewing experience.
City of Toyota Stadium (Aichi): If you want to experience the most awesome and gorgeous World Cup rugby stadium, don’t miss the City of Toyota Stadium in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture. It is the second largest ball game stadium in Japan with 45,000 seats, and its openable roof made of tent material makes it unique.
Sapporo Dome (Hokkaido): For those who want to experience Japan’s high-tech atmosphere, the Sapporo Dome is a must-see stadium. The roof is fixed, but the pitch of the stadium moves to accommodate both baseball and football. When baseball games are held, an artificial turf surface will be slid into place electronically. However, the natural turf pitch — which is generally kept outside of the stadium — will be moved automatically into place for rugby and soccer matches. It is a stadium unlike any other in the world.
Check back for updates, and enjoy watching the Rugby World Cup 2019.
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Author: Hiroshi Yoshida
Hiroshi Yoshida is a freelance journalist on sports and rugby. Joining the Sankei Sports in 1989, Yoshida has been writing rugby stories since 1995. As a Sankei Sports reporter, he covered the Rugby World Cup for five consecutive games until the 2015 England. As a field reporter, he witnessed two of Japan’s big games: men’s football team’s win against Brazil at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 and the victory against South Africa at Rugby World Cup 2015. He left Sankei in April 2019.
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