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Why People Are FREAKING OUT About Asia’s First-Ever RUGBY World Cup – By Expat Andrea McKenna Brankin

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I love rugby!

I got involved in my 20s because there was no field hockey where I was living in Chicago, compared to where I grew up in New England. So, for a strong runner with great hands, rugby became my game.

I was lucky enough to marry another amped up rugby player, who switched to the game after playing American football in college.

Since then, we’ve attended international games in both Chicago and Singapore whenever they are held. (Read about when we watched the Singapore Rugby Sevens during the 2017 HSBC World Rugby Series here.) We also coach for our daughter’s team, Titans Rugby Club, and my husband still occasionally plays for The Wanderers in Singapore.

With that, I was absolutely thrilled to hear the Rugby World Cup would be held in Japan this year – only seven hours away! Certainly, I wasn’t the only rugby fan in Singapore or around the region to feel this way.

Why is it Such a Big Deal?

This is the first-ever RWC to be held in Asia. And, according to the U.K.’s New Statesman, is has the “potential to change the game forever”. Why?

“Rugby, at the highest level, straddles a Eurocentric and Oceanian bias (with the notable and key exception of South Africa),” opined the magazine in a 28 September article. “It’s rare that a team outside of this narrow paradigm succeeds when facing one of the sport’s big boys.”

“This makes it all the more notable that one of the major stories of the 2015 World Cup, and of the build-up matches to this edition, was Japan beginning to assert themselves on the world stage,” it continued. “Their narrow 34-32 win against South Africa in 2015 is widely regarded as one of the greatest shocks of all time, and helped put Japanese rugby on the map.”

Andrea’s recent photo from the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

So, Japan – once considered a Tier 2 team – now has a team and community that has risen to become not only worthy to host the tournament, but also good enough to reach the quarter-finals, as it did this past Saturday, 20 October.

Although the Brave Blossoms (as in, cherry) won all four pool games, with stunning games against Ireland and Scotland, they fell to the mighty Springboks of South Africa, ending their RWC hometown run, albeit with much praise from the rest of the rugby world. (Read about the Japanese fans’ “rugby grief“.)

 South Africa beat Japan in the recent RWC quarter-final game, 26-3. (image)

Japan Bound

Given the proximity of 2019’s RWC, earlier this month, my husband and I made off for Tokyo to see three of four scheduled RWC games on a 10-day tour with friends from Singapore. We saw England vs. Argentina, New Zealand vs. Namibia and the amazing Scotland vs. Japan game. We were meant to see England vs. France, but were stormed out when Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan and forced game cancellations.

As this was my first ever Rugby World Cup, I was excited to buy some game-day wear and more. I bought three RWC T-shirts, wary of getting one large enough to fit an American woman (read more about my thoughts on body image living in Asia), plus an embroidered RWC logo bag that I am now using to carry my family’s rugby gear – jerseys, cleats, water bottles, etc. – to our daughter’s weekly training sessions. It is a great memento of my time in Japan.

While we were there, a Japanese fan in the fan zone viewing area near Tokyo gave our whole group white Japan flag headbands that spell “victory”. They made our outfits for the rest of the tour. Another big victory: Finding a a Japanese “Shogun” jacket, detailed with the RWC logo. It is a green silk-like material with gold trim and boxed shoulders, and as I wore it around Tokyo, it inspired many “Shogun!” shouts from locals. I felt pretty bad ass.

Andrea at a sumo match she attended while in Japan.

Whilst in between games we were scheduled to see, we headed off with a group to Hakuba, a resort town in the mountains near where the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were held. There, we met up with several expats who previously lived in Singapore or still live here. Half of the group went sightseeing and the other half (my half) went to see a Sumo wrestling tournament. It was quite the community event, as we sat with both elderly folks and preschool children, who cheered for their favorite wrestlers from the stands.

Along with enjoying the sights and scenes of Japan, of course, we enjoyed its famous food. We found ramen at the Hakuba train station, yakitori skewers of meat, including BBQ beef, pork and horse (yikes). Plus, I had the best sushi of my life at basically a diner in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. (Read about what I did the last time I was in Japan. Spoiler alert: onsen experience… tattoos and all!)

Rugby Memories

For the Scotland-Japan game, honestly, I saw almost every Scottish person I know from Singapore, along with their partners and friends who were roped into to supporting them against Japan. What a riot it was on the streets of Tokyo to have this clash of cultures, including some jovial train rides with traditional (and non-traditional) Scottish songs. It was so great to see our expat family for such a huge event!

Andrea with fellow expats they found while at Japan RWC.

Perhaps my favourite memory and experience of the Rugby World Cup in Japan was simply the amazing people of Japan. They were so helpful, if we were lost or not sure which train or exit to take. Everyone was kind. They had a laugh at our costumes, made us feel welcome and generally seemed to enjoy having us there. In the stands, the Japanese fans were fervent, but also respectful and fun – cheering and doing the Wave, and even cleaning up the stadium after the matches!

After games – in particular, when Japan upset Scotland 28-21 – Japanese fans came up, bowed deeply to our Scottish friends and then promptly took lots of selfies and wefies.

The staff at the stadium was not to be outdone, as the workers would all line up for arigato-thank-yous and high-fives on everyone’s way. That’s class!

Where to Watch the Rest of RWC 2019

Excited to watch the semi-finals this weekend and final on 2 November? Me, too! Here are some of my favorite Singapore spots that will be broadcasting the games:

 

About Andrea McKenna Brankin

Andrea McKenna Brankin is a journalist and author from the United States who lives a full life with bipolar disorder. Her book, Bipolar Phoenix, is awaiting a publishing contract. She is also currently a volunteer at the HCSA Dayspring Residential Treatment Centre for teen girls in Singapore, providing befriending-family support, therapeutic writing and rugby coaching.

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