This September and October, Fukuoka and several other cities in Japan will play host to the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The world cup, which is held once every four years, pits the top teams against each other for the title of the world’s best rugby team. To date, the world cup has been hosted mainly by rugby powerhouses in Europe and Oceania, but this marks the first time for the tournament to be held in Asia. In Kyushu, matches will be hosted by Oita and Kumamoto, in addition to Fukuoka.
Rugby is said to have originated at the Rugby School in England in the 19th century when a player picked up the ball and ran with it during a football match. Known for its brutal tackles, rugby is better suited to men with big builds, and the toughest teams can be found in Europe, Oceania, and South Africa. The Japanese team, whose players are smaller in stature, struggled to win for many years, but in the last world cup in 2015, they defeated South Africa, a favorite to win, in a historic upset.
But did you know that Fukuoka is considered a stronghold of rugby in Japan? There are many high schools with strong rugby teams, including Higashi Fukuoka High School, which has won several national championships. There are also many local rugby schools, like the Kusagae Young Ruggers established in 1970, where kindergarten and elementary school students can learn to play rugby. This is one reason why Fukuoka has sent a significant number of members to the national team over the years.
This June, Fukuoka native and former national team member Shigetaka Mori was named the head of the Japan Rugby Football Union, a move that is sure to further popularize rugby in Fukuoka. The slogan for this year’s world cup is “once in a lifetime.” Don’t miss this rare chance to see a match or join one of the public viewings or other tournament-related events.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn249, Sep. 2019)