Rugby World Cup 2019: Japanese passions

Former rugby player Aristide Barraud looks at the Japanese craze for "their" Rugby World Cup, in his column for "The World" over the course of the competition.

Time to Reading 3 min.

A supporter of the Japan team on September 28, 2019 in Shizuoka. William West / AFP

"Oval Rising" A few hours before the kick-off of Japan-Samoa, I look under the Tokyo buildings, the queue stretch at the entrance of the fan-zone. Since Japan's victory against Ireland on 28 September, the country has capsized in a burst of love for its national team. On Friday night, the men leave their suit for the Brave Blossoms jersey, striped scales red and white, modeled on samurai armor. We see these jerseys everywhere, it's a tidal wave, we announce the close of stock. Couples and families wear the tunic with the cherry blossom patch, know the names of the players by heart, vibrate in front of the screens and cry at the final whistle, overwhelmed by emotion.

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Because the Japanese people do not do things by half, the application in their daily gestures and tasks is an ancestral ethic. This capacity for collective intoxication is a constant, at least since 1868 and the beginning of the Meiji era. With openness to the world and the end of isolationist politics (sakoku) Japan has experienced multiple waves of fads and fashions as intense as they are fleeting. At the end of 1875, for example, the country became fascinated with rabbits, when American and British ships, attracted by a newly opened market, landed en masse. To own one then represented the greatest of the classics.

The following year, it was cockfighting then, in 1886, the waltz. In a few weeks, we danced three times from the imperial court to the gambling dens of the South Island. Then came the passion for stamps in 1896 and that of garden parties, organized even under the snow of the winter of 1898. For, whatever the season, the Japanese passions burn and disappear as fast as a bloom.

Glossy paper

Thus, after centuries of ignoring the outside world, ephemeral tendencies followed one another, chasing one another, with the only constant love of the collective fever. Despite a federation founded as early as 1926, Japanese rugby had to wait for the 2015 World Cup in England and its historic victory over South Africa, known as the "Brighton Miracle", to join these popular drives. The players were then almost deified, starified in magazines and advertisements. It was believed rugby worn until 2019 and his home world. Yet as always, the bellows fell in a few months.

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But since the recent victory against Ireland, the Brave Blossoms are again displayed on glossy paper, subway screens and TV news. At game time, the eyes of the country are focused on their players, and the passion of the moment envelops what rugby offers the best: a punctual fraternity and the heady feeling of a common happiness. Precious ingredients for a society that allows few moments of letting go, where loneliness makes damage and creates misfortune. The fan-zones offer these moments.

In the Hamamatsu Fan Zone, September 20, 2019.
In the Hamamatsu fan-zone, September 20, 2019. Adrian Dennis / AFP

At each marked point, the scenes of joy are spectacular, one makes friends of 80 minutes to live the matches intensely. We hug each other with the final whistle, the men cry and the women laugh with happiness. Drunk crowds swarm the streets and try the keys and the scrums. For a few hours, the streets, clean and orderly, like the Japanese society, become noisy and tangled.

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The next day, rigor, order and calm take over. The avenues are repopulated with ties and the white and red striped jerseys are stored in the closet. Against Scotland, supported by the country as a whole, fifteen boys play more than one place in a quarter: the right of their people to maintain the passion, to postpone the ephemeral to later.

Aristide Barraud

Aristide Barraud, 30, is a former professional rugby player. Ex-international under 20 years, he has notably played in the Top 14 with the French Stadium before exiling himself in the Italian league.

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