From Hokkaido to Fukuoka, Japan's Rugby World Cup stadiums
Japan aims to bring the Rugby World Cup to as wide an audience as possible in the fledgling rugby nation and host cities stretch from the northern island of Hokkaido to Fukuoka, on the western tip of the archipelago.
The government is also hoping to breathe new life into an area wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, creating the only purpose-built stadium in a town destroyed by the disaster.
Here are the 12 stadiums hosting matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which kicks off in just over 100 days with the opening ceremony on September 20 (capacity in brackets):
- Yokohama International Stadium (72,327) -
The biggest stadium and the venue for both semi-finals and the final on November 2. The Yokohama Stadium, just south of Tokyo, is used to holding major sporting events, having hosted the final of the 2002 football World Cup where Brazil beat Germany. Yokohama is synonymous with Japanese rugby history. British soldiers posted there brought the game to Japan, founding the Yokohama Football Club in 1866, one of the world's oldest clubs.
- Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium (50,889) -
Home to Japan's most famous attraction, Mount Fuji, Shizuoka is also a breeding ground for sports stars in tennis and baseball. The Shizuoka Rugby Club was founded in 1929 and there are other top clubs in the region such as Yamaha Jubilo, where Japan's 2015 World Cup hero Ayumu Goromaru plies his trade.
- Tokyo Stadium (49,970) -
Home to a J-League football team, this stadium was drafted in as emergency replacement for the proposed national stadium, which was scrapped amid public outcry over its $2 billion price tag. It will host the opening ceremony and the opening match between hosts Japan and Romania.
- Toyota City Toyota Stadium (45,000) -
The 'City of Automobiles' is a key engine room for rugby in Japan. The city's rugby team -- now catchily named "Toyota Industries Corporation Shuttles" -- has been crowned national champions three times. The stadium, which has a retractable roof, has hosted international rugby.
- Sapporo Dome (41,410) -
The most northernly venue, Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics. But the Dome was only opened in 2001 for the 2002 football World Cup. It is also home to professional baseball and soccer teams. It is only due to host two matches: Australia v Fiji on September 21 and England v Tonga the day after.
- Oita Stadium (40,000) -
Oita is famous for its hot springs and local delicacy, the poisonous fugu, or blowfish, which can only be prepared by specially licensed chefs. The stadium was built for the 2002 World Cup, where it hosted three matches. Oita will welcome some of the powerhouses for the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand, Australia and Wales all play pool matches there, and it will host two quarter-finals.
- Kumamoto Athletic Stadium (32,000) -
Blessed with national parks and the 400-year-old Kumamoto Castle, several top Japanese rugby players have come from Kumamoto. The stadium will host two games: France v Tonga on October 6 and Wales v Uruguay on October 13.
- Kobe Misaki Park Stadium (30,312) -
Kobe, which suffered a devastating earthquake in January 1995 that killed over 6,000 people, hosted 2002 football World Cup matches and previously played host to the 1985 Student Summer Games. It is currently home to two world-famous sportsmen -- former Barcelona star Andres Iniesta, who plays for Vissel Kobe and All Black legend Dan Carter, who turns out for rugby Top League side Kobe Steelers.
- Osaka Hanazono Rugby Stadium (30,000) -
Hanazono was Japan's first purpose-built rugby stadium when it was completed in 1929, earning the city the nickname of "Rugby City".
- Kumagaya Rugby Ground (24,000) -
Kumagaya is a suburb outside Tokyo and has earned the sobriquet of Japanese rugby's 'hallowed ground of the east'. It plays host to the spring all-Japan high school rugby championship.
- Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium (22,563) -
Known for its gourmet food and rugby, Fukuoka is the sports centre of Japan's Kyushu island. Rugby began on the island when graduates from Tokyo's Keio University were transferred there to work. Local fans will get to see pool matches involving France, Ireland and Italy.
- Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium (16,187) -
The smallest but most emotive venue, as the town of Kamaishi was almost wiped off the map by the 2011 tsunami. The stadium, the only one purpose-built for the Rugby World Cup, is on the site of two schools devastated by the waves, where 400 pupils managed a miraculous escape. The city has a proud rugby history, with its local team winning a record-equalling seven straight national championships between 1979 and 1986.
? 2019 AFP