Turning Japanese: bowing, tidying as Rugby World Cup gets makeover

Tokyo (AFP) –


From bowing deeply to the crowd after a game, to emerging from the team bus in full Japanese outfits, players have been getting into the swing of a Rugby World Cup with a distinctly "made in Japan" flavour.

New Zealand, England and Wales are among the teams who instantly made new friends by bowing deeply to supporters after games, echoing a gesture seen millions of times a day in Japan.

"I guess we just want to try to be respectful to the Japanese people and also thank them for their support," said All Black flanker Sam Todd.

England wing Ruaridh McConnochie revealed that in addition to bowing, they had also taken a leaf out of the Japanese football team's book by cleaning up the dressing room after games.

"We noticed that Japanese sports sides will leave the changing room very clean and we are trying to do the same here," said McConnochie.

World Rugby awarded the World Cup to Japan in a bid to spread the gospel of the game in the country, where baseball and football dominate TV audiences.

The tournament is being billed in Japan as the "opportunity of a lifetime" to watch the world's best players, and fans have turned out in the droves.

Fifteen thousand people showed up just to watch Wales train, and fans even packed out the stadium to watch a dreary Italy-Namibia match played in atrocious conditions on the edge of a typhoon.

The cultural respect goes both ways, and Japanese fans have "adopted" visiting teams, buying their replica shirts and gamely trying to sing their national anthems.

A video of Japanese children performing the New Zealand "haka" for the All Blacks quickly went viral.

"I don't think I've seen this anywhere else ?- the people of the host nation wearing the jersey of the visiting team -? the Springbok badge," said South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus.

And Samoa captain Chris Vui said: "The boys... are loving it here in Japan, the lovely fans here and the Japanese people -- they are bloody awesome."

- Plastic samurai sword -

Some teams have chosen unusual ways to celebrate Japanese culture. A video of Canada's players jumping off the team bus in Japanese yukata (bathing robes) and ninja-style headbands exploded on social media.

Japanese captain Michael Leitch also extended the tradition of ceremonial gifts as he presented the Russia team with a plastic samurai sword.

"It's a plastic one, so there shouldn't be any issue if I decide to take it home to Russia with me," laughed centre Kirill Golosnitskiy.

At the stadium, the games have a Japanese feel. As players enter the stadium, musicians bang wadaiko, which are Japanese drums, and tap hyoshigi, a hardwood instrument used in kabuki theatres.

A type of shout often used in kabuki and noh theatres is played for kick-off, and a loud and distinctive gong sounds half- and full-time.

Japanese people weren't quite sure what to expect from visiting rugby fans -- the main concern before the tournament was running out of beer -- but there have been no reports of trouble.

However, one viral video of fans sitting on the floor of a metro train and crowd-surfing friends over their heads raised a few eyebrows, with some Japanese asking if this would be a scene repeated at the Tokyo Olympics.

Conor O'Shea, an Irishman in charge of the Italian team, said the Japanese were going to great lengths to make them feel at home.

"Even in Starbucks the staff speak Italian to us," he said.