The Rugby World Cup is currently being held in Japan, and the country is positively brimming with pride at the honor of hosting the matches. Everywhere I go to Tokyo or Yokohama, I’ve been bumping into foreigners visiting from their home countries, here to support their favorite teams, some decked out in full national dress. All the TV channels are covering the matches, and Japanese really love the attention their country is getting, with so many visitors here to see the matches then traveling around for sightseeing. Rugby in Japan is suddenly huge.
One of the keys to understanding Japan is that they’re extremely sensitive to how they’re perceived by foreigners, and will make great efforts to look good to visitors coming from around the world. Everytime a major event like the Rugby World Cup or the upcoming 2020 Olympics approaches, there’s a flurry of activity as every corner of the country is renovated to present the best face possible to outsiders. You can even make the argument that Japan made the Shinkansen high-speed train so that foreign visitors at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics would oo and ah at the technological achievements Japan had made less than two decades after the end of WWII.
Another interesting thing about Japan is that they often feel closer to Europe than to Asia. When the country started modernizing after the 1868 Meiji Restoration, they largely took their cues from “Great Britain-senpai,” basing their government and national institutions on England, cloning the British Parliamentary system, the Royal Mail and even the BBC. I like to joke that Japan’s creation of DVD regions, which had Japan and Europe both sharing region 2, is more evidence that Japan secretly wants to be considered part of Europe. And being included in a huge event like the Rugby World Cup really adds to this feeling of being part of the larger world, making rugby in Japan really exciting for everyone.
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