Imperial boost for Rugby in Japan

(IRB.COM) Monday 24 February 2014
Imperial boost for Rugby in Japan
The Emperor and Empress arrive at Prince Chichibu Stadium in Tokyo

In what is an exciting first for Rugby in Japan, the country’s Emperor has attended a National Championship Rugby match at the Prince Chichibu Stadium, Tokyo.

It is believed to be the very first time that a Japanese Emperor has watched a Rugby match other than at the National Sports Festival, the yearly national multi-sports tournament. The game was between the Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers and Yamaha Jubilo in the second round of the championship with Kobe emerging victorious in front of 10,000 spectators.

With just over five years until Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off in Japan, the game's profile is on the rise.

When he was the Crown Prince, His Imperial Majesty visited the Prince Chichibu to watch a Rugby match on at least three occasions, one of which was an historic game between the Japanese national team and Oxford University.

The Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Stadium, the main Test venue for Japanese Rugby, is named for the late Prince Chichibu, who was an uncle of the current Emperor and a brother of the late Showa Emperor. The stadium was named as the official Rugby stadium of Tokyo in 1947 and was renamed after the Prince in 1953 upon his death.

Prince Chichibu was a huge fan of Rugby, and served as the honorary President of the Japanese Rugby Football Union from 1947 until he died.

While this is a first for Rugby, it is very rare for a sitting Emperor to watch live sport in a stadium. Even for the country’s two most popular sports, soccer and baseball, the Emperor has only attended a live game one for each. So this will come as a big boost for Rugby in Japan and will do no harm to the campaign to popularise the sport further in advance of Japan’s hosting of Rugby World Cup 2019.