The Yomiuri ShimbunRugby sessions for beginners have been gaining popularity as the Rugby World Cup approaches in September, aimed at broadening the fan base by dispelling rugby’s image as a dangerous sport with hard-to-understand rules.
Beginning in July last year, about 40 men and women played rugby after work every Wednesday evening at Tokyo Metropolitan Aoyama High School in Shibuya Ward.
The sessions were started by the organizing committee of the championships and other organizations so people could take part on their way home. Touches are used instead of tackles to stop an opponent’s advance, to make it easier for women and beginners to play. Players let the ball go if they are touched.
“I’m looking forward to the World Cup more,” a female office worker, 35, said with a smile.
The sessions are taught by Keiji Hirose, 46, a former member of the Japanese national side who participated in three World Cups in a row.
“I want a culture of casually playing rugby to remain as a legacy of the upcoming World Cup,” Hirose said. The sessions were relocated to the nearby playground of Aoyama Elementary School in Minato Ward at the end of July and will continue until late this month.
A group called Min Japa plays touch rugby once a week in the early morning at Hibiya Park in Tokyo. An offshoot of a team formed by Japanese expats who were living in England during the previous World Cup, Min Japa has been active since 2015, comprising mainly members who have returned to Japan from overseas.
About 30 people participate in each training session. Partly due to interest in the upcoming World Cup, several first-time participants have joined the sessions each time.
“I want to boost the World Cup with grassroots support,” said Yusuke Sorimachi, 39, the founder of the group.
The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), which supports the World Cup, will hold a rugby event called Rugby Festival in Tokyo in September, just before the opening of the World Cup. Mainly inexperienced adults and others will learn the rules while playing touch rugby.
Yasuhiro Ohashi, a Keidanren official in charge of the festival, urged many people to attend. “Rugby requires facing strong opponents while covering mistakes in team play. These attitudes should be applicable to business, too,” Ohashi said.Speech