Tourism more than rugby excites World Cup host Japan

30 June 2019 - 07:58 By ASHA SPECKMAN

More than 400,000 tourists are expected to visit Japan in September, among them a host of avid South African rugby supporters.Japan is hosting the Rugby World Cup, the first nation in Asia to do so.The sport is one area in which Japan hopes to find common ground with SA long after this weekend's G20 summit is done and dusted."We hope that the two countries will use the Rugby World Cup to deepen their friendship, and that the scale of tourism between us will continue to expand," said Yukihiro Aoki, an official in the Japan Tourism Agency, which falls under the ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism.A report compiled by Japan's Rugby World Cup 2019 organising committee says more than 400,000 visitors are expected for the tournament, which runs from September 20 to November 2. The report does not break the figures down into countries or regions of origin, but national teams from 20 countries around the world will take part. Some South African rugby supporters might still be licking their wounds after the Springboks' surprise loss to underdogs Japan in the 2015 edition of the tournament, which was hosted by Britain. Official statistics from the Japanese government show tourism between the countries has been rising in recent years. Last year about 10,000 South Africans visited Japan and SA's department of tourism says arrivals from Japan rose to 27,541 last year from 27,410 in the previous year.Japan will receive another influx of visitors next year when it hosts the Olympic Games. However, driving through the streets of Osaka, where the G20 summit was held, there is very little to suggest that this is a nation gripped with rugby fever. Many events are advertised on the port city's airport walls, but rugby is not among them. As tour guide Michiko Sato says, rugby trails soccer and baseball in popularity in Japan. "The Olympics are more popular for everybody," she says.Sato's comments were confirmed by several cab drivers, who confessed to not having much interest in rugby.Nevertheless, the World Cup remains an opportunity to showcase Japan."We anticipate that [it] will serve as an opportunity for many rugby fans from all over the world, including SA, to visit areas throughout Japan, experience the charm of Japan, and recognise the country as a new travel destination," Aoki says.Three SA-born players are in Japan's training squad for the World Cup.

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