Cheering fans danced on Tokyo’s famous Shibuya crossing and grown men were reduced to tears in the stadium as Japan made history by reaching their first-ever Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday.
The Brave Blossoms have captured the hearts of fans across the baseball-mad country and their phenomenal win against Six Nations side Scotland gave the nation something to cheer as they grieved at least 35 dead in a devastating typhoon.
A group of Japanese fans blocked the much-photographed five-way crossing in Tokyo – said to be the world’s busiest – with a spontaneous celebration after Japan topped the group with an amazing four wins from four games.
A central Tokyo fanzone was packed to the rafters with fans in nervous anticipation of a potentially famous victory.
When the final whistle blew on Japan’s 28-21 win, the place erupted in an ear-splitting noise, with fans jumping up and down, fists clenched in the air and screaming “Arigato!” (thank you) in unison.
“They made history,” shouted Masato Shimada, a 21-year-old college student who is a keen rugby player himself. “Four wins, first place!”
He said the Brave Blossoms’ World Cup run had changed the perception of rugby among his friends.
“I think it’s fair to say their back-to-back wins have brought some hope to people,” Shimada said, referring to the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis.
Also at the fanzone, Yukari Takemoto, a 38-year-old Japanese woman, said she started following the game just recently after watching a TV drama entitled no-side.
“After watching the previous three games, I was convinced they would do it today,” she said, adding that the game had also buoyed her spirits after a dreadful previous 24 hours.
Before the game, 67,000 spectators kept an impeccable moment of silence for the victims of Typhoon Hagibis as the atmosphere crackled with emotion.
The crowd was a sea of red of white from Japanese fans with their replica shirts, interspersed by the occasional Scot wearing kilts or tartan – with a few playing bagpipes.
Video showed one man in a ninja-style Japanese headband unable to contain his tears at the final whistle, overcome by the emotion of the historic moment.
Captain Michael Leitch won loud cheers when he addressed the crowd, in Japanese and in English, telling them that Sunday’s match was “more than just a game for us.”
He paid tribute to everyone who had helped prepare the stadium in Yokohama for the game only 24 hours after the typhoon barrelled over the city near Tokyo.
“And to everyone that’s suffering at the moment with the typhoon, this game was all for you guys,” he said to wild applause.
As well as tragedy, the typhoon also caused severe transport disruption and one English man, 27-year-old Ben Wright, found his flight back to Britain delayed. But he was making the most of his extra day in Japan by celebrating wildly in the fanzone.
Cheering loudly with Japanese fans, he showed that the “no side” spirit had not yet fully pierced ancient rivalries.
Asked why he was supporting Japan, Wright said: “Because we are English, not Scottish. And Japan is being brilliant and Japan deserves it.”
Perhaps slightly worse for wear, he then gave another key reason – that sushi is better than Scottish deep-fried food.
Bill King, a 55-year-old Scot, was philosophical about the defeat. “A very disappointing result for us but not surprising, just disappointing. It was a fantastic atmosphere,” said King.