Rugby: RWC organizers dealing with unique Japanese problems such as tattoos

Handing the hosting rights to the 2019 World Cup to a country not considered a traditional rugby powerhouse was always going to be fraught with problems, but as World Rugby admitted this week, Japan has presented some unique issues to overcome in the form of tattoos and the power of Mother Nature. The local attitude toward tattoos -- deemed taboo as a result of their links with the yakuza crime syndicates -- and the prevalence of natural disasters forced tournament director Alan Gilpin to make a number of comments regarding Rugby World Cup Ltd's policy on the former and their safeguards for the latter prior to and during his recent trip to Japan. "When we raised (the issue of covering tattoos) with the teams a year or so ago, we were probably expecting a frustrated reaction from them, but there hasn't been at all," Gilpin told British media before heading to Tokyo for Thursday's Year-to Go Festival. (Sporting tattoos on both arms, Tusi Pisi scores a try for Suntory Sungoliath in Dec. 2010, at Kyoto's Nishikyogoku Stadium)  "We have done a lot in the last year or so with the teams to get them to understand that. The idea of putting a rash-vest on in the pool or in a gym, they will buy into as they want to respect the Japanese culture. We'll position it as self-policing." Local media seemed ambivalent towards the issue of tattoos, having seen a number of inked men and women players grace rugby fields across Japan over the past few years in particular. Two Japan national team members said they had had a few issues -- "mostly insensitive onsens" -- but like many in Japan, they simply questioned why hotels, pools and gyms that had applied to host international teams could not be more accommodating. Former All Black Elliot Dixon, who plays for Ricoh Black Rams, told New Zealand website Stuff he had not encountered any negative feedback about his Maori ta moko tattoos. "Tokyo seems to be sweet, there are a lot of different cultures here I think and they can tell pretty quick that we are foreigners -- so no bad encounters at all," though he added he had not had "much experience with swimming or anything outside of our (club)facilities." The subject, however, was headline news in many of the 19 countries set to arrive here in September of next year. And it has also caused a number of academics to become involved, particularly in countries where tattoos are deemed a rite of passage or the ultimate statement of one's identity. Dr Mera Penehira, a Maori academic told New Zealand media the thoughts of Japan's indigenous Ainu people should be considered in conversations around banning tattoos at the Rugby World Cup. "I haven't heard that they've been part of the conversation," she said. Three-time world champions New Zealand, however, said they would do their best to follow World Rugby's request. "When any of our teams tour, we endeavor to be respectful of the local customs and culture, and this will be no different when we visit Japan both this year and next year," said New Zealand Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Cass. Gilpin, meanwhile, said the sport's governing body "will make people aware around the (training camps and hotels) that teams will use in the country that people with tattoos in a Rugby World Cup context are not part of the yakuza." (New Zealand's Gayle Broughton (R) in action at the Kitakyushu Sevens at Mikuni World Stadium in April) On the subject of natural disasters -- which World Rugby has some experience of having moved games from Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011 as the result of earthquake damage -- Gilpin said considerable thought had been given to possible disruptions. One scenario would be to extend the pool stage if Japan were to suffer the same sort of catastrophes it has seen affect large parts of the country in recent weeks. Teams would be relocated, he said, if Japan was to suffer a typhoon or earthquakes similar to the ones that recently affected western Japan and the country's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, respectively, and plans have been drawn up for the postponement of matches. "It's a complex piece and something we would do for every tournament. But this one has a heightened sense of realism to it. We have to take it seriously." said Gilpin. "With the weather events that have taken place in Osaka, during the equivalent time next year, Italy and the USA would just be arriving in team camps that would no longer be available in those conditions." "There has also been an earthquake in Sapporo, where matches are being played on the first weekend where teams like Australia and England would have been arriving." "We are working through all scenarios. Japan, though, does cope very well. Their venues and hotels are built to withstand incredibly adverse conditions."

3 hours ago | KYODO NEWS

Rugby

Rugby: Japan need to develop depth to make World Cup top 8, says Joseph

Rugby: Japan need to develop depth to make World Cup top 8, says Joseph

With less than a year until the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Japan coach Jamie Joseph says his team needs to develop depth in key positions if they are to fulfill their ambition of reaching the last eight. Speaking prior to the launch Thursday of events in Japan to mark one year to go before the Brave Blossoms kick off the 2019 World Cup in Tokyo on Sept. 20, 2019, the 48-year-old New Zealander said he is "trying to grow depth in every position, because if we get an injury...it leaves us vulnerable." (Japan players celebrate after a surprise 34-32 victory over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England) "One of our weaknesses is we don't have a lot of depth. That's always been a challenge for Japanese rugby. Our top 20 players are good enough, (but) our second 20, through lack of experience or opportunity in Top League, don't have other competitions to improve and just haven't had enough time to get used to international rugby." Joseph, who played for the All Blacks at the 1995 World Cup and for Japan four years later, said he is trying to give players opportunities at the highest level, but it is tough given he also has to win test matches to appease the public and media. Flyhalf and scrumhalf are a particular issue outside the top-line players, he said, and that can put Japan under pressure. However, he said he is pleased players are becoming a lot more proactive, that they are more willing to try new things rather than waiting to be told what to do and worrying about making mistakes. "Having been here two years, I think we are progressing well. We have got new players that have established themselves as international players for Japan. Players such as (Kazuki) Himeno, Koo (Ji Won), (Kenki) Fukuoka and (Yutaka) Nagare." "They have shown that they can compete at this level and compete very well. And as a team the players understand our game plan now and are, therefore, playing better and are a lot more confident against some of the tough teams." But he said players still make simple mental mistakes that cost the team test matches, and if repeated in 2019, will prevent Japan from reaching the quarterfinals on home turf. "We have to be smarter and work harder (than other teams). But that is the strength of Japanese players. They are willing to work hard as long as they understand why and how it will help us win." "We have to play a type of rugby that is very easy to watch and very easy to understand, that the players are totally committed to. The players need to be smart, understand the game plan and execute it to the very best. If they do that I am confident we can do very well." And he believes that work ethic will also ensure the Japanese public will buy into what the Brave Blossoms are trying to achieve. "For all non-rugby people in Japan, they are going to know what rugby is all about and that's great for our game. You don't have to be a rugby fan to cheer for Japan. You don't even have to like sport. We are going to have everyone here rooting for us and that's good for our sport." With the start of the 2019-2020 Top League season pushed back to January 2020, Joseph will have his team for nine months prior to the World Cup. And he intends to put the time to good use. "Next year we just need to polish what we are doing. There is nothing secret about it, just a lot of hard work and a lot of belief which leads to confidence when you go out and play the game."

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