Michiko Ohashi had never held a rugby ball before Monday, but she is ready to immerse herself in the sport in preparation for next year's World Cup in Japan.
A resident of suburban western Tokyo, Ohashi was among hundreds of applicants interviewed Monday in the capital's Yurakucho district for "Team No-Side," the official volunteer program for Rugby World Cup 2019.
"I'm just learning about rugby, so I am studying," said Ohashi, who regularly interacts with overseas visitors in her job as a guide at Tokyo's Metropolitan Government Building.
World Cup organizers are in the final stages of recruiting more than 10,000 volunteers across 12 host cities for the tournament, which will be held in Asia for the first time from Sept. 20 to Nov. 2.
The call for volunteers received an "overwhelming" response, with some 38,000 applicants, more than any previous Rugby World Cup, according to organizing committee member Deborah Jones.
"We're ecstatic. To see that level of excitement and enthusiasm is fantastic," said New Zealander Jones, the deputy director of the tournament's workforce.
"When you ask why they're volunteering, so many have said 'omotenashi'," added Jones, using a Japanese term for hospitality which has become something of a slogan during the current inbound tourism boom.
Some 3,500 shortlisted applicants will be interviewed over the course of 28 group sessions in Tokyo. The interviews from Dec. 14-18 in the capital are the last to be held, following identical events in other host cities.
At the sessions, the prospective volunteers learn about the history of Rugby World Cup, as well as the laws of the game.
They also undertake problem-solving exercises in groups and receive basic coaching on rugby skills, such as passing the ball.
Throughout the process, recruiters observe the way they approach the tasks and interact with others.
Volunteers need to be energetic, enthusiastic and show strong communication skills, Jones said. The successful applicants will be notified in January, with training to start soon afterward.
Ohashi, who reads news stories in English every day as part of her studies, looks forward to greeting visitors from around the world during the World Cup.
"I like to help people and I want to use my language skills," said Ohashi, who can also converse in German after spending five years in Austria, where her husband was posted by a Japanese electronics firm.
Also attending the interview was student Naoya Takahashi, who has taken up playing rugby at university.
"It's a tough game, but I really enjoy it," said the 22-year-old, who is studying law and journalism.
"When I found out Japan was going to host the Rugby World Cup, I knew I wanted to be a part of it."
The name of the volunteer workforce draws its name from the early days of rugby, when the referee would call "no side" at the end of a match to indicate neither team had the next possession of the ball.