Japan hosted the first ever Rugby World Cup in Asia this year, with South Africa's Springboks emerging victorious over England in the final of a tournament that was widely regarded as a resounding success. Colorful spectators, thrilling action on the field and heartwarming scenes off it are captured in this collection of photos taken before and during the competition.
Japanese fans showed teams including Wales and New Zealand plenty of love even before the tournament began. Elementary students performed the haka, a Maori ceremonial dance, at a welcoming event for the All Blacks in Kashiwa in Chiba Prefecture, while around 15,000 fans turned out to watch Wales train at Mikuni World Stadium in Kitakyushu.
The spectacular opening ceremony for the tournament, which told the story of the mythical dawn of time, rugby's origins and its arrival in Japan, was held at Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium) ahead of hosts Japan's Pool A clash with Russia
The northeastern coastal city of Kamaishi earned an award for honoring rugby's core values of "integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect," as it used the sport and the Rugby World Cup to showcase its recovery from a disastrous earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people. During the tournament, Canada's players endeared themselves to the Kamaishi locals by helping in a cleanup operation following the cancellation of their Pool B match against Namibia due to a powerful typhoon.
Teams at the tournament took up a new tradition of bowing to spectators after matches to express their appreciation, a familiar scene in Japanese rugby. New Zealand set the trend when the All Blacks addressed the crowd following their pool-stage victory over South Africa, winning the hearts of Japanese fans and making headlines for the warm gesture.
Child mascots who ran out with the teams were praised for learning and singing the national anthem of the team they accompanied, yet another demonstration of the dedication from Japanese people to support every team at the tournament.
Japan turned to a novel tactic to make sure enough beer was available to satisfy thirsty spectators at tournament stadiums. "Uriko," the Japanese word for beer vendors that scale the stands carrying kegs on their backs, are ubiquitous at professional baseball games in the country. Almost always smiley young women, some uriko have become wildly popular and even gone on to become TV personalities.
Japanese spectators did the country proud at the tournament but one superfan in particular stood out from the crowd. "Bak-san," whose real name is Hiroshi Moriyama, attended games with his upper body painted in the colors of one of the teams playing and became a global social media sensation.
England's game against France was one of three called off due to a powerful typhoon that also threatened to wipe out Japan's final Pool A game against Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama (Nissan Stadium).
In the end the Japan-Scotland game was given the all-clear to go ahead as scheduled and jet-heeled winger Kenki Fukuoka scored arguably one of the tries of the tournament in a 28-21 victory for the Brave Blossoms that secured their passage to the quarterfinals for the first time
Japan's magical run at the tournament was to eventually come to and end with a 26-3 quarterfinal defeat to South Africa. The Springboks went on to become worthy World Cup winners for a third time, comfortably seeing off England 32-12 in the showpiece final.