Japan coach Jamie Joseph named an initial 30-man squad for the Rugby World Cup on Aug. 15. Three days later he added four players, while also announcing that lock James Moore had pulled out of the squad due to a conditioning issue.

On Aug. 28, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced that lock Uwe Helu and center Shogo Nakano had dropped out of the squad also due to "conditioning issues" and their places were taken by Amato Fakatava and Kanji Shimokawa.

Japan open their Pool D campaign against World Cup debutants Chile on Sept. 10 in Toulouse. They will take on 2003 champions England in Nice on Sept. 17, return to Toulouse to play Samoa on Sept. 28 before taking on Argentina in Nantes on Oct. 8.

Here then are the 33 players set to represent the Brave Blossoms at the 2023 tournament.


Keita Inagaki. (Kyodo) 

Keita Inagaki
(Saitama Wild Knights, 186cm, 116kg, 49 caps)
Rumored to be one of Japan's highest-paid players and married to model Kiko Arai. Set to appear in his third World Cup, he donated 3 million yen to help his former high school in Niigata turn their field from a dust bowl to one with real grass.

Craig Millar
(Saitama Wild Knights, 186cm, 116kg, 13 caps)
Usually comes on in second half at club level to replace Inagaki and is likely to do the same at the World Cup. New Zealand-born, he arrived in Japan in 2018 to play for the Sunwolves and Wild Knights. Is a qualified accountant.

Sione Halasili
(Yokohama Eagles, 180cm, 120kg, 0 caps)
A Tonga-born graduate of Nihon University who can also play No. 8. Endears himself to front-rowers around the world by saying the food he hates most is "vegetables."

Asaeli Ai Valu
(Saitama Wild Knights, 187cm, 115kg, 26 caps)
Educated at Shochi Fukaya High School and Saitama Institute of Technology, the Tonga-born prop is a Japanese citizen and chose "Ai" (love) as his middle name. This will be his second World Cup.

Gu Ji Won
(Kobe Steelers, 183cm, 117kg, 25 caps)
Son of South Korea international Koo Dong Choon, Gu spent some of his childhood in New Zealand before going to Nippon Bunri University High School and then Takushoku University. Was a key figure in the 2019 RWC campaign but has struggled with injuries since.

Shinnosuke Kakinaga
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 180cm, 115kg, 12 caps)
Went to perennial high school champions Higashi Fukuoka High School but then, like so many, headed to Tokyo for his higher education where he attended Waseda University. Played the violin for seven years and can be recognized by the large amount of tape he applies to his calves and hamstrings.



Atsushi Sakate
(Saitama Wild Knights, 180cm, 104kg, 37 caps)
Started playing rugby at junior high school as the school he attended did not have a volleyball club. Has captained his country in the past, but had the armband taken off him of late so he can concentrate on his own game. Like Shota Horie, he is a converted back-row forward.

Shota Horie
(Saitama Wild Knights, 180cm, 104kg, 72 caps)
The 37-year-old dreadlocked veteran is set to play in his fourth World Cup. Played rugby in New Zealand for Otago and in Australia for the Melbourne Rebels. His football and basketball playing past help him do things many other hookers would never contemplate.

Kosuke Horikoshi
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 175cm, 100kg, 7 caps)
Wanted to be a carpenter when he was growing up. He is a first dan in judo and captained Japan in rugby at Under-20 level. Has played prop both while at university and for Sungoliath. Believes the three things needed to relieve stress are "walking the dog, sauna and alcohol."



Warner Dearns
(Brave Lupus Tokyo, 201cm, 117kg, 7 caps)
Arrived in Japan when his father Grant was appointed strength and conditioning coach at Tokatsu (then NEC) Green Rockets. Was a standout at Ryukei University Kashiwa High School, and not just because he towered over all others on the field, then joined Brave Lupus straight from school. Born in New Zealand, he played for his adopted country before he played club rugby.

Amato Fakatava
(Black Rams Tokyo, 195cm, 118kg, 3 caps)
Along with Tomoki Osada was Japan's standout player in what was a disappointing Pacific Nations Series. Has taken to test-match rugby like a duck to water despite playing out of position -- is a back-rower with the Blacks Rams. The Tonga-born player originally missed out on selection due to a foot injury but has recovered quickly.

Amanaki Saumaki
(Kobe Steelers, 189cm, 108kg, 1 cap)
Listed as a lock but generally plays in the back-row for Kobe, who he joined from Yokohama Eagles. Is the younger brother of Hosea, who was known as the Tongan Godzilla during his time with the Sunwolves.



Ben Gunter
(Saitama Wild Knights, 195cm, 120kg, 8 caps)
Arrived in Japan as an 18-year-old and stayed. Born in Thailand and raised in Australia, he was close to joining the army before Wild Knights head coach Robbie Deans came calling. Was the youngest player to play in a Top League game and although he has struggled with injuries this year, he proved he was getting back to his physical best in the recent summer tests.

Kazuki Himeno. (Kyodo) 

Kazuki Himeno
(Toyota Verblitz, 187cm, 108kg, 29 caps)
Japan's captain for the tournament has long been regarded as the natural successor to Michael Leitch -- both in terms of the way he plays and his leadership qualities. Was outstanding at the last World Cup and continued that good form when he went to New Zealand to play for the Highlanders for a season in 2021.

Shota Fukui (L). (Kyodo)

Shota Fukui
(Saitama Wild Knights, 186cm, 101kg, 2 caps)Played age-grade rugby for Japan, often on the wing, while at Higashi Fukuoka High School and then surprised many by opting to skip university and join the Wild Knights. Was outstanding in his 2023 League One campaign.

Michael Leitch
(Brave Lupus Tokyo, 189cm, 113kg, 80 caps)
Captained Japan at the last two World Cups, having also played in the 2011 edition. Attended high school in Sapporo and university in Tokyo before joining Brave Lupus. Spent some time in New Zealand playing for the Chiefs before returning "home." Seems to have had a new lease of life of late following some serious injuries.

Jack Cornelsen. (Kyodo)

Jack Cornelsen
(Saitama Wild Knights, 195cm, 110kg, 16 caps)
Son of Wallabies legend Greg, Cornelsen is another of the Robbie Deans babes, having been brought over to Japan for a trial back in 2017. Can play lock and all the back-row positions.

Pieter "Lappies" Labuschagne
(Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, 189cm, 106kg, 16 caps)
Made the squad despite a warm-up match red card against Fiji that will cause him to miss the opening game against Chile. The South Africa-born player was on-field captain for a couple of games at the 2019 Rugby World Cup and scored a try in the opening game against Russia that allowed the Brave Blossoms to settle some early nerves.

Kanji Shimokawa
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 188cm, 105kg, 2 caps)
Impressed when he came off the bench against Fiji in the summer. Hails from Fukuoka and attended Waseda University. Wanted to be a baseball player when he was younger and is a diehard Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks fan.



Naoto Saito
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 165cm, 73kg, 15 caps)
Played for the Sunwolves while still at Waseda University and impressed former Suntory halfback and Australian World Cup winner George Gregan. Shares playing time and captaincy duties at Sungoliath with Yutaka Nagare.

Yutaka Nagare
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 166cm, 75kg, 34 caps)
Japan's own "petit general" and the squad's vice-captain. A graduate of Teikyo University who is appearing in his second World Cup, Nagare is a native of Fukuoka Prefecture and an avid golfer.

Kenta Fukuda
(Toyota Verblitz, 173cm, 80kg, 0 caps)
Uncapped and selected ahead of clubmate Kaito Shigeno, Fukuda aspired to be a pastry chef had he not become a rugby player. Says he was greatly helped and influenced by former Verblitz teammate Gio Aplon.



Jumpei Ogura
(Yokohama Eagles, 172cm, 82kg, 4 caps)
Played much of last season at full-back owing to the presence of Yu Tamura at the Eagles, highlighting the versatility Joseph has demanded from his squad. Graduate of powerhouses Toin Gakuen High School and Waseda University.

Rikiya Matsuda (R). (Kyodo)

Rikiya Matsuda
(Saitama Wild Knights, 181cm, 92kg, 33 caps)
The safe and solid option at both club and national level when compared with the mercurial talent of fellow Wild Knight Takuya Yamasawa. On his day a very good goal kicker but seems to have suffered from nerves in recent big games.

Lee Seung Sin
(Kobe Steelers, 176cm, 85kg, 10 caps)
Born in Japan, Lee went to a North Korea-aligned school in Osaka, though he has South Korean citizenship. Attended Teikyo University but took the unusual step of quitting after his first year in the hope of playing overseas. That was dashed by COVID so he joined the Steelers.



Tomoki Osada (front). (Kyodo)

Ryoto Nakamura. (Kyodo)


Tomoki Osada
(Saitama Wild Knights, 179cm, 90kg, 4 caps)
Was named Rookie of the Year following the 2023 League One season when he scored nine tries in 14 games. He continued that good form over the summer when he was one of Japan's standout players.

Dylan Riley
(Saitama Wild Knights, 187cm, 102kg, 14 caps)
Persuaded to leave Queensland, Australia, for Japan, Riley's development during his time in Japan has been greatly helped by playing alongside Hadleigh Parkes and then Damian de Allende.


Ryoto Nakamura
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 182cm, 92kg, 35 caps)
Played football for 12 years before taking up rugby at Kagoshima Jitsugyo High School. Was a key figure in the 2019 campaign, his kicking and passing game helped to create a number of opportunities for his outside backs.



Lomano Lava Lemeki
(Green Rockets Tokatsu, 178cm, 96kg, 16 caps)
An Olympian for Japan in 2016 when Tomohiro Segawa's sevens side surprised the world by beating New Zealand on their way to a fourth-place finish. Somewhat of a surprise selection as he has not featured for the national team since the 2019 tournament. His ability to play anywhere in the back three -- as well as flyhalf -- sees him return to the fold.

Jone Naikabula. (Kyodo)

Jone Naikabula
(Brave Lupus Tokyo, 177cm, 95kg, 4 caps)
A graduate of Setsunan University having previously attended well-known rugby nursery Kelston Boys High School in Auckland, New Zealand. Like many from Fiji, played a lot of sevens when growing up. Said he always wanted to join Brave Lupus because Leitch has a Fijian mother.

Semisi Masirewa
(Hanazono Liners, 181cm, 93kg, 5 caps)
Was a real favorite during his time at the Sunwolves for his ability to create something from nothing. Like many of the backs, his versatility -- he can also cover full-back -- was a deciding factor in his selection.

Siosaia Fifita
(Toyota Verblitz, 187cm, 105kg, 12 caps)
Did not feature in any of the warm-up games and was picked as a wing even though he played center for Hanazono Liners before his end-of-season move to Toyota Verblitz. Tonga-born, he attended Japan Aviation High School Ishikawa before going to Tenri University.



Kotaro Matsushima
(Tokyo Sungoliath, 178cm, 88kg, 51 caps)
One of the stars of the 2019 World Cup, Matsushima was a classmate of Ogura at Toin Gakuen High School. Went to South Africa upon leaving school before Eddie Jones pulled him out of the Sharks Academy to join the Japan squad in 2013. He spent two seasons (2020-2022) in France with Clermont.

Kotaro Matsushima. (Kyodo)

Related coverage:

Rugby: Problems remain as Brave Blossoms head to World Cup

Rugby: Japan add 4 forwards to World Cup squad but lose Moore