Former Japan scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka, who played at three Rugby World Cups, said Wednesday he will retire at the end of his current League One season with second-division Green Rockets Tokatsu.

The 166-centimeter Kyoto native helped Japan win three pool-stage matches at the 2015 World Cup in England, including their historic upset of South Africa.

Tanaka was also the first Japanese to play in Super Rugby in 2013, and was part of the Highlanders side that won the title in 2015.

File photo shows Fumiaki Tanaka (C) looking to pass the ball in Japan's Rugby World Cup pool-stage match against South Africa on Sept. 19, 2015, in Brighton, England. (Kyodo)

"I'm proud that I was able to play this far with my diminutive frame and to create a new history for Japanese rugby," the popular 39-year-old told a press conference in Tokyo. "I spent the best and happiest times."

He also contributed to the Brave Blossoms' best-ever quarterfinal finish, at the 2019 World Cup on home soil.

Former Japan rugby player Fumiaki Tanaka announces his decision to retire during a press conference in Tokyo on April 24, 2024. (Kyodo)

Tanaka, who won 75 caps for his country, has been a longtime advocate of promoting rugby in Japan and was clearly moved to tears when an estimated 50,000 people gathered for the national team's parade following the 2019 World Cup.

"He (Tanaka) was the most hated opponent, but when he was on my side he was the most reliable and respected player," said Yutaka Nagare, who took over from Tanaka as Japan's starting scrum-half. "Thank you for bringing Japanese rugby to this stage."

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