Our experience attending the Rugby World Cup in Japan

family selfie at the rugby world cup in Kobe Japan

Rugby World Cup in Japan 

The main reason we decided to travel to Japan in October was to attend the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Earlier this morning, while watching the highly entertaining semi-final match between England and New Zealand, I was instantly transported back to Japan. Seeing the cheering fans in the stadium brought back fond memories.

Being in Japan for the Rugby World Cup was a special experience to share with our boys.

When we ask our boys what they thought of our trip to Japan, they both say, “it was the best trip ever!” We agree. It was an exceptional trip that we will be talking about for many years to come.

When we told people we were attending the Rugby World Cup their first question was often, “I didn’t know you guys were big rugby fans?” 

“We’re not”, was our reply.

Then why travel across the world to attend the Rugby World Cup?

Great question! The short answer is that we’ve wanted to attend the Rugby World Cup ever since our home city, Vancouver, hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010. Being a part of a world event was such a unique and memorable experience, so we made a goal to visit a different world event.

After being introduced to rugby during our travels to New Zealand and Australia, we thought it would be fun to make the Rugby World Cup our next world event. 

We originally planned to attend the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, but our boys were only four and two years old at the time. We felt it would be too difficult to enjoy the games with a toddler, so we decided to wait until they were a little older.

When we learned the host country for the 2019 Rugby World Cup was Japan, we were instantly sold. Japan is one of our favourite travel destinations. We visited 10 years ago and had often talked about returning.

It was an easy decision. 

How did it all come together?

Once we made the decision to attend the Rugby World Cup in Japan, the first step was to secure match tickets. Tickets to the Rugby World Cup games are not easy to acquire – more on that later. 

The Rugby World Cup is spread over seven weeks, from September 20 to November 2, so we decided to visit during the pool stage of the tournament. During the pool stage, multiple games are played every day, which means more games to choose from.  

The plan was to spend two weeks in Japan. 

When we looked at the calendar, it made sense to travel over the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, which was on October 14. Traveling over holidays is one of the ways we’re able to travel more

The next question was whether to travel before or after the holiday. 

On our 2009 trip to Japan we covered a lot of ground. We purchased a Japan Rail pass and visited Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Kobe, Hiroshima and Narita in 14 days. It was a lot.

We decided to take it slow on this trip to Japan.

High on our Japan wish list was a return to Kyoto. On our previous trip, we felt like we didn’t spend enough time there. So, with that, a loose itinerary was born. We would arrive and depart from Tokyo and we would spend 4 nights in Kyoto.

The rest would be decided once we found tickets to a few rugby matches. 

Our itinerary for the Rugby World Cup

We first got tickets for the rugby match between Russia and Scotland at Shizuoka Stadium Epoca, located in Fukuroi City in Shizuoka Prefecture

Because this stadium is far from both Tokyo and Kyoto, we decided to stay in Shizuoka City and try to get tickets to another match being played at Shizuoka Stadium. Here’s the list of matches at the Rugby World Cup.

The Russia vs Scotland game was scheduled for October 9. Two days later, on October 11, the Australia vs Georgia match would be played at Shizuoka Stadium Epoca. 

It made sense to try to get tickets for that game. Since we’d already be in Shizuoka, why not spend an extra night and watch another live game? 

Fortunately, we were able to secure tickets to the Australia vs Georgia match. 

Then, the plot twist. 

When we purchased our two matches in Shizouka, we were led to believe that Canada had not qualified for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

That was partially true.

Canada had failed to be one of the three teams to advance from the Americas qualification process. We assumed this meant Canada would not be in the World Cup. However, we learned that Canada did qualify for the tournament because they won the repechage.

This was a pleasant surprise!

We looked at our schedule and the locations of the Canada matches. It made sense for us to get tickets for the Canada vs South Africa match in Kobe. Kobe is only an hour train from Kyoto and it had plenty of hotel accommodations still available. We ended up staying here.

After several attempts, we finally scored tickets to the Canada game in Kobe. 

We did not expect to have the opportunity to watch our country play in the tournament, so this was an amazing turn of events. It would be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences for us and our boys.

And, with that, our Japan itinerary was made. 

We would spend four nights in Tokyo, followed by four nights in Kyoto, three nights in Kobe (to attend the Canada vs South Africa game), two nights in Shizuoka (to attend the Australia vs Georgia game) and two more nights in Tokyo before returning home. 

Because we were able to get the tickets to the Canada game, we decided to sell our original tickets to the Scotland vs Russia match on October 9th. The Canada game was the day before, on October 8th, so it would have been difficult to make both games work. 

See our Instagram stories for highlights from our Japan trip here.

South Africa receives the line out pass at the Rugby World Cup match in Kobe, Japan

outside Kobe Misaki Stadium during rugby world cup match between Canada and South Africa

Kobe Misaki Stadium – Canada vs South Africa 

Our first game at the Rugby World Cup was the match between Canada and South Africa in Kobe. Kobe Misaki Stadium also hosted soccer games during the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan.

Kobe Misaki Stadium, also known as Noevir Stadium Kobe, is a large retractable-roof stadium with capacity of 30,132. Our seats were located near the In-goal area, which is rugby speak for end zone.

A miracle would need to occur for Canada to have a chance against the formidable South Africa Springboks, two time winners of the Rugby World Cup.

As expected, South Africa destroyed Canada by a score of 66-7. See match highlights here.

It was a great experience. The whole stadium was cheering for Canada to get “Just. One. Try!” And, when they finally did, the whole stadium erupted. 

Braydon making friends before the rugby match in Kobe, Japan.

Springboks fans at the rugby world cup game in Kobe Japan

Springboks fans having some fun with a Canada fan. It was a very friendly and festive atmosphere at the Rugby World Cup. Everyone was giving high fives regardless of what team you support. 

The Heineken beer team was out in full force at the rugby matches. There was concern that breweries in Japan would run out of beer during the world cup event.

We’re not used to getting beer delivered to our seats, so this was a nice perk. 

Players stand for the national anthems before the Canada vs South Africa match in Kobe.

This is the view from our seats as South Africa celebrates an easy Try against Canada. 

Watch the South Africa vs Canada rugby game highlights here.

Inside views of the Kobe Misaki Stadium during Rugby World Cup match between Canada and South Africa

Here’s a different view inside Kobe Misaki Stadium. 

Inside views of the Kobe Misaki Stadium during Rugby World Cup match between Canada and South Africa

Get your $45 credit for AirBnB accommodations here.

Half time selfie at field level. 

Fans make a beer stop at the 7/11 before the game between Canada and South Africa. Convenience stores and pop-up vendors sold cold cans of beer to fans as they walked from the train station to the stadium. It was a fun atmosphere. The Japanese are so welcoming and friendly to foreigners. 

Rugby World Cup merchandise is sold out, except for England. The irony is that England is now playing in the Rugby World Cup Final against South Africa. 

Shizuoka Stadium Epoca – Australia vs Georgia

Our second rugby game experience was quite different from the first.

We received word that Typhoon Hagibis was going to hit the Kantō region of Japan on October 12. The Australia vs Georgia match at Shizuoka Stadium Epoca was on October 11.

The typhoon was expected to make landfall in Shizuoka Prefecture, located on Japan’s Pacific Ocean about 180 km southwest of Tokyo. This is exactly where we were staying and where the stadium is located. 

As you can imagine, tensions were high. We had decisions to make.

Trains and flights were cancelled for Saturday, October 12. We were supposed to travel on the Shinkansen train from Shizuoka to Tokyo that day. Not any more.  

We had two options – (1) travel to Tokyo a day early, which meant skipping the rugby game, or (2) stay an extra night in Shizuoka and travel to Tokyo on Sunday.

We wrestled with each option for hours. 

There was no way to predict the impact of the typhoon. What if train infrastructure is destroyed? How would we get back to Tokyo to catch our flight home? What if Tokyo Haneda Airport is flooded? 

In the end, we decided to stay in Shizuoka City for an extra night.

We had to switch hotels in Shizuoka because our hotel was fully booked for Saturday. Fortunately, we found a room at the Hotel Associa Shizuoka, which is located beside the Shizuoka train station.

The decision to stay in Shizuoka meant we would be able to watch the rugby game between Australia and Georgia. We’re glad things worked out because it was a really fun game to watch. Aussies like to get loud and rowdy at rugby matches and their enthusiasm is contagious.

Australia fans cheering at the Australia rugby match at the Rugby World Cup in Shizuoka Japan

Making friends at the Rugby World Cup in Fukuroi City, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Outside Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa before the game started.

inside Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa at Rugby Word Cup game Australia v Georgia

View of the field from our seats inside Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.

The food menu at Shizuoka Stadium for the rugby world cup match. 

The heavy rain did not dampen the atmosphere.

The approaching typhoon meant heavy rain hit the stadium just before the game started. Because of the rain, most people avoided the outdoor beer stations, which meant no lines.

It also meant the beer servers at this Heineken tent were not busy, so they had fun singing in the rain. They even sang Connor happy birthday when they learned his birthday was a few days earlier. 

We were worried about getting soaked because the stadium does not have a retractable roof. Fortunately, our seats were located in a covered section, so we stayed nice and dry.

This was one of those rare moments when we were thankful for the cheap seats! The people sitting in the expensive seats near the field got absolutely drenched. 

Although we avoided the rain inside the stadium, the same cannot be said for the journey back to the train station. The train station is a 20 minute walk from Shizuoka Stadium – everybody got wet.

Fan Zones at the Japan Rugby World Cup 

Several Rugby World Cup fan zones were set-up throughout Japan. We enjoyed the pre-game fun at the fan zone in Fukuroi City before the Wallabies game at Shizuoka Stadium.

See the above photo. That’s the scene about an hour before the rain arrived.

However, we were surprised to find the Kobe fan zone taken down the day after the South Africa vs Canada game at Kobe Misaki Stadium. We planned to spend an afternoon watching rugby games at the Kobe fan zone but, when we arrived, there was nothing there? The tents, chairs, stage, fencing – all of it was removed.

Over 30,000 fans attended the game the night before – surely there was enough fan support to keep it open for a few more days? It was disappointing.

We captured the above photo near the Kobe fan zone the day before the game. The next afternoon, this sign was also taken down. Literally 12 hours after the game. They don’t mess around in Japan!

This interesting float passed the fan zone at Fukuroi City before the Australia game. We’re not sure the meaning behind the float and the singing, but it certainly added to the festive atmosphere.

This guy is a character. He enjoys serving cold beer to enthusiastic rugby fans!

A family portrait to remember!

Our boys enjoyed the magic show at the fan zone.

outside the Shizuoka fan zone for the rugby world cup in japan before typhoon hit

The above photo was captured outside the Shizuoka fan zone

Unfortunately, many of the fan zones had to be taken down early due to Typhoon Hagibis. The strong winds would rip apart the tents and fences, so they had to be removed for safety reasons. 

Disappointing, but necessary.

empty Shizuoka fan zone at rugby world cup in japan

This is the Shizouka fan zone two days before the typhoon hit. 

Where’s all the rugby?

Our vision of the Rugby World Cup was quite different from our actual experience.

We envisioned the streets and trains filled with enthusiastic rugby fans bouncing around the country. In reality, if you were not a rugby fan, you might not have known the Rugby World Cup was even happening. 

I suppose population density plays a role in this feeling. After all, you can fit all of Canada’s 37 million people in the Greater Tokyo area alone (which has over 38 million people).

Sure, there was the occasional signage, like the train in the above photo, but the Rugby World Cup didn’t seem like a big deal. Residents and workers went about their daily business, as if hosting a world event was just a part of every day life in Japan. 

Don’t get me wrong – the atmosphere at the live games was amazing.

But we didn’t feel the same enthusiasm when we were sightseeing and wandering around the cities. Occasionally we would see a family or group of friends sporting their nation’s jersey, but that was not the norm. 

In fact, we found it difficult to find restaurants showing the games.

When we showed up to the fan zone in Kobe and found it abandoned, we decided to watch the Wales vs Fiji game at a restaurant instead. We wandered the bustling streets of Kobe for over an hour in search of a restaurant or pub showing the live rugby game. It proved to be an adventure. 

Surprisingly, the only place we could find was on the 4th floor of an obscure building. And we only found this place because Nicole spotted a small hand written sign that said ‘we play rugby games’.

It seemed odd to us.

Here we are, in the host city of a world event, and it was almost impossible to find an establishment showing the live games? 

Success! We finally found this fun restaurant showing the rugby match. 

How to get tickets to the Rugby World Cup

When purchased our tickets for the Rugby World Cup games a year before the actual event. For those of you wanting to purchase tickets for the 2023 world cup in France, you should start the process of purchasing tickets in early 2022.

First, make sure you register at the Rugby World Cup website to receive notifications.

We joined the free program called Front Row. This gave us the ability to register early, before tickets were released to the public. There will still long be wait times, but we did get the tickets we wanted.

If you plan on attending the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, don’t get discouraged! It will be difficult to get tickets and there will be long wait times, but be persistent and don’t give up. Make sure to be mindful of the dates and try to get online the minute tickets become available.

Mastercard is an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup. If you pay with a Mastercard, you get priority for RWC tickets. 

The Rugby World Cup website also has an official re-sale site.

We successfully re-sold the Russia vs Scotland tickets that we could not use. If you’re not sure what games you want to attend when tickets become available, buy the ones you think you will want. You can always re-sell them later.

One thing to note is that we did not see any scalpers in Japan. In North America, you can always find someone selling tickets outside the venue before game time. This was not the case in Japan. I’m not sure what it will be like in France, but our recommendation would be to secure your tickets first – don’t expect to find tickets available on game day.

Have you been to the Rugby World Cup?

If not, is attending a Rugby World Cup on your wish list?

We’re already making plans to attend the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France!

Our experience attending the Rugby World Cup in Japan is a post from: Traveling Canucks