Explore Japan: Rugby World Cup Tour 2019

The Japan Rugby World Cup takes place from 20th September - 2nd November 2019, at 12 stadiums cross-country in the Kanto, Hokkaido, Tohoku, Chubu, Kansai, Setouchi and Kyushu regions.

It’s the first ever Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia and the first Rugby World Cup to be held outside the sport’s traditional heartland.

If you’re following the rugby, or just along for the ride, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to explore Japan, outside of the stadiums.

We break it down, region by region:

Noevir Stadium, Kobe, Japan, is one of the 12 stadiums that will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Noevir Stadium, Kobe, Japan, is one of the 12 stadiums that will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Kanto region: Tokyo Stadium, International Stadium Yokohama, Kumagaya Rugby Stadium

Tokyo, Japan. Photo Credit: Andre Benz

Tokyo, Japan. Photo Credit: Andre Benz

Tokyo, Yokohama and Kumagaya are well-connected cities, each offering a great base from which to explore the Kanto region with day trips, or to venture further afield from with an overnight stay. An hour by train from these stadiums are the historic samurai temples in seaside town Kamakura; best known for The Great Buddha of Kamakura which featured in Rudyard Kipling’s poem of the same name. Those seeking a break from city life can easily reach Mount Takao by train, here you can hike through a sacred site of Buddhist mountain worship. Located 50 minutes from Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, the hike takes around 2 hours from start to summit, which on a clear day offers views of the iconic Mt Fuji.

Further afield is Nikko National Park, home to the Tokugawa-jinja shrine, famous for carvings such as the ‘three wise monkeys’. Nearby Hakone National Park, in the volcanic foothills of Mt Fuji, is one of the best places in Kanto to experience an overnight stay in a traditional Japanese guesthouse or ‘Ryokan’.

Hokkaido region: Sapporo Dome, Sapporo

Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan. Photo Credit: Jarret Kow

Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan. Photo Credit: Jarret Kow

England’s first match will be in the capital of the wild northern island, Hokkaido. Sapporo in Hokkaido offers a unique history influenced by Ainu culture, local speciality snow crab, and is often considered the birthplace of Japanese beer. Visits to Japan’s Great North is today easier and more cost effective than it used to be; two branches of JR (Japan Railways), JR Hokkaido and JR East, have joined to launch the JR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass. Two hours by train from Sapporo, Lake Toya’s altitude and latitude offers the unique chance to see changing autumn leaves - a nationally celebrated spectacle on a par with cherry blossoms. For keen skiers, the end of the Rugby World Cup signifies the start of the famous ski season in Hokkaido.

Tohoku region: Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium

Risshaku Temple, Tohoku, Japan

Risshaku Temple, Tohoku, Japan

Free time between matches held at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium in Iwate prefecture, offers the opportunity to see a different side of Japan. The nearby Miyagi prefecture is rich in samurai history from the Date Clan, and travellers can visit the family’s original tea house, Kanrantei. Once serving samurai, princesses and royal guests, Kanrantei today serves traditional ‘wagashi’ soybean sweets for guests to enjoy. Whiskey fans can book a tour and tasting session at the award-winning Nikka Whiskey Distillery in Sendai, founded by the father of Japanese Whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru.

Outside the city, Risshaku Temple (also known as Yamadera) is about a 3 hour drive away, and a hike through Naruko Gorge can be paired with a visit to the Kokeshi Doll Museum where visitors can try their hand at making the classic Japanese toy. Matsushima Bay, voted one of the three most scenic views of Japan, is a short train ride away and best experienced (and photographed) by sightseeing boat. The Sanriku Railway passes through some of Japan’s most scenic coastal stretch including the famously beautiful Jodogahama Beach.

Chubu region: City of Toyota Stadium, Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa

Sake in Japan. Photo Credit: Con Karampelas

Sake in Japan. Photo Credit: Con Karampelas

These two stadiums, located in central Japan, offer a gateway to explore the Japanese Alps. Either city makes a great starting point from which to explore the Three Star Road, a route through the mountains linking the alpine highlights of Takayama’s traditional sake breweries and mountain crafts, Shirakawago’s thatched ‘praying hands’ houses and the cultural treasures of Kanazawa’s geisha districts. The famous ‘snow monkeys’ of Judokudani Monkey Park can be visited as a day trip from either stadium, as can the historic mountain town of Matsumoto - a must for history and art buffs alike. Fans can explore Matsumoto’s original and well-preserved castle, as well as the contemporary art museum displaying works by internationally renowned artist and local, Yayoi Kusama. Take a day trip to the Izu Peninsula and visit Japan’s oldest hot spring resort town, Shuzenji, or try the hiking hotspots around the Jogasaki Coast. The Chubu region hosts Fujinomiya city, one of the most popular start locations for climbers conquering Mount Fuji. For those seeking a more relaxing break, try a day trip to the Fuji Five Lakes via Shirato Falls on the northern side of the mountain.

Kansai region: Hanazono Stadium, Osaka

Kyoto, Japan.

Kyoto, Japan.

Affectionately called ‘Japan’s kitchen’, Osaka is at the heart of the Kansai region and boasts speciality cuisine and a vibrant nightlife. A bullet train hub, Osaka can be used to explore nearby Himeji and former capital Nara, each with 1-2 hours journey time, while sister-city Kyoto is a mere 15 minutes away by Shinkansen. Himeji is home to UNESCO World Heritage site Himeji Castle, which can be explored on foot before taking a cable car to the top of Mt. Shosha, the filming location of Hollywood movie The Last Samurai. To experience one of the most sacred places in Japan, travel to Mt Koya, a small temple town with over 100 temples, 52 of which offer accommodation.

Setouchi region: Misaki Stadium, Kobe

Itsukushima ‘floating’ shrine. Photo CRedit: Nicki Eliza Schinow

Itsukushima ‘floating’ shrine. Photo CRedit: Nicki Eliza Schinow

The Setouchi region, an area which encompasses the seven prefectures bordering the Seto Inland Sea, has much to offer fans visiting Kobe. After trying the world-famous Kobe beef in its namesake city, fans can visit any of the region’s 275 sake breweries, many of which offer tours and tastings. This region is also a great place to buy local speciality crafts such as Bizen style Japanese pottery or Kamioka denim. Crossing the Seto Ohashi Bridge, the longest of its kind in the world and a feat of architectural engineering, takes visitors from Japan’s main island to the Setouchi region’s wild hinterland – Shikoku. Once there, handmade vine bridges lead you across secret valleys. The Setouchi region perfectly expresses Japan’s contrasts, with ancient treasures such as the Itsukushima ‘floating’ shrine and the Hiroshima Peace Dome - both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Seto Inland Sea, host of the Setouchi Art Triennale, is peppered with contemporary art sites such as Naoshima Art Island, sitting alongside traditional fishing villages where Japanese life has remained unchanged for decades. The beautiful Dogo Onsen of Matsuyama, Japan’s oldest bath house, was once frequented by the Imperial family and inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away.

Kyushu region: Oita Stadium, Kumamoto Stadium, Fukuoka Stadium

Ramen dish. Photo CRedit: Edward Guk

Ramen dish. Photo CRedit: Edward Guk

These three stadiums host the games to be played in the southern island of Kyushu, a lesser known region of Japan. Fukuoka is the birthplace of noodle dish ‘Tonkotsu’ ramen, which is best experienced at one of the pop-up ‘yatai’ stalls along the waterfront of Nakatsu district. Savvy travellers can use Yatai Kippu to pay for easy access to several different stalls, instead of paying at each. Further south is Yufuin, an onsen (spa) town and craft village accessible by train from Oita, where visitors can enjoy boutiques, art galleries and traditional bath houses. The unique practice of sandbathing takes place in southern Kyushu where volcanic activity is so strong the black sands of Ibusuki are always warm. Armed with the appropriate Japan Rail Pass, these locations are all easily accessible and make fantastic excursions between matches.

Getting there:
For more information on Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 visit: See Japan

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