With Tokyo set to host two of the world’s biggest sporting events – the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Summer Olympics – Japan’s capital is making final preparations for the global spotlight.
So what will sports fans notice when they travel here?
First of all, they won’t be alone.
Tourism in Tokyo is already booming. Annual foreign visitor arrivals to Japan trebled in the years from 2013 to 2018 to over 31 million, with around 10 million stopping in Tokyo. That’s supposed to top 40 million in 2020.
However, unlike other destinations in Japan that are visibly struggling to cope with the influx, Tokyo, thanks to its size and a series of measures to prepare for the deluge, has so far been able to absorb them.
Rugby World Cup kicks off this week
The city’s Olympic readiness will get a test run when the Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 20 at Tokyo Stadium. Matches will be held in 12 Japanese cities and around 600,000 international rugby fans are expected to descend on the country, taking one third of tickets.
Most of those will be from rugby heartlands: the British Isles, France, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The organizers have promised that all the basics for an exciting and welcoming experience are in place, with 13,000 volunteers, many with English-language skills, on hand on match days.
Tokyo Stadium itself is around 18 kilometers to the west of what can be considered the central part of the city, though there are two official fan zones at the Tokyo Sports Square and Chofu Station Square/Chofu City Green Hall.
Unless Japan is playing, local pubs, known as izakayas, are more likely to be watching the culmination of the baseball season or variety shows on TV than rugby.
This is where some businesses are looking to fill the gap, such as the Hub group of British-style pubs and ANA Intercontinental Hotel Group.
Both are making efforts to target foreign visitors and local sports fans with promotions and fan-theme areas in their bars and hotels to watch live broadcasts of the matches.
“What I most expect is that we will have many foreigners who understand pub culture (because it’s originally their culture) and they enjoy chatting and watching sports,” says Tsuyoshi Ota, president of Hub.
While the sport is growing in the country and Japan’s national team, known as “The Brave Blossoms” notched a huge win in the tournament against South African four years ago, it still remains niche.
“I think locals will find something big is going on in September seeing so many foreigners and they will give foreigners a warm greeting. I don’t think most local people realize that so many people are coming to Japan for the Rugby World Cup,” says Ota.
Tokoyite and sports fan Kensuke Tezuka also thinks that once the event gets going the atmosphere and local interest level will change.
“Japanese people tend to be quiet in daily life but we get cheerful and friendly in omatsuri (festival) occasions. I remember the 2002 football World Cup. Shibuya Crossing was very lively. The visitors come to Tokyo for a once-in a-lifetime occasion, so they are naturally excited. They will provide a great vibe.”