Is Rugby Popular in Japan?

Rugby is becoming increasingly popular in Japan. The country hosted the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was the first time the tournament was held in Asia. Japan’s impressive performance in the tournament, including a historic victory over Ireland, helped to increase interest in the sport throughout the country.

How Many People Play Rugby in Japan?

Rugby union has been steadily gaining popularity in Japan over the past decade, with a growing number of people playing the sport at both amateur and professional levels. According to the Japan Rugby Football Union, there were approximately 122,000 registered rugby players in Japan as of 2021.

This number includes players of all ages, genders, and skill levels, from youth and high school rugby teams to university and club teams. In recent years, the popularity of rugby has been driven in part by the success of the national team, which reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and has been performing well in international competitions.

In addition to the registered players, there are also many rugby fans and supporters in Japan, with large crowds attending matches at both professional and amateur levels. The Japan Rugby Top League, which is the country’s premier rugby union competition, has also been growing in popularity in recent years, with increased investment and sponsorship deals helping to attract top talent to the league.

Overall, rugby union is a relatively niche sport in Japan compared to baseball, soccer, and other popular sports, but it has a passionate and dedicated following among players and fans alike. With the upcoming Rugby World Cup in 2023, it is expected that the sport will continue to grow and gain more mainstream attention in Japan in the years to come.

History of Rugby in Japan

Rugby was first introduced to Japan in 1899 by Ginnosuke Tanaka, a Japanese student who had been studying in England. Tanaka formed the Keio University Rugby Football Club, which was the first rugby club in Japan. Rugby quickly became popular among students at Japanese universities, and in 1926, the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) was formed to govern the sport in the country.

Best Japanese Rugby Players

Japan has produced some excellent rugby players over the years. Some of the best Japanese rugby players include:

  1. Ayumu Goromaru – a fullback who was a key player in Japan’s 2015 Rugby World Cup campaign.
  2. Kenki Fukuoka – a winger who is known for his speed and agility.
  3. Michael Leitch – a flanker who is the captain of the Japanese national team.
  4. Yu Tamura – a fly-half who is known for his excellent kicking abilities.
  5. Shota Horie – a hooker who has played in three Rugby World Cups for Japan.

Best Rugby Teams in Japan

The Japan Rugby League One is the top professional rugby competition in Japan. Some of the best teams in the league include:

  1. Suntory Sungoliath – a team that has won the league title 6 times.
  2. Panasonic Wild Knights – a team that has won the league title 4 times.
  3. Toyota Verblitz – a team that has won the league title 3 times.

Japanese Rugby Culture

Rugby has a rich and deep cultural history in Japan, dating back to the late 19th century when the sport was first introduced to the country. Over the years, rugby has become an integral part of Japanese sports culture, with a unique set of values and traditions that have been passed down through generations of players and fans.

Here are some of the key aspects of Japanese rugby culture:

  1. Respect: Respect for one’s opponents, teammates, coaches, and officials is at the heart of Japanese rugby culture. Players are expected to bow to their opponents before and after matches, and to conduct themselves with humility and sportsmanship on the field.
  2. Teamwork: Teamwork is another key value in Japanese rugby culture. Players are encouraged to put the team’s goals ahead of their own individual ambitions, and to work together to achieve success on the field.
  3. Hard work and discipline: Japanese rugby players are known for their intense work ethic and discipline. They train rigorously, often for hours each day, and are expected to maintain a high level of fitness and focus both on and off the field.
  4. Courage: Courage and bravery are highly valued in Japanese rugby culture. Players are expected to put their bodies on the line for the team and to play with heart and determination, even in the face of adversity.
  5. Passion and commitment: Japanese rugby players and fans are deeply passionate about the sport, and the level of commitment and dedication shown by players and supporters alike is often very high.
  6. Community: Rugby has a strong sense of community in Japan, with many players and supporters viewing the sport as a way to bring people together and build stronger bonds within their local communities.

Overall, Japanese rugby culture is characterized by a deep respect for tradition, a strong emphasis on teamwork and discipline, and a passion for the sport that is felt by players and fans alike. These values have helped to shape the sport in Japan and have contributed to the country’s growing success on the global rugby stage.

Japanese Rugby Training Methods

Japanese rugby players are known for their high levels of fitness and discipline. Many teams use a combination of traditional Japanese training methods, such as martial arts and yoga, along with more modern training techniques, such as strength and conditioning programs.

Here are some of the training methods commonly used by Japanese rugby players:

  1. Strength and Conditioning: Japanese rugby players focus on building strength and endurance through weight training, plyometrics, and other conditioning exercises.
  2. Speed and Agility Training: They also train for speed and agility, through running drills, ladder drills, and other exercises designed to improve their footwork and reaction time.
  3. Skill Development: They practice specific rugby skills such as tackling, passing, kicking, and scrummaging.
  4. Team Training: Team training is essential in rugby, and Japanese players work together to improve their communication, decision-making, and teamwork on the field.
  5. Mental Preparation: Japanese rugby players also practice mental preparation techniques such as visualization, meditation, and mindfulness to improve their focus, concentration, and resilience.

Japan Rugby League One – Division 1 Competition

Japan Rugby League One, also known as the Top League, is the premier rugby union competition in Japan. The competition was founded in 2003 and features 16 teams divided into two divisions, with Division 1 being the top tier.

The teams in Division 1 of Japan Rugby League One are:

  1. Canon Eagles
  2. Coca-Cola Red Sparks
  3. Hino Red Dolphins
  4. Honda Heat
  5. Kobe Kobelco Steelers
  6. Kubota Spears
  7. NEC Green Rockets
  8. NTT Communications Shining Arcs
  9. Panasonic Wild Knights
  10. Ricoh Black Rams
  11. Suntory Sungoliath
  12. Toyota Verblitz
  13. Toyota Industries Shuttles
  14. Toshiba Brave Lupus
  15. Yamaha Jubilo
  16. Yokohama Canon Eagles

The season runs from January to May, with each team playing a total of 15 games. The top four teams at the end of the regular season qualify for the playoffs, with the semi-finals and final being held in May. The winner of the competition is crowned the Japan Rugby League One champion.

The competition features some of the top rugby union players from Japan and around the world, including several international stars such as Michael Leitch, Kieran Read, and Beauden Barrett.

Japan Rugby League One has grown in popularity in recent years, with increased investment and sponsorship deals leading to improved facilities and higher salaries for players. This has helped to attract top talent to Japan and has raised the level of competition in the league.

In addition to promoting rugby union in Japan, the competition has also helped to raise the profile of the sport in Asia and around the world. With the 2023 Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place in Japan, the country’s rugby union scene is expected to continue to grow and develop in the coming years, with Japan Rugby League One playing a key role in this process.


In conclusion, rugby is becoming increasingly popular in Japan, and the country has a rich history of the sport dating back over a century. The Japanese national team has produced some excellent players over the years, and the Japan Rugby Top League is one of the top professional rugby competitions in the world. Rugby is an important part of Japanese culture, and the sport is seen as a way to develop discipline, teamwork, and character.

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