As a New Zealander, a love of rugby is in my blood and I’m hoping that the All Blacks retain their title for the third consecutive time (much to the chagrin of my boyfriend, an ardent Irish supporter).
Those UK supporters (whether English, Scottish, Welsh and the Northern Irish fans supporting Ireland) making their way to Japan for the games are in for a treat. Japan, who is the first Asian country to host the RWC, is a humble nation filled with the kindest locals and some incredible sights.
There are plenty of things to consider before going to Japan – including buying a Japan rail pass (a must if travelling between destinations), getting pocket wifi and knowing your way around the public transport for all the major cities. You can find out all of this information in much more detail in our seven day guide to Japan here.
Whether you’re going to one or all of the 48 games, below is a guide for what to see in each of the areas where the games are being held.
Stadiums: Tokyo Stadium, International Stadium Yokohama and Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
UK teams playing: Ireland vs. Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on September 22; Australia vs. Wales at Tokyo Stadium on September 29; England vs. Argentina at Tokyo Stadium on October 5; England vs. France at International Stadium Yokohama on October 12; Japan vs. Scotland at International Stadium Yokohama on October 13.
The main attraction close to these stadiums is, of course, Japan’s capital city of Tokyo. Here, you’ll find the iconic Shibuya crossing as well as many distinct districts like Harajuku for fashion and Akihabara for anime. The Ghibli Museum is also a star attraction for any anime fan – but this needs to be booked in advance. If you have time, it’s well worth booking in to watch a sumo training session while you’re in Tokyo as well.
Outside of Tokyo, about an hour on the train from these stadiums you’ll find historic samurai temples in the seaside town of Kamakura. If hiking is your thing, take a 50-minute train from Tokyo out to Mt Takao to hike through a sacred site of Buddhist mountain worship where you can see striking views of Mt Fuji from the summit on a clear day. If you’re looking for a traditional ryokan stay in the Kanto region, a trip to the volcanic foothills of Hakone National Park offers an abundance of the traditional Japanese inns.
Stadiums: Sapporo Dome.
UK teams playing: England vs. Tonga at Sapporo Dome on September 22.
Sapporo Dome will host England’s first match in the north of Japan. Sapporo is Japan’s fifth biggest city and has been named as the birthplace of Japanese beer – so you know you’re going to have to sample a couple while there. Be sure to also sample the local specialty of snow crab and, when you’re not at the match, take a two-hour train to Lake Toya to see the changing autumn leaves. If you happen to be in Japan in November for the end of the RWC, this is when Japan’s ski season begins and the Hokkaido region is home to a number of ski resorts.
Stadiums: Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium.
For samurai fans, the Miyagi prefecture is close to the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium and is home to the Date Clan – a samurai kin group. Here, tourists can visit the family’s original tea house, Kanrantei which used to exclusively serve samurai and royal guests. In Sendai, whiskey fans can visit the Nikka Whiskey Distillery founded by the father of Japanese Whiskey, Masataka Taketsuru.
Further afield, hiking fans can traverse through the Naruko Gorge and, afterwards, visit the Kokeshi Doll Museum where you can make a classic Japanese toy. For one of Japan’s most scenic views, take a train out to Matsushima Bay and Jodogahama Beach.
Stadiums: City of Toyota Stadium and Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa.
UK teams playing: Wales vs. Georgia at City of Toyota Stadium on September 23; Japan vs. Ireland at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on September 28; Scotland vs. Russia at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on October 9.
Located in central Japan, these two stadiums offer a gateway to the Japanese Alps. Follow the Three Star Road to the mountains which links Takayama’s traditional sake breweries and mountain crafts, Shirakawago’s thatched ‘praying hands’ houses and culminates in the cultural treasures of Kanazawa’s geisha districts.
Here, you’ll also find the famous snow monkeys of Judokudani Monkey Park, which can be visited as a day trip from either stadium. The historic mountain town of Matsumoto can also be a day trip from both stadiums, and history buffs will delight in the castle and art museum found here. For a relaxing day trip, Japan’s oldest hot spring resort town, Shuzenji, is a must.
For those wanting to climb Mt Fuji, the Chubo region is also home to Fujinomiya city which is a popular start point for climbers. The Fuji Five Lakes is also accessible from here via a day trip for a more relaxing look at the famous peak.
Stadiums: Hanazono Stadium.
While there aren’t any UK games happening in the Kansai region, it’s well worth a visit for two very big reasons: Kyoto and Osaka. Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan, and some must-see places here include the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Philosopher’s Path.
Osaka is just a short 15-minute bullet train ride away and has been nicknamed ‘Japan’s kitchen’ for good reason – as it is a buzzing hub of regional cuisines and a vibrant nightlife. Nearby, you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site Himeji Castle and Mt Koya is a small temple town with 100 temples – 52 of which you can stay in.
Stadiums: Misaki Stadium.
UK teams playing: England vs. USA at Kobe Misaki Stadium on September 26; Scotland vs. Samoa at Kobe Misaki Stadium on September 30; Ireland vs. Russia at Kobe Misaki Stadium on October 3.
The first thing to do when visiting the Setouchi region is to try the world-famous Kobe beef in its namesake city. Afterwards, visit any of the regions 275 sake breweries for tours and tastings. This is the ultimate destination for sake and beef lovers.
Culturally, this region also offers a number of speciality crafts like Bizen style Japanese pottery or Kamioka denim and be sure to cross the Seto Ohashi Bridge to visit the island of Shikoku.
Historically, a trip down to Hiroshima on the bullet train is a must, as here you can visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hiroshima Atomic Dome and the wander through the Peace Memorial Park and museum reflecting on the tragedy that shaped Japanese culture into what it is today.
Another UNESCO site, the Itsukushima ‘floating’ shrine is also nearby with this area peppered with a number of traditional fishing villages to explore. Japan’s oldest bath house and inspiration for the Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away, the Dogo Onsen of Matsuyama, can also be found in this region.
Stadiums: Oita Stadium, Kumamoto Stadium and Fukuoka Stadium.
UK teams playing: Wales vs. Fiji at Oita Stadium on October 9; Ireland vs. Samoa at Fukuoka Stadium on October 12; Wales vs. Uruguay at Kumamoto Stadium on October 13.
The birthplace of ramen, Fukuoka is located in the Kyushu region and is best experience at one of the pop-up ‘yatai’ stalls along the waterfront of Nakatsu district. In Fukuoka, you’ll also find the magical and highly Instagrammable Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Garden.
Further south, you can discover Yufuin, an onsen town and craft village home to a number of boutiques, art galleries and traditional bath houses.
For more information on Japan and the Rugby World Cup, visit japan.travel/uk/