Scotland faced Japan last Saturday at the Ajinomoto Stadium in western Tokyo, and while Scotland may have won 21-16, the Japanese had two very important supporters in the stands, the Emperor and Empress themselves. The match took place at the very same stadium that also served as an evacuation centre for survivors of the 2011 Tokohu earthquake and the following Tsunami.
It was the first time that the Imperial Couple watched a rugby match in the stadium. Shota Horie, the experienced Japan captain, said it was a “very great honour” to have the Imperial Couple watching the team play. “We’d like to get a result in front of him,” said the hooker. His teammates could not agree more and said it was a “privilege”.
The Emperor is a nephew of Yasuhito, Prince Chichibu, who played a very important part in the development of rugby in Japan. The city centre stadium, the headquarters of the Japanese Rugby Union and Rugby World Cup 2019, is named after him. A statue of the Prince in rugby gear stands in front of the stadium.
Mark Hammet, the interim coach of the Japanese team, said, “As well as the Emperor, we’re expecting the largest crowd we’ve ever had watching Japan in Japan. On Friday morning 25,000 tickets had already been sold and another 5,000 were expected to sell on the day of the match.
Matt Taylor, Scotland’s defence coach, also spoke of the Emperor and the motivation his presence might give the hosts. “We’re really excited that we’re going to be playing in front of him and we understand, talking to the Japanese people and liaison officers, that it’s a really big deal that he’s coming to the game. We understand how motivated the Japan team will be and we have spoken about how up for the game we need to be because of this”, he said.