The Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off in late September and Japan is set to act as the spectacular backdrop for this year’s tournament. For through-and-through rugby fans who have also long wanted to visit the Land of the Rising Sun, it is hard to imagine a better reason for booking flights to Japan than this…
The tournament fixture boasts matches across both of Japan’s islands and is shining a spotlight on a dozen Japanese destinations as host cities. So which city should you book flights to if you’re planning on flying over to catch a game or two? And what is there to do in each city in between contests? Brush up on what to see and do in each of the host cities for the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan with our handy guide below. As a bonus, you can find tips for mastering public transport in Japan so you’re ready to navigate the train system before even leaving the tarmac.
When: 20 September to 2 November 2019
Where: Japan. There are 12 host cities (Sapporo, Toyota, Kamaishi, Kumagaya, Chofu, Higashiosaka, Oita, Fukuroi, Kumamoto, Kobe, Yokohama and Fukuoka).
Who: 20 countries, divided into four pools of five teams. The nations that made qualifying for the Rugby World Cup 2019 are Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Russia, Samoa, New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Namibia, Canada, England, France, Argentina, United States, Tonga, Australia, Wales, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.
How to watch: TVNZ is airing all All Blacks matches, plus a quarter final, the semi finals and the final. Other matches will be broadcast on Spark.
Saturday 21 September: New Zealand v South Africa, in Yokohama
Wednesday 2 October: New Zealand v Canada, in Oita
Sunday 6 October: New Zealand v Namibia, in Tokyo (Chofu)
Saturday 12 October: New Zealand v Italy, in Toyota
Saturday 19 October: Quarter Finals
Sunday 20 October: Quarter Finals
Saturday 26 October: Semi Finals
Sunday 27 October: Semi Finals
Friday 1 November: Bronze Final
Saturday 2 November: Final
Host City: Sapporo, Hokkaido and Ishikari Prefectures
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido island and comes in as Japan’s fifth-largest city. Known for its beer, seafood and winter ice sculpture festival, Sapporo is a dynamic city that offers a bounty of experiences and sights for its visitors. The city is also used as a go-point for exploring the Hokkaido mountains and hot springs. The Rugby World Cup 2019 won’t be the first time Sapporo has played host to a major international sporting event; the 1972 Winter Olympics and 2002 FIFA World Cup were both held here – so the city already has some serious sporting credentials.
Sapporo is considered one of the birthplaces of miso ramen, and foodies travelling for the World Cup can fuel up with steaming bowls of pulled noodles and perfectly-balanced broth. For something sweet to snack on while at halftime, pack some Shiroi Koibito cookies – two thin butter cookies with a sandwich layer of white chocolate – from local producer, Ishiya. When you aren’t pitch-side, spend your time in Sapporo between its museums, parks and gardens, or wandering around its pretty neighbourhoods. Some of the best things to do in Sapporo are Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, Odori Park, Sapporo TV Tower, Sapporo Beer Museum and the cable car to the summit of Mt. Moiwa.
Fly to: New Chitose Airport (CTS) or Sapporo Okadama Airport (OKD)
Host City: Toyota, Aichi Prefecture
Yes, this city is Toyota – just like the car. But this metropolis hasn’t always had a motoring moniker, and the city’s name was only changed (it was originally Koromo) in 1959. The change speaks volumes about the level of influence and importance the eponymous car manufacturer has on the city; the company’s headquarters are located here, as are nine of its 12 plants located in Japan.
Of course, a visit to the Toyota Kaikan Museum is a natural thing to do for visitors in Japan for the World Cup. A trip to the museum will take you through the history of the Toyota Motor Corporation, and diehard car-enthusiasts can even book onto a tour to the Toyota Plant to see the production line in action. Four wheels aside, Toyota is set to host four matches in the Rugby World Cup 2019 and all games will be played in the state-of-the-art Toyota Stadium – the second-largest in Japan. And when you’re not waiting for kick off, visitors to Toyota can get hands-on with a paper-making workshop at Obara Paper Art Museum; sink into the springs at Sanage Onsen; seek out a sake factory for samples; or wander further afield around the wider Aichi prefecture, including to nearby Nagoya.
Fly to: Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO) in Nagoya
Host City: Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture
Kamaishi recently made world headlines as one of the areas most impacted by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The city has made a brilliant recovery however, and its place as one of the host cities for the Rugby World Cup 2019 is a nod to its comeback – and a way to acknowledge those that aided its redevelopment. Kamaishi also has a legacy as a fervent rugby-loving city. The local team were launched onto Japan’s rugby radar after winning the national tournament seven years running, between 1978 and 1984. Kamaishi is the smallest host city in the line-up for this year’s World Cup and will see two matches – Fiji v Uruguay (25 September) and Namibia v Canada (13 October) – held in the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium.
Kamaishi is perched along the Sanriku Coast and has an extensive history as an epicentre for Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution. It even has a Western-style blast furnace that was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Away from its steelworks and factories, Kamaishi promises its visitors a good selection of things to do and see. Clamber up the 13 storeys to the observation deck at the Kamaishi Daikannon to admire views over Kamaishi Bay; head to the gorgeous Hakozaki Peninsula to gaze across its rugged landscape; or feast on oysters, sea urchin and Japanese scallops that have been harvested just off-shore.
Fly to: Iwate Hanamaki Airport (HNA)
Host City: Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture
Kumagaya sits on the northernmost fringe of the Tokyo Metropolitan Area and, in happy news for rugby fans on flights to Tokyo for the Rugby World Cup, this regional centre is easily accessible from the Japanese capital by train. Games for the Cup held in Kumagaya will take place at Kumagaya Rugby Stadium. This purpose-built venue is widely regarded as one of Japan’s top rugby stadiums and is fresh from a swanky refurbishment just in time for the World Cup. Three matches will be played at the stadium: Russia v Samoa, Georgia v Uruguay and Argentina v USA.
One of the main draws of Kumagaya is its location, situated between the Arakawa and Tone Rivers, and the pretty walks along each waterway. Head to the Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple to see this 12th-century sight and perhaps pick up a serving of the temple’s signature meal – sushi, rice and pickled vegetables wrapped in deep-fried tofu.
All Blacks fans travelling from Tokyo to Kumagaya for any games can board a train from Tokyo Station to Omiya Station. This journey takes about 30 minutes. An alternative option is to take a train from Tokyo Station to Kumagaya Station on the JR Joetsu or Hokuriku Shinkansen. These routes take approximately 40 minutes. Both options fall under the Japan Rail Pass inclusions. Kumagaya is also accessible by train from Osaka, using the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from JR Shin-Osaka Station to Tokyo Station.
Fly to: Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita international Airport (NRT)
Host City: Chofu, Tokyo Metropolis
Chofu is another city that falls under the wider Tokyo Metropolis area. Although Tokyo is undeniably the attention-stealer for visitors to the area, Chofu has some treasures to offer travellers venturing out for the World Cup.
Stroll past family-owned stores, hole-in-the-wall eateries and quirky boutiques along Tenjin Street – and look out for the figurines from the GeGeGe no Kitaro manga series dotted along this thoroughfare as you go. Tenjin Street is also the location of the Fushimi Inari Tenjin Shrine, Fudatenjin Shrine and Taishoji Temple. Another temple in the area is Jindaiji Temple and this is perhaps one of the most photogenic in the Tokyo area. There are also street food vendors selling exceptionally good soba noodles nearby. Make a stop at Jindai Botanical Garden if you want to swap the green of the rugby pitch for the verdant surrounds of these beautiful grounds. The gardens span more than 105 acres and house Tokyo’s biggest rose garden, as well as plantings of plum and cherry trees.
There are currently eight matches scheduled for Chofu’s Ajinomoto Stadium: Japan v Russia, France v Argentina, Australia v Wales, England v Argentina, New Zealand v Namibia; and then three finals. To reach Chofu from Tokyo takes only a short rail journey. Jump onto a train from Shinjuku and ride to Chofu Station along the Keio Line. This trip can take only 15 minutes if you’re lucky enough to catch an express train. It may take around 40 minutes on other services.
Fly to: Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) or Narita international Airport (NRT)
Host City: Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture
Higashiosaka is known throughout Japan as a ‘rugby town’, so it comes as little surprise that this city in the west of the Osaka Prefecture is up to host four matches during the World Cup. The kick off happens at Hanazono Rugby Stadium for Italy v Namibia, Argentina v Tonga, Georgia v Fiji and USA v Tonga. Some fans even consider the stadium as the spiritual heart of Japanese rugby culture.
In Higashiosaka city itself, there are several shrines and parks to see. Plus the wider Osaka Prefecture is a treasure trove of things to do and see, offering Kiwi rugby fans ample ways to fill the days between games. Make for Osaka to admire the 16th-century Osaka Castle, one of the main landmarks of the prefecture. You can pick up souvenirs in Dotonbori, and tuck into plates of regional fare such as okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), kushikatsu (fried skewers of meat and vegetables) and takoyaki (octopus dumplings made in a unique pan). Take in views of the city from the observation deck at Umeda Sky Building, or visit any number of museums such as Osaka Museum of History, National Museum of Art, Osaka Aquarium.
It is only a 15-minute car journey from Osaka to Higashiosaka. This means that Kiwi rugby fans can conveniently base themselves in Osaka and simply travel out when it’s game time. Jump onto a Kintetsu Nara Line train from Osaka Namba Station and disembark at Higashi-Hanazono Station. This trip can take about 20 minutes, and the stadium is a rough 10-minute walk from Higashi-Hanazono Station.
Fly to: Kansai International Airport (KIX)
Host City: Oita, Oita Prefecture
Oita sits on Japan’s southern main island, Kyushu, and is the capital of the Oita Prefecture. This seaside destination once acted as a gateway for the West, but this influx of merchant ships and vessels had more impact than just trade; with these fleets came the introduction of Christianity to Japan’s shores. Many of Oita’s population began practising Christianity as a result – even after Japan banned the religion in the 17th century. A monument to this movement can be seen at Oita Christian Martyrs Memorial Park. Or explore Oita’s artistic heritage at Oita Art Museum or the Oita Prefectural Art Museum.
Move north of the city on a day trip to Beppu, a city famous for its coterie of hot springs and home to the eight renowned ‘Hells of Beppu’. Another town known for its thermal pools is Yufuin. The prefecture’s onsens are one of the area’s biggest draws and are an incredible experience for travellers making the trip across from New Zealand for the Rugby World Cup. Brush up on traditional onsen etiquette prior to dipping a toe into the springs to make sure you follow onsen customs. Another must while in Oita is sampling the local beef. These cuts boast fine marbling and mellow flavours, and Oita bulls are even the recipients of national recognition by the government.
Oita’s purpose-built stadium is set to stage three matches – New Zealand v Canada, Australia v Uruguay and Wales v Fiji – as well as two quarter finals on the 19 and 20 October. Travelling to the stadium from the city takes about 40 minutes by bus. Board a bus along the JR Kyudai, JR Nippo or JR Hohi Lines to Oita Sports Park Higashi. It is then a 5-minute walk to the stadium. These buses are available from Oita Station, at platform three.
Fly to: Oita Airport (OIT)
Host City: Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Shizuoka Prefecture is often dubbed as one of the most naturally-blessed landscapes in Japan. The region is where travellers will find the iconic snow-capped peak of Mt. Fuji, the cascades of Shiraito Falls, and the shores of Lake Hamana. Fukuroi sits on the southern coast of the prefecture. The city has several shrines and temples to see, however visitors in town for the Rugby World Cup also have the wider Shizuoka Prefecture at their fingertips.
Make for Hamamatsu (about 30 minutes’ from Fukuroi by car) to take off with a visit to its Air Park, stroll through the pretty grounds of Hamanako Garden Park, or see inside Ryugashido Cavern. For foodies with adventurous palates, Hamamatsu is one of the best places to try eel – the city is one of the top suppliers of this delicacy in Japan. Another sightseeing option is Shizuoka city where you can learn about ninja and samurai at Sunpu Castle, sip local craft beers at bars along Aoba Oden Alley, or head to the beach at Matsubara.
Fukuroi is no newcomer to hosting international sporting events, and the city’s Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium welcomed several matches during the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Head to the Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium in September or October to witness one (or more) of its four matches: Japan v Ireland, South Africa v Italy, Scotland v Russia, and Australia v Georgia. The closest railway station to the stadium is Aino station. The stadium is readily accessible for rugby fans basing themselves in Hamamatsu or Shizuoka city, but it can also be reached by those staying in Tokyo or even Osaka.
Fly to: Shizuoka Airport (FSZ)
Host City: Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture
Kumamoto sits at the heart of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s isles. The island itself is popular for its sub-tropical climate and spectacular natural beauty courtesy of active volcanoes, pristine beaches and thermal hot springs. The city is the capital of the eponymous prefecture and is most well-known for its castle. Sports devotees can view the castle from the outside, as restoration works are currently being carried out on the castle’s interior to repair damage as a result of the 2016 earthquake. Don’t be deterred from travelling to Kumamoto for the World Cup though, as there are still a number of attractions and sights to move between on days when you’re not watching the rugby – Suizenji Garden, Former Hosokawa Residence and Soseki Memorial Hall, to name a few.
Kumamoto may often be referred to as the ‘Forest City’, and there are an abundance of outdoor pursuits to be had in the surrounding area. Seek out the grassy plains of Kusasenri Plateau, try your luck at spotting rare bottlenose dolphins in the waters off Itsuwa, or head for the Aso, one of the world’s largest volcanic caldera. Once you have worked up an appetite you can sate hunger with some of Kumamoto’s cuisine specialities, such as Kumamoto ramen, sea urchin croquette, sweet bean and potato rice cakes. Sakura no Baba Josaien is a street lined with good restaurants.
Kumamoto’s Umakana Yokana Stadium (commonly also called Kumamoto Prefectural Athletic Stadium) is the centrepoint of the city’s hosting duties. The stadium is featured twice on the World Cup fixture, with matches between France v Tonga and Wales v Uruguay happening in October. Arrive at the stadium by using the Kyushu Sanko Bus to Park Dorm Kumamoto mae that departs from Kumamoto Station. A quick three-minute walk from this stop will take you to the stadium.
Fly to: Kumamoto Airport (KMJ)
Host City: Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Welcome to the second most populous city in Japan! Yokohama sits just south of Tokyo and earned its place in the history books as one of the first ports to open to Western trade in the 19th century. As well as its cultural heritage, it is fitting the Yokohama features heavily in the Rugby World Cup. This is a city that, after all, is often credited as being the birthplace of rugby in Japan. Some of the earliest rugby matches to be played in Yokohama date back to the 1860s.
If you’re not pitch-side to watch a games, you can instead hole up in one of Yokohama’s sports bar – local beer in hand, of course – or you might be the type who has planned ahead and organised a tour of Nissan Stadium. Explore the entertaining and nightlife offerings in the port district at Minato Mirai, gain a bird’s eye perspective of the city from the observation deck at Landmark Tower, walk between some of the Yokohama’s top attractions courtesy of the paths in Yamashita Park, or check out one of the quirky museums such as Cup Noodles Museum and Ramen Museum. Speaking of food, Yokohama is also home to the largest Chinatown precincts in Japan and is where visitors can pick up plates of Japanese-influenced Chinese cuisine.
Yokohama will be one of the most action-packed host cities for the Rugby World Cup, as its Nissan Stadium is holding an incredible seven matches. On the fixture are four pool matches – New Zealand v South Africa, Ireland v Scotland, England v France and Japan v Scotland – and then two semi finals and the final on Saturday 2 November. New Zealanders travelling to Yokohama for any of the matches can choose to base themselves in Yokohama or even within central Tokyo. The high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen line will whisk you to Shin-Yokohama station in about 20 minutes, or you can board a JR Tokaido Line train and switch to a blue line metro.
Fly to: Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND)
Host City: Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture
Not only is Kobe one of Japan’s 10 largest cities; it is also considered one of its most striking. Thanks to its position between the ocean and the mountains, this is a metropolis that isn’t short of pretty vantage points and landscapes. Among culinary circles (or those that just appreciate a good steak) is Kobe’s reputation as the origin of its namesake beef. Plan a pre- or post-game feast at one of the steakhouses dotted around the city and indulge with premium cuts of this famously marbled meat. You might also seek out steak that has been grilled over charcoal (yakiniku) or an iron cooktop (teppanyaki).
Kobe sits within the Hyogo Prefecture and is one of three cities to have played a pivotal role in forming the unique culture and identity of the Kansai region. There are museums scattered throughout the city that shed light on this legacy. A number of these sites are also memorials to commemorate the 1995 earthquake.
The Kobe Misaki Stadium is the stage chosen for the city’s World Cup matches. The stadium was built just for the occasion and is hosting four games – England v USA, Scotland v Samoa, Ireland v Russia and South Africa v Canada. The stadium is located towards the southern fringe of Kobe and is accessible from either Wadamisaki or Misakikoen stations. Kobe is also within easy reach from Osaka – with trains departing from either Shin-Osaka Station or the JR Kobe Line – and even from the slightly further afield Kyoto.
Fly to: Kobe Airport (UKB)
Host City: Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture
Fukuoka is the largest city on Kyushu and it is the capital of Fukuoka Prefecture. As far as Japanese cities go, Fukuoka is relatively new. It was only formed in its current state when two towns – port town, Hakata, and castle town, Fukuoka – united in 1889. Visitors to the city for the World Cup that fancy themselves history buffs can head to Hakata Old Town to see temples and shrines from this bygone era. You may also visit Hakata Machiya Folk Museum to delve even deeper into local culture.
Much like other destinations around Japan, Fukuoka offers its visitors a veritable smorgasbord of culinary indulgence. Track down the yatai (mobile food carts) making the rounds in Tenjin, Nakasu or Nagahama, and make it your mission to find the vendors hawking the best gyoza. Thanks to its seaside location, the sushi in Fukuoka is exceptional and keen foodies can even wake early to visit Nagahama Fish Market and get the low-down on the catch of the day. Another speciality of the prefecture is yakitori.
Fukuoka’s role as host city is centred upon the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, with three matches on the cards for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The first content is set for September between Italy v Canada, and then two games – France v USA and Ireland v Samoa – are to follow in October. Those staying in Tokyo and wishing to travel for these games can board a Tokaido or Sanyo Shinkansen service. A Nozomi train takes about five hours, however it is important to note that this particular route is not covered by Japan Rail Pass. Kobe and Osaka are two additional major cities well-linked with Fukuoka.
Fly to: Fukuoka Airport (FUK)