Rugby: Tough loss to South Africa but Brave Blossoms fans still proud of Japanese team

Japanese fans at Thunderbird Bistro in Robertson Walk watching yesterday's World Cup quarter-final game. One supporter said: "We are disappointed but not sad because we are among the best eight teams."
Japanese fans at Thunderbird Bistro in Robertson Walk watching yesterday's World Cup quarter-final game. One supporter said: "We are disappointed but not sad because we are among the best eight teams."ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

It was a sea of red and white last night at the Thunderbird Bistro along Robertson Walk, as around 80 Japan fans packed the bar to cheer the Brave Blossoms in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash against South Africa.

While most were clad in their national kit, Yusuke Sasaki stood out not just for his red Liverpool jersey - but also for his animated expressions during the game and tears that flowed after the final whistle confirmed Japan's 26-3 defeat.

The 28-year-old's passion is football and he told The Straits Times he started watching rugby only because Japan is hosting this World Cup. He said: "I'm so proud of how the national team have performed in this tournament.

"Even though this World Cup is the first time I'm watching rugby, I was emotional at the end of the match because it was the end of our run. Now I will support South Africa and hope they win the Cup."

The evening had begun on a rousing note as Sasaki and his compatriots belted out their national anthem Kimigayo with gusto before the kick-off in front of two television sets and a projector screen.

Then came the groans, from seeing Springboks' Makazole Mapimpi score a try after just four minutes, which was swiftly replaced by cheers at Handre Pollard's missed conversion.

When Yu Tamura scored a 20th-minute penalty as they dominated possession, there was genuine anticipation that Japan could repeat the 2015 World Cup upset over the two-time world champions.

 

Despite the loss, it has been a memorable run by Japan and their fans have also impressed, said bistro owner Maven Poon, who noted his business rose by 20 per cent during the tournament.

He added: "The Japanese fans show a lot of emotions while supporting their team. When they won their matches, it was like an earthquake here and we would get complaints from our neighbours.

"As for the team, I feel they are the pride of Asia and, even though they were the underdogs, I was rooting more for them than the likes of New Zealand."

This is Japan's best finish at the World Cup, and Yoshihiko Mori, 33, felt his countrymen can hold their heads up high. He said: "The players gave their best, but it was not meant to be. We had hoped they would score at least one try.

"We are disappointed but... not sad because we are among the best eight teams and we have never qualified for the knock-out rounds before. I hope four years from now, we will do even better and go further."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2019, with the headline 'Tough loss but Brave Blossoms fans still proud of team'. Print Edition | Subscribe