The Rugby World Cup Fan Etiquette Guide: Japan Behavior Dos & Don’ts

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Rugby fans cheering for World Cup

The 2019 Rugby World Cup is shaping up to be one of the competition’s finest editions. And Japan is no doubt an alluring destination. But those arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun over the next two months should take heed of notable cultural and societal differences, just to make sure your trip goes as swimmingly as your mind’s eye has foreseen.

The British Embassy in Tokyo is working closely with in-situ national consulates, the relevant rugby unions and host cities to identify potential risk factors for traveling fans. Here are a few recommendations to help you support your side, rather than the local police coffers:

Do: Respect Local Laws and Customs

No brainer, right? Yet you would be surprised by how many boisterous, well-meaning tourists get themselves in a pickle. The Japanese are renowned for their manners; there may not be a more polite nation on the planet. A by-product of this is, dare I say, a slightly standoffish demeanor. Best of intentions or not, us Westerners are a trifle more “in your face.” This can be intimidating to locals, particularly the elderly, who make up a quarter of Japan’s population.

I am not saying reign in it completely; that would be both hypocritical and unrealistic. But in rural regions, like Kyushu or Iwate, just be a little more mindful of the people and your environs. I’ll present an imaginary scenario:

A 90-year-old lady who has been toiling the rice paddies of a small village in rural Japan since she was old enough to hold a chopstick, and who has never laid eyes upon a foreigner, is tending to her garden on a quiet autumn evening. All of a sudden, she sees a group of grown white men dressed as leprechauns marching down her street singing “The Fields of Athen Rye.” She is understandably, unequivocally, shocked. She hastens to the phone inside and makes a call to the local police in a frightened frenzy.

“Calm down Mrs. Tanaka,” the police say. “We’ll be right there.”

No common language among the police and the fans leads to a complete misunderstanding, maybe even an argument, and all of sudden you’ve got a mountain out of a mole hill.

So yeah, just be mindful.

Don’t: Get Caught Without Your Passport

As a visitor to Japan, you must have your passport on your person at all times. Now this may seem a little pernickety, but it’s a rule, and you can be detained if you breach it. There have been situations in the past were luckless visitors were interned, in a state of confusion and despair I’m sure, for extended periods of time for not carrying their passport. (Unfortunately, a driving license, electoral card or your golf club membership pass is not a suitable substitute).

In certain nightlife tourist hives, like Shibuya and Roppongi, security will be amped up during the World Cup, and the police may carry out random ID checks on tourists. If you’ve got your passport on you, there’s nothing to worry about.

Do: Watch Your Drink if New Friends are a Little Too Friendly

Drink spiking cases have seen a slight, but identifiable, increase in Japan of late. And contrary to what you may think, the victims have been predominantly male. There are certain late-night establishments where, if you must enter, you should keep your wits about you.

Hostess and girls bars hold a certain appeal for some male tourists; when in Rome, but of course. However, these are disproportionally the kinds of establishments where victims remember being last, before waking up with a maxed-out credit card and in a state of discombobulation. So again, just proceed with caution.

Don’t: Do Drugs

Drugs are an absolute no-go in Japan. Zero Tolerance Policy. If you’re found in possession of any drug, or with traces of it in your system – even the smallest traces of something seemingly benign – you can end up with a prison sentence of 3-17 years. Ludicrous it may seem, but there’s no real way to sugar coat it. I’m not your mother, just someone offering some friendly advice: if you like a puff at the weekends, maybe best to give yourself a bit of detox time before you come to Japan. You may thank me later.

Do: Check Your Prescription Labels

Foreign medication is an equally precarious issue in Japan. Basic medicines, cough syrups and even Vicks analgesic serum are prohibited in the country. While the specific medicine guidelines on what you are allowed to bring into the country are not always clear cut, the Japanese government website has a list of forbidden ingredients (contained within medicines). So you may want to get well-acquainted with the small print on the back of your hay fever tablets. Riveting I’m sure. All for a good cause though, eh?

Don’t: Get That New Face Tattoo

This has been written to death about, so I shan’t expound upon it too much here. Tattoos are traditionally taboo in Japan, but are becoming more commonplace in the major cities. However, don’t be surprised if certain establishments don’t let you enter with them on show: onsen, sento, swimming pools, etc.

Do: Stay Hydrated

While the raging furnace of Japan’s summer will tail off as the competition progresses, some areas of the country have the potential to remain hot, especially in Kyushu. Simple things like packing sun screen, chasing down the pints with a pitcher of water and keeping yourself in the shade (at least intermittently), are all decent ideas.

Don’t: Miss the Last Train

Yes there is a last train in Japan (usually around midnight). It’s a nationwide rule. Make sure you take note of this time at the start of your day. If you get stranded in rural Japan, you will almost certainly stay so until the trains get up and running again the next morning (around 5 or 6am).

Do: Carry Cash

In spite of its reputation as a global frontrunner in the world technology, Japan is still a predominantly cash-based society. So be sure to beef up your wallet before venturing out for the day.

Don’t: Pitch a Tent Willy-Nilly

You should book accommodation for all of the cities you intend to visit. Urban camping is prohibited. In smaller destinations – Oita has been flagged for this – hotels are selling out thick and fast; plan accordingly.

Do: Be Prepared for Natural Disasters

This is part and parcel of life in Japan. In autumn, earthquakes are possible and typhoons are likely. Typically these don’t have overly disastrous consequences, but in the event that one occurs, the British Embassy offers live crisis updates on their website.

The British Embassy also has an advice page for fans traveling to Japan during the Rugby World Cup. This page contains a link to videos on local behavior etiquette by UK-based Japanese comedian, Yuriko Kotani, among other pertinent information. The embassy has also created information leaflets that will be placed in major sports bar chains around Tokyo (HUB and Hobgoblin), and advice cards that will be given out to customers flying to Japan with British Airways or Japan Airlines (JAL).

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