Rugby comes to Japan in 2019, bringing matches to 12 host cities around this varied country that blends the charms of modernity and tradition. While there for the rugby, be sure to seize the chance to travel far and wide, experiencing Japan's rich and unique character.
Host city Tokyo is the quintessential meeting place between Japanese tradition and modernity. Matches will be held at Tokyo Stadium, but first, head to Asakusa, home to Senso-ji, said to be the city's oldest temple. Historical buildings that'll have you thinking of a historical film set capture Japan's peaceful, spiritual side, but step outside the walls and you enter Tokyo's ultra-modern megalopolis. As you begin to explore the city, consider dressing for the occasion at Vasara Kimono Rental, where you can put on a traditional kimono or yukata. Japanese people wear kimonos on special occasions because women look more beautiful and men look more dignified.
Decked out in your finery, see more of the neighbourhood by taking a rickshaw tour with an English-speaking guide. As you roll through the historic streets, you'll also pass by a scenic park where you can catch a glimpse of the futuristic Tokyo Skytree©–the tallest self-supporting tower in the world. Be sure to ask the driver where to get an amazing ice cream; they always know the best spots.
For another stunning contrast between old and new, try Hama-rikyu Gardens, which you can travel to by subway on the Asakusa line. The gardens originally belonged to the Tokugawa shoguns, and their spectacular backdrop of shining skyscrapers rising above trees and historical buildings creates the perfect vista to symbolise what Japan is today.
Matches will bring fans to Oita, a coastal city on the south-western island of Kyushu. There, a key attraction is the Beppu Jigoku Tour, which takes you through a cluster of springs that have spouted boiling water, mud and gas for over a thousand years, earning them the name of "hell" among the locals.
Don't bother to bring your swimsuit: no human could survive these hellish temperatures. But they are an unforgettable sight. Water boils and steam rises, the scalding vapours creating enticing scenes ready to lure mortals into joining the lords of the netherworld below. The milky waters of Shiraike Jigoku, the White Pond Hell, look deceptively soothing, while the lovely cobalt-blue colour of Umi Jigoku, the Sea Hell, is another inviting temptation. Guided tours are highly recommended, not least so you don't miss sights like the photogenic Blood Pond Hell, which you can get a birds-eye view of from steps leading up the mountain behind the springs.
In Oita, you can also take part in making your own souvenir of Japan. Chopsticks, hashi, are an indispensable part of every Japanese household, and like the fine cutlery of the West, many sets are made with deep artistry and high-end materials. At Hashiya Ichizen, you can order a fine pair made almost any way you like. To make your hashi truly unique, take the opportunity to have staff at Hashiya Ichizen's workshop guide you in hand-crafting your own.
Airports in major cities worldwide have multiple fl ights to Tokyo each day. Domestic fl ights to Oita and Sapporo depart from Tokyo's Haneda Airport, taking around 90min to either destination. Travellers with extra time can take the shinkansen (bullet train), enjoying views of towns and cities amid beautiful, mountainous landscape. Japan's transport system is the envy of the world, and getting between host cities for rugby matches is a breeze.
Sapporo will host matches at Sapporo Dome early in the cup schedule. The northern island's capital is a place of natural beauty, with mountain views and extraordinary green spaces. Chief among these is Moerenuma Park, designed by the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, who conceived the entire park as a single sculpture. Blending modern art with abundant nature, its wide fields are home to sculptures and unique architecture such as Hidamari, a large glass pyramid that houses an information centre, restaurant, and an exhibition space dedicated to its creator. You can also hike up the man-made Mount Moere, 62m tall, whose peak grants a panoramic view of distant mountains on clear days. Bicycle rentals are available for children and adults, so if you're making your rugby tour of Japan a family holiday, everyone can explore the expanses of Moerenuma together.
For a memento of your trip to Sapporo, delve again into the world of Japanese craftsmanship at Otaru Taishou Glass Palace, a wonderland of goods and ornaments all made from glass, from earrings to pens and wearable talismans. Many items, such as heartholding pigs and hand-waving chickens, have a distinctively Japanese charm: not just cute, but kawaii. Channel your inner artist with the help of friendly staff, who can help you make your own works in glass, giving exquisite, crystalline form to memories of your travels in Japan.