Throughout its history the Rugby World Cup has only ever been hosted by members of the Six Nations, or its southern hemisphere equivalent, the Rugby Championship. That’s all going to change this year when Rugby Union’s showpiece event ditches its traditional venues and decamps to Japan from 20 September to 2 November.
Following the sporting action is obviously high on the agenda for any rugby fans jetting off to the Land of the Rising Sun, but many will also have an additional priority: to explore the fascinating Far Eastern nation, from its magnificent landscapes to its intriguing history.
But where to start? The last thing you need is to plan an itinerary on the fly and with that in mind the Flexicover team has put together this guide on what to see off-pitch during the Rugby World Cup in and around some of the tournament’s 12 host cities.
Mount Takao, Tokyo
Tokyo is staging five group-stage games including Australia vs. Wales and England’s crucial clash with Argentina. While you’re there, take a 50-minute train ride to Mount Takao, one of the city’s closest natural attractions. Several numbered hiking trails wind their way up the slopes of the mountain to its 599-metre summit, with route number one attracting the majority of visitors. The hike on this trail takes about 90 minutes, but you can make life a little easier by taking the cable car or chairlift that run halfway up the peak. Be sure to stop at the observation deck near the cable car’s highest station to witness the remarkable views over Tokyo, stretching as far as Mount Fuji on clear days.
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Kamakura
Four group stage matches will take place in Yokohama including the latest installment in the history of two of the sport’s fiercest rivals, England and France. During your time in Yokohama take a 45-minute train ride to historic Kamakura, home to one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines. Dedicated to the country’s famed – and feared – samurai warriors, the historic temple first opened back in 1063. Head here in mid-September or early October and you could see one of only three annual performances of “yabusame”, or horseback archery. Dating back to the early days of Kamakura it involves an archer on a galloping horse firing distinctive turnip-headed arrows at three wooden targets. Chances are you probably won’t have seen anything like it before.
Arima Onsen, Kobe
England, Ireland and Scotland all have group-stage matches in Kobe so expect this vibrant, international city to act as a hub for fans from the home nations. But fancy unwinding during your stay? Take the half-hour train ride to Arima Onsen, an ancient site dotted with natural hot springs. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most important feudal leaders and the man who unified the country in 1590, loved to relax at Arima between battles – and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for all of us. Two different types of hot spring waters flow into Arima from various sources around town. The ‘gold’ water is coloured by the area’s rich iron deposits and is said to help prevent skin disease and muscle pain, while the ‘silver’ water, containing carbonate and radium, eases muscle and joint pain.
Shikotsu Toya National Park, Sapporo
Sapporo, capital of the mountainous northern island of Hokkaido, will host England’s group-stage match with Tonga, as well as Australia against Fiji. The surrounding area is famed for its incredible natural beauty, which changes with the seasons. The Rugby World Cup takes place during autumn, considered by many to be the most beautiful time to visit Hokkaido, as the leaves of the island’s trees turn to eye-catching shades of orange, red and mixed greens. One of the best places to soak up the stunning seasonal scenery is Shikotsu Toya National Park, around an hour’s drive south of Sapporo. Go canoeing on one of the park’s two namesake lakes, Shikotsu and Toya, for the best view of the surrounding mountain peaks, covered in a thick blanket of vibrantly coloured foliage.
Toyota isn’t just a car brand – it’s also a city, and it will host four group-stage matches, including Wales vs. Georgia. While you’re in town, take the time to explore the remarkable castles of Aichi Prefecture, the birthplace of Japan’s three most significant samurai warlords – Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Visit Nagoya Castle, around 40 minutes by car from Toyota, for a glimpse of the famed golden dolphins perched atop its roof. Then head a little further north to the banks of the Kiso River to explore Inuyama Castle; dating back to 1440, it’s one of the country’s oldest feudal strongholds.
Wherever you plan to head to this year on your travels it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.