TOKYO (Reuters) - Thousands of fans lined the streets of Tokyo on Wednesday to cheer parading members of the Japan rugby union team who made history at their home World Cup earlier this year, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.
As he did during the tournament, captain Michael Leitch led from the front as the players, dressed in black suit and tie, walked slowly along the parade route.
Event organisers said that approximately 50,000 fans lined the route, taking photographs and screaming the names of their favourite players.
"We've managed to make a big impact," Leitch said, pointing to the massed fans.
"I'm very happy about this."
During the Sept. 20 – Nov. 2 tournament, Japan beat tier-one nations Ireland and Scotland en route to winning Pool A and reaching the knockout stages for the first time.
The Brave Blossoms were knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual winners South Africa.
For the final pool stage match against Scotland, over 50 million people tuned in to watch on television across Japan as Brave Blossoms fever took hold.
The team’s mantra, ‘one team’ – recently named buzzword of the year - featured heavily on many fans’ banners and the players shouted out the slogan when posing for photographs.
The phrase came to embody a team and coaching staff born in many different countries but choosing to compete for Japan.
The emotion of the occasion was all too much for scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka who, as a veteran of the 2011 World Cup when Japan finished without a win, broke down in tears as he reflected on how far his country have come.
“In 2011, I was aggrieved that we’ve dropped (the reputation) of rugby in Japan,” he said.
“I’m so pleased that so many people have gathered today.”
The team’s sponsor, Taisho Pharmaceutical, announced earlier on Wednesday that each of the Brave Blossoms and staff would receive a 2 million yen (US$18,392 )performance bonus, twice the amount they received following the 2015 World Cup.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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