By Jack Tarrant and Yoko Kono
KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) – The Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup trophy was blessed by Shinto monks during a ceremony in Japan’s former capital of Kyoto on Monday before the trophy embarks on a tour of the country ahead of the tournament, starting in September.
During Monday’s ceremony at the Shimogamo Shrine, monks prayed for a successful tournament, which begins on Sept. 20 when hosts Japan face Russia in Tokyo.
“This is Japanese culture and as a Japanese I felt the courage given at the ceremony,” former Japan rugby player and World Cup ambassador Yukio Motoki said at the ceremony.
“Three months to go until the start of the World Cup but thanks to the ceremony I think we will have a good start of the tournament.”
Sawatasha, a small shrine within the larger Shimogamo Shrine, holds a special place in the folklore of Japanese rugby, as it is believed to be the site of the first rugby match in Japan’s western Kansai region.
The match between Third High School and Keio University took place on the horse grounds in front of the shrine and a commemorative stone is now placed at the site to mark the game’s first kick.
Kyoto is not one of the 12 host cities for the tournament but Osaka and Kobe – 50 kilometres and 75 kilometres away respectively – are close and fans, who were present at the ceremony on Monday, were keen to be part of the celebrations.
“Unfortunately I can’t go but my husband and my son will go to a game in Kobe,” said Kyoto resident Naomi Imayoshi, who had come to watch the ceremony.
“It is not a Japan game but we are all excited about it.”
Meanwhile, organisers unveiled the designs for the Japan 2019 tickets in Tokyo on Monday.
The three designs are based on the ancient Japanese art form of Musha-e, or warrior art, and depict rugby players in action instead of the traditional samurai.
“They capture perfectly the way in which rugby is viewed here in Japan,” Japan 2019 CEO Akira Shimazu said in a statement.
“The noble warrior, fighting with every inch of their body, mind and spirit is a fitting comparison to the modern, elite rugby player.”
Japan is the first country outside of rugby’s traditional heartland to host a World Cup.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant and Yoko Kono; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)