Japanese and Russian fans party before World Cup opener

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Rugby World Cup’s power to bring people together was abundantly clear on Thursday as Japanese and Russian fans sang songs and competed in drinking games in a small Tokyo restaurant the night before the tournament’s opening match.

Russian and Japanese fans participate in a boat race drinking game during bonding dinner on the eve of the Rugby World Cup opening match Japan against Russia, in Tokyo, Japan September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Jack Tarrant

The two nations are set to go head-to-head in the World Cup’s first game on Friday and the players of the Moscow Dragons amateur rugby club travelled 7,400 kilometres to be part of the festivities.

Fortunately, they have friends eager to show them around Tokyo.

Mitsuo Maeda, a Japanese national who has lived in Moscow for over 25 years, is a member of the club and has brought his team mates to Tokyo for the opening weekend of matches.

Just hours after landing, Maeda had organised dinner for the Dragons, and the accompanying team from Moscow State University Rugby Club, with his Japanese friends from back home.

The sake was flowing and toasts were made as the two sets of fans bonded over their love of beer, singing and most importantly rugby.

“We say in the club, once a Dragon, always a Dragon,” said Maeda.

“It unites people. That is what rugby is about and I am proud of being in a club like this.”

The fans all have tickets for Friday’s opener and will be going on a bar crawl before the match, which begins at 1945 local time.

The Russian fans are keen to use the World Cup to make new friends and boost the sport’s popularity back home.

“This is a big festival of rugby. The World Cup is a special opportunity,” one fan called Peter said.

“There are several guys from Japan who played for the Dragons seven or eight years ago and they have organised this dinner to meet Russian friends.

“Maybe some of us never met in Russia, they joined rugby later, but in any case it is part of a family.”

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Toby Davis