Photo essay: Rugby helps Japan's elderly citizens stay active

Senior citizens are encouraged to take up sport to keep fit and stay bonded to a community

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When you think of rugby, mental well-being is not likely to be one of the first things that comes to mind.

But in Japan, the full-contact sport has become a unique and effective way to keep a often forgotten section of society engaged – older men.

Rugby is a popular sport in Japan and has approximately 125,000 registered players. About 10,000 of these are veterans – players aged 60 or over.

The game is seen as a great way for older players to stay fit and bonded to a community. It has thus become an important outlet for those who may be living alone.

Yokohama Football Club was the first club in Japan, set up in 1866. However, participation was largely restricted to British and American traders and service personnel.

The Japanese began to get involved at the turn of the 20th century and played their first representative matches in the 1930s.

The Japanese national ruby team, also known as the Cherry Blossoms, have taken part in every Rugby World Cup and made a massive statement in 2015 when they conjured a last-minute 34-32 win over South Africa.

Hosts in 2019 – the first time the World Cup was staged in Asia – Japan produced further upsets by beating Ireland and Scotland to top their pool and reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

They lost to eventual champions South Africa but it was a significant moment in the sport and nation's history.

Now, they head to France for the 2023 World Cup. Japan kick off their Pool D matches against Chile – who are also making their debut – in Toulouse on September 10 before taking on England, Samoa and Argentina in the rest of group play.

Updated: September 01, 2023, 6:01 PM