Wed, 29 Jan 2020

Tokyo - Thousands of flag-waving rugby fans cheered Japan's national team at a celebratory parade in Tokyo on Wednesday, hailing the Brave Blossoms' best-ever Rugby World Cup performance.

The hosts reached the quarter finals for the first time at this year's World Cup, bagging stunning wins over Six Nations sides Scotland and Ireland before a gutsy last-eight loss to South Africa.

Their performance won the heart of a nation hooked on baseball and sumo - with supporters packing out fanzones and millions tuning in to watch a sport that has a relatively small fanbase in Japan.

On Wednesday, excited fans cheered as the players, led by captain Michael Leitch, walked through a downtown Tokyo street fringed with yellow ginkgo trees and high-rise buildings.

"I'm surprised to see so many people here, and I'm very happy to see that we were able to make such a great impact on Japan," said Leitch.

The crowds packed out the 800-metre route through the sleek Marunouchi business and shopping district.

"It's a great feeling that so many rugby fans are gathered here," said Koji Kabuki, a 48-year-old salaryman in Tokyo, wearing the red-and-white uniform of the Brave Blossoms.

"I hope to see rugby become popular among the younger generation," said Kabuki, who himself played the sport as a university student.

Masae Honma, 51, was in town from Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo.

"I'm so delighted to have had a close-up look at players, now I know how tall they are."

"Honestly, I wasn't interested in (rugby), but after watching the historic (tournament) moments I became a fan of rugby, and now I think it is a great sport," she said.

The World Cup was widely hailed as a success, and the Japan squad's slogan "One Team" was chosen as one of most memorable buzzwords of the year in Japan.

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