Scotland’s rugby players enjoyed their last day off before the heat of World Cup action starts on Sunday by attending a Sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo.
The current Grand Tournament, known as the Aki (autumn) honbasho, has gripped, or maybe that should be slapped and grappled the Japanese capital into submission, with blanket coverage in newspapers and on TV in the past week.
Excitement about the Rugby World Cup is steadily building ahead of the hosts’ opening match against Russia tomorrow night but, for now, it’s all about the Sumo, whose superstar exponents are known as rikishi (which combines two Japanese characters meaning “strength” and “warrior”.
Today it was a case of, if you can’t beat them, join them, as 30 of the Scotland party headed to Tokyo’s Yokoami district to take in the action, which involves an elaborate pre-ceremony bout and, unlike what awaits against Ireland in Yokohama on Sunday, is watched in complete silence by the crowd.
Scotland centre Sam Johnson said activities and excursions, be they fun or educational, were a good way to briefly escape the pressure cooker as that crunch Pool A opener fast approaches and make the most of this fantastic opportunity.
“I went to the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki. It was a sobering experience but an interesting one too,” said the Glasgow player.
“We’ve had a game of golf and today we’re off to the Sumo wrestling.
“It’s important to enjoy your down time. It’s a long tournament, one which hasn’t even begun for us yet. The more experienced guys are good at telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing.”
Sumo is considered the national sport and one of at least five that outstrip rugby union in terms of popularity here in Japan, along with the likes of baseball, football, golf and tennis. But then, that was one of the reasons the 2019 World Cup was awarded to a leading emerging nation, to nudge the Brave Blossoms a bit closer to the fame of the corpulent doyens of the dohyō (the 4.55m diameter circle of rice-straw bales inside which Sumo bouts take place.
Rugby has a solid base to build on in Japan and all indicators are that when the tournament gets going it will be greeted with passion and enthusiasm up and down the land of the rising sun. Once the Sumo’s finished that is!
Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water www.castlewater.co.uk and on Twitter @CastleWaterLtd
Follow Duncan Smith in Japan on Twitter @Duncan_Smith