TOKYO — Inside Tokyo Stadium: An elaborate opening ceremony to kick off the first match of the Rugby World Cup, and the first World Cup in Asia.
Outside Tokyo Stadium: That’s where the real action was as seven Russians paraded around and impersonated a rocket ship to entertain fans before the match.
The Russian fans wore red shirts and silver-metallic caps to resemble cosmonauts, and were led by one of them carrying a nose cone at the front, and another at the rear lugging cardboard rocket engines — just hours before the game between host Japan and Russia on Friday.
They snaked around other ticket holders, drew crowds of cameras, and sang Russia’s national anthem as they paused for applause.
“Rugby is still a bit exotic in Russia,” said fellow Russian Nikolay Sheviakov as he watched his countrymen go by.
Sheviakov said he had traveled from Moscow and planned to watch several World Cup games in Japan. And he was among hundreds of Russians milling around outside, many wearing blue and red baseball caps, a few with fury-looking winter hats, or shirts with “Russia” written on the back in English and Japanese.
“I trust in the future of our country that one day we will be the best in rugby,” Sheviakov said.
But not yet.
The result was disappointing for the visitors — Japan 30, Russia 10 — but not surprising. Russia is one of the lower-ranked teams in the World Cup and got in when Romania was disqualified for using an ineligible player.
Nothing else was a letdown.
“Good beer, good sake, and very good people here,” Sheviakov said.
If Friday is any indication, it’s going to be a cheerful six weeks until the championship match on Nov. 2 in Yokohama.
Beer was for sale as soon as fans stepped out of the train station near the stadium in far west Tokyo. In fact, at the first station exit, right next to the “Good Dreams” cafe and bar, there was a sign in Russian that read: “Welcome Russia.” With, of course, beer for sale from that point and all the way to the stadium — about a 10-minute walk away.
Parthasarathy Prasanna, a volunteer from India working outside the stadium, said he counted almost a dozen nationalities who posed behind a board he carried depicting the World Cup uniforms of Japan and Russia. His job was to welcome visitors to the match.
“South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy,” he said, clicking off the nationalities who’d posed behind his board. “That’s part of the attraction.”
He said he works as a sales manager in Japan for an Indian technology company, and volunteered to get close to the action.
“I love sports. It’s better to get in, in any capacity. That’s my motto.”