Rugby World Cup 2019: Brave Blossoms symbol of Japan's increasing diversity

One of the reasons there has been so much interest in the Rugby World Cup in Japan has been the recent success of the home team - the Brave Blossoms.

There are high hopes for Japan and not just about rugby - the team is seen as a model of diversity for a changing nation.

Right in the middle are a bunch of Kiwis, including their coach and former All Black Jamie Joseph.

'Brave Blossom' might sound like a name your grandmother would call you, if you grazed your knee, but this rugby toddler came of age at the last Rugby World Cup, beating big boys South Africa in pool play.

Over the years, under Joseph, the Japanese team have steadily climbed up world rugby rankings to 10th.

"I've been here for three years and the last time, the Japanese, at the World Cup, were pretty successful, so [there are] big boots to fill," says Joseph.

But with success comes expectation and the tantalising prospect of a history-making playoff appearance.

"It'd be massive," says Joseph. "What I feel at the moment is there is that expectation behind, [but] we don't see that every day, obviously.

"We've got our own internal expectations."

The Brave Blossoms have a strong New Zealand connection, not just coaching staff, but players too, including captain Michael Letich, who became a Japanese citizen six years ago.

"We've got 13-14 non-Japanese players playing for the team, but a player like Michael, for example, has been here since he was 16, so they have been well-integrated into society here. He's got a Japanese wife, the majority of our boys are in that situation."

In fact, the Brave Blossoms are being touted as the poster team for Japan's new push for diversity, relaxing it's previously tough stance on immigration to help revive an economy burdened by an ageing population.

"Probably this Brave Blossom [team], with diversity, will make people know that this is diversity we need in the society," says Nikkei journalist Takashi Settai.

Little wonder they've caught the imagination of a country ready to cheer them to glory.


Join us at 9:45pm Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks v South Africa World Cup clash

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The ninth Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 20 in Japan - the first time it has been hosted in Asia.