The biggest cheers of the night greeted Japan's tries against the United States, but their valiant effort was not enough to provide the neutrals with the fairy-tale win they longed for.
Exactly two weeks after the earthquake hit, and with doubts whether they would even be able to take part, Japan were backed to the hilt by a fantastic opening night crowd.
They twice came from behind in the first half against the US, with huge roars saluting tries from Lepuha Latuila and Shohei Toyoshima, which made it 12-12 at the interval. But the Americans dashed hopes of a Japanese win with two tries in the second half and, though Katsuyuki Sakai elicited another massive cheer, his try came too late to spark a comeback.
'At home there are many problems after the tsunami,' said coach Wataru Murata, who had a 'Pray for Japan' sign alongside him in the dugout. 'We are sad but we owe the country our best.
'It was a heart-warming atmosphere and that's why the players never gave up.'
US coach Al Caravelli said the atmosphere had affected his men. 'The crowd was behind them and we made some mistakes and kept letting them into the game,' he said.
Japan face England and China today; win, lose or draw, the tournament has already been a success for Murata.
'I'm very proud of the players,' he said. 'There was a chance they wouldn't make the tournament at all, so the whole team are delighted to be here and show a message to the world: Japan is coming back.'