Ten years ago the rugby world finally opened the window and let a little air into the room by awarding a tier two country Japan the 2019 Rugby World Cup . Ten years is also significantly more than the normal time allotted to plan an event of this magnitude. However, the thinking was that the two parties could use all that time to get to know each other. But Japan and rugby needed only 10 minutes, not 10 years, to look at each other and say, “Dammit, you look awfully familiar.” Of all the storylines that may emerge during this six-week tournament, none will be more prevalent than the confluence of two very stubborn cultures. Few countries are as unyielding to new ideas and change as Japan and few sports have similarly resisted change and growth like 15-a-side rugby union. “It’s not fair to call Japan a country or rugby a sport,” said Satoshi Takehana, a Japanese writer who has been based in London for the past 13 years. “Japan and rugby are actually both religions. The vast majority of Japanese are non-religious because we don’t need traditional religion. One of the principal tenets of religion is to make you behave, here is the Bible or whatever holy book. Read it, follow the rules and behave. But being Japanese itself is strong enough, the social values are like a religion – honour your family, be thankful, show respect, don’t cause trouble for others and shame on you if you steal. That is Japanese religion and it is similar to rugby, which is full of codes of conduct. Respect the referees, respect your opponent, train hard, learn the very complex rules of the game and don’t complain.” However, being governed by an inherent and unshakeable code is often a recipe for stubbornness. They will more often than not listen only to their own counsel and while seemingly respectful, they are not necessarily inclusive. “Rugby is inclusive as long as you are one of us,” said Satoshi. It has been 32 years since the first World Cup, which is a decent enough sample size to draw the conclusion that 15-a-side rugby has had virtually no growth in that time. The quarter-finalists of all eight tournaments have been virtually unchanged and rotated between New Zealand, England, Australia, South Africa (who were banned from the 1987 and 1991 event), France, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Argentina. Fiji, Samoa and Canada all snuck in once or twice but that is it. Of course it’s natural for the cream to rise to the top, but where are the minnows who have swum upstream? There have been so many horrible mismatches in the opening pool rounds but, according to the authorities, this is necessary to make teams better. Well Canada has been in all nine events and with back-to-back games against behemoths New Zealand and South Africa has, once again, little chance to improve. Here in Asia it is even more pronounced with only one team, Japan, ever competing in the event. Although the next highest ranked teams regionally are Hong Kong at 24 and South Korea at 31, would it hurt to have an additional spot for Asia in Asia? England scored 84 points on Georgia and 111 on Uruguay in the 2003 World Cup. I’m pretty sure both Hong Kong and Korea could keep their losing margin in double digits. For now, growing the game here and in North America, which are the real tier two target markets for World Rugby, would seem to revolve around corporate opportunities and little else. Still, there most definitely is rugby growth, just not with the 15s version. Hong Kong put Sevens, and rugby, on the global and Olympic map and now there are also very popular tournaments in Vancouver and Las Vegas. “I don’t think you can differentiate the sevens impact on fifteens as an isolated situation,” World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said in Tokyo. “We have seen in all of the emerging markets and countries that actually sevens has driven the growth of fifteens as well.” However, that supposed growth in fifteens has yet to manifest itself on the global stage. Still, this event is the pinnacle of the game, the best of the best playing 15-a-side. In its purest form, it’s more spectacle than inspirational. But regardless of the number of people on the pitch, it’s still a game of honour, valour and virtue, all the elements that make Japan what it is as well. It will be fascinating to see how the two coexist – and grow – over the next six weeks.