Kumagaya, the Heartland of Rugby in Japan

My day in Kumagaya included a river rafting tour, a visit to an unusual Buddhist temple, tea and sweets at a Japanese teahouse, and ended with beer and snacks at a rugby-themed bar.

The Heart of Japanese Rugby, Just Outside Tokyo

A stroll around the streets of Kumagaya tells an immediately concise story; that this city is the heartland of rugby in Japan. Placing as much importance on tradition and culture as the being model of “real Japan”, Kumagaya’s many restaurants and izakayas display posters and match information on their shopfronts, letting us know that rugby in this city is a big deal. There’s even a rugby-themed bar overlooking the train station but more on that later.

Just outside the city centre is the purpose-built and aptly-named, Kumagaya Rugby Stadium. In a nation where the popularity of rugby continues to develop, thanks greatly to the national team’s famous upset over the Springboks in 2015, Kumagaya remains Japan’s leading stadium.

Visitors to Japan for the ninth edition of Rugby World Cup™ will be hard pressed to find a better blend of Japanese culture and a love for the game of rugby.

Rafting in Nagatoro on the Arakawa River

Of course, much of the appeal in a visit to Japan lies in city sprawl and the excitement of modern life. However, there’s relative peace just beyond. Just outside Kumagaya lies the unspoiled nature and rural vibe of the small and scenic town of Nagatoro. In Nagatoro, along the Arakawa River, is where you’ll find thrilling rafting experience tours running.

You’ll see the traditional riverboats glide past but the best way to immerse yourself in all the area has to offer is with a raft tour. Punctuating the calm spots, fit for a refreshing swim, are the many rapid spots, with staff guiding guests through informatively and safely.
Snaking through the gorgeous canyon scenery of Nagatoro, which has been designated as a Special Natural Monument, you’ll be surrounded by the geological marvel of the Iwadatami Rocks. The rocks were given the moniker as, when viewed from above, they look as though someone has laid giant tatami mats.

Taking in the Majesty of Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple

This temple is famous within Japanese Buddhism and is regarded as one of the country’s three greatest temples enshrining Nandikesvara. The main hall was the first building within the whole Saitama Prefecture to be listed as a National Monument, owing much to its beautifully sculptured exterior, with bright colours slightly atypical when compared to many of Japan’s temples and more in line with the Tokugawa-inspired Toshogu Shrine in Nikko.

Traditional Sweets at a Japanese Teahouse

In Japan, many temples and shrines are surrounded by streets which speak of tradition. Traditional teahouses sell sweets and refreshments, as they always have. One such place outside Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin offers daifuku (rounded mochi stuff with a sweet filling), tea, and generously-sized, indulgent shaved ice sweets which make the perfect accompaniment to sitting, watching and dreaming of a time gone by.

This is how Japanese people have topped off a temple visit for centuries and it is an experience which remains, even with the world’s largest and most modern metropolis a short train ride away.

A Beer at a Japanese Rugby Bar

While Kumagaya Rugby Stadium and its wider sports park are impressive, one doesn’t even need to venture out of the same building as the train station to soak up the Rugby World Cup™ spirit.

There’s a rugby bar just a few floors above which overlooks the city’s centre square. The beer is cold and the extensive food delicious, making it the perfect place to begin or end your Kumagaya experience. Or both!

Kumagaya will host three matches of Rugby World Cup 2019™. While the action on the field will be the drawcard for most, be sure to catch the sights and adventure off the field. This is the real Japan and where Japan rugby’s heart beats.