Six weeks on from the conclusion of the hugely successful Rugby World Cup 2019 , the adulation of the Japanese public towards their national team is showing no signs of abating.
An estimated crowd of 50,000 people turned up to line the streets of Tokyo on Wednesday as 28 members of the 31-man Brave Blossoms squad attended a Thanks Parade, to acknowledge the backing that came their way from the public on their historic run to the quarter-finals.
All were taken aback by the reception they received in a district better known for its business activity than pure unadulterated joy. The parade was due to start at 12 noon but there was a 15-minute delay because of the demand.
Addressing the crowd in the early winter sunshine, Brave Blossoms captain and cult figure Michael Leitch paid homage to the support they received throughout the tournament.
"I would like to express my gratitude to all the fans who cheered, not only in person at the venues of all the matches, but also from those watching on television, and from overseas for their enthusiastic support of the national team," he said.
“We are pleased that all of Japan was united as ‘One Team’ because of you, the fans.”
The crowd responded by shouting ‘thank you, thank you’ back to Leitch and his team-mates who rewrote history by making it through to the last eight of a Rugby World Cup for the first time.
Office workers leant out of windows to wave and take photos of their heroes as they walked the 800-metre route, that started in Yurakucho and ended at the Marunouchi Building near Tokyo station.
Veteran hooker Shota Horie admitted the impact the tournament had had on Japan, the first to be staged in Asia, was still hitting home.
"I'm happy that we were able to express our gratitude to the fans at today's parade. Also, when I saw a lot of people coming, I felt that it had a big impact on the whole of Japan.
"I've been in three tournaments, but this is the first time I've seen anything like this."
Brought to tears
Fumiaki Tanaka, another long-standing servant of the team, shed tears during the parade, clearly touched by what he'd seen and heard.
Now the 75-test capped scrum-half hopes the new-found enthusiasm for rugby will spill over into the new domestic season, which starts on 12 January.
"We will do our best in the Top League, which starts in January. Thank you for your support of rugby in the future," he said.
Tanaka will be 35 by the time he pulls on a Canon Eagles jersey for the first time in a competitive fixture, having moved from the Sunwolves in the close season.
As his career reaches its end, Tanaka stressed the importance of the Top League to the ongoing success of the national team.
"We have achieved the best eight in this tournament, but we need to take on new challenges in preparation for the next tournament," he said.