Photo/IllutrationPromotional notice boards are set up in front of Booby’s British Pub in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture. The nearby Toyota Stadium will host four matches during the 2019 Rugby World Cup. (Akihito Usui)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Japan has vast experience in preparing to host premiere sporting events, but one element in the Rugby World Cup has posed an unprecedented challenge: satisfying the beer-guzzling habits of fans of the sport.

Bars have stocked up on extra suds for the first Rugby World Cup held in Asia, which starts on Sept. 20. Additional staff have been hired and vacation days canceled.

Jitters still linger that pubs could run dry.

“We have stocked gallons of beer for game day, more than four times what we usually stock for a day during the busiest end-of-the-year party season,” said Yusuke Maehara, the 32-year-old manager of Booby’s British Pub in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.

The pub, known for its live sports broadcasts, is located near Meitetsu Toyota-shi Station, the closest station to Toyota Stadium, which will host four World Cup games. The first match will be held on Sept. 23 between Wales and Georgia.

In preparation for the big events, Maehara has upgraded the capacity of the pub’s beer servers and bought standby servers.

More part-time staff have been hired, and on game days, the pub will open at 11 a.m., six hours earlier than usual.

READY FOR HARD-CORE CHUGGERS

Many teams competing in the World Cup represent nations known for hard-core drinking habits.

According to a 2017 survey by Kirin Holdings Co., annual beer consumption per person in Ireland is 2.4 times the level for Japanese. Americans and Australians drink 1.8 times more beer than Japanese imbibers.

Tens of thousands of rugby fans from these countries are expected to descend on Japan.

An official of the World Cup organizer in Tokyo made a plea with operators of restaurants and lodgings in Toyota at an orientation meeting in May.

“Please make sure that beers will never be out of stock,” the official said.

Beer was definitely on the minds of attendees of that meeting.

An official of a joint committee of Aichi Prefecture and the city of Toyota to support the hosting of World Cup games said, “We have been told that rugby fans consume four to six times more beer than soccer fans.”

Kirin Holdings has a license agreement with Netherlands-based Heineken, an official partner of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the official beer supplier of the event.

At 12 venues around the nation, only Heineken will be served.

According to Kirin Holdings, the number of restaurants and retailers selling Heineken products has increased ahead of the World Cup. The sales volume from January to August was already 30 percent more than the figure from the same period last year.

Kirin Holdings said it plans to produce 3.4 times more Heineken in September compared with the same month in 2018.

Japan dealt with large, boisterous and thirsty crowds when it hosted Summer and Winter Olympic Games and co-hosted soccer’s World Cup. The country is now steadily preparing for the Olympics in the capital next year.

However, for some pub operators, the Rugby World Cup is the biggest event.

“We are expecting more customers than the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” said Tomoya Komada, who is in charge of public investor relations at HUB Inc., a Tokyo-based company that operates 111 British-style pubs in Japan.

Komada cited two reasons: The duration of the Rugby World Cup is 44 days, more than twice as long as the Olympics; and pub culture is deep-rooted in many of the participating countries.

Hub has changed the fonts on its menu for the event, making the English words larger than the Japanese ones.

The pub chain expects sales in October, when the tournament is at its peak, to be 1.5 times the figure for the same month last year.

ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY

In Hokkaido, two matches are scheduled at Sapporo Dome, on Sept. 21 and 22. The Sapporo city government estimates that 40,000 people will attend the games on each day, of which about 40 percent will be overseas visitors.

A total of 30,000 or so foreigners are expected to descend on the streets of the Hokkaido capital on those two days.

The city has had its guard up since it learned that rugby fans consume an inordinate volume of beer.

According to data obtained by the city, fans at a stadium during the 2015 Rugby World Cup held in England drank 1.7 liters of beer per person, six times more than the amount consumed during a typical World Cup soccer match.

According to one estimate, about 28,000 liters of beer per day will be consumed at each game venue in Japan, about 1.9 times more than the daily amount consumed at the annual beer garden held in Odori Park in the center of Sapporo last year.

Bars as well as wholesale distributors have been scrambling to secure enough beer to quench the thirst of rugby fans and to seize on this business opportunity.

Irish Pub Brian Brew near JR Soen Station in Sapporo is considered a go-to place for rugby fans. Inside the pub, large screens show rugby matches, and the walls are decorated with signed jerseys of star players.

The pub has an affiliated Minami-Sanjo outlet in Sapporo’s famous nightlife district of Susukino.

The operating company of the pubs said it has received inquiries from abroad about business hours.

Estimating that the first four days of the World Cup will be the peak of beer consumption, the company has prepared to serve a month’s worth of beer for these days at its Soen location, and up to two months’ worth at the Minami-Sanjo outlet.

The company was also concerned that continuous pouring of large quantities of beer from a regular server would result in warm beverages. So it obtained ice-cooling servers.

“We want people to drink beer while watching rugby games and enjoy the communication in the pub,” Yukiya Amano, 41, executive manager of the company, said.

Staff have worked hard to have enough beer on hand at Watasho, a Sapporo-based liquor distributor whose clients include many bars and restaurants in Susukino.

They expect the beer consumption will more than double between Sept. 17 and Sept. 23.

Sunday is usually a holiday for Watasho, but the company decided to stay open on Sept. 22 for the match between England and Tonga at Sapporo Dome.

“We are working hard to prepare for the World Cup because we think this much of a demand for beer only happens ‘once in a lifetime,’” said Nobutaka Watanabe, president of the company, referring to the official slogan of the World Cup. “I want many foreigners to drink beer and drum up business in the city.”

(This article was compiled from stories written by Akihito Usui, Atsushi Takahara and Masanori Isobe.)