Photo/IllutrationFans cheer ahead of the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal match at Tokyo Stadium between Japan and South Africa in Tokyo on Oct. 20. (AP Photo)

In Japanese, the word "niwaka" is often used as a prefix to denote something passing or impermanent.

"Niwaka benkyo" is used to mean "cramming for an exam," and "niwaka ame" means an unexpected rain shower that ends just as abruptly.

Now, a story on the Rugby World Cup 2019 in a British daily has introduced it to English speakers, likely for the first time, to talk about Japan's rugby craze.

The Guardian refers to Japanese who have gotten into rugby as "niwaka fans," defining the term as "newcomers, or bandwagon jumpers."

Actually, I myself happen to be one of them. With each match, I'm learning the rules of rugby, bit by bit. And I am finding this sport fascinating, not only in how each game unfolds.

Rugby may be soccer's brother, but each sport has its own distinctive cultural personality, if you will.

For one, probably because fans recognize rugby as a "gentleman's sport," there is little unmannerly booing from the stands. And supporters of both teams are seated together, apparently because they are unlikely to give in to hooliganism.

As for players, the doors of Japan's national team are open to foreigners. For instance, anyone who has resided in Japan for three consecutive years or longer is qualified to join.

At first, I felt the team didn't seem "Japanese" enough. But once I got used to the lineup, I realized how much I liked it this way. After all, our community is meant to comprise members of any nationality like the rugby community, so long as they are residents who are committed to our society.

Pieter "Lappies" Labuschagne, a South African on the Japanese national team, fought fiercely against his native country in the quarterfinals. He was a veritable star and key player.

Four years from now, I wonder what the Japanese national team will be like.

In Britain, where rugby originated, I understand that soccer fans tend to scorn rugby fans as "snobs." But since that is not the case in Japan, it is probably much easier for rugby to find universal acceptance here.

Though Japanese people are notorious for going from fad to fad, I believe their being able to absorb varied sports cultures is an asset.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 22

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.