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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium is the home ground of Japanese rugby. Built in 1947, it has undergone two major renovations and is a great place to spend an afternoon watching rugby. There is no true home team; rather the Top League schedules Saturday afternoon doubleheaders here that involve Tokyo-based squads. Many international matches are held here as well, including the 2009 Rugby World Junior Championships.
The stadium is named for Prince Chichibu, a younger brother of Emperor Hirohito who was a fan of rugby union and was instrumental in developing the game in Japan. Despite not being one of the major world powers in rugby, Japanese fans have taken to the game and the nation will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with some games likely to be played here after further renovations.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The stadium has a few concession stands offering very little of interest. When the place is crowded, you can expect to wait in line for some time. I did not see anything here worth trying.
Rather than partaking the stadium slop, most fans pick up their eats on the way. As you walk up the main street from Gaienmae subway station, you will be presented with several small tables selling sandwiches, noodles, gyoza, fried chicken, and other snacks. Beer is also much cheaper here, and you can carry the cans right in with you. I highly recommend this option as you get more variety at a better price. There are some plastic tables inside the stadium where you can grab a seat and enjoy your meal if you are so inclined.
If you are looking for some post-game fun, stop in at the Hub Pub just a minute away, again on this street. It's one of several branches of a faux-English establishment that serves drinks and pub food at reasonable prices. If you want to enjoy a more traditional Japanese experience, try Touan right next door. It's an izakaya serving tofu and chicken dishes and is really quite good. However, it is small and fills up quickly, so you might want to make a dinner reservation as you walk to a weekend afternoon game.
The stadium is quite large, with seating areas right next to the pitch. This allows the fans to get very close to the action, where you can hear the crunching tackles that make the game so compelling. However, the overall stadium layout is too spread out to get a good crowd feeling, even with 15,000 people. Most of the seats are unreserved, and few fans sit in the end zones, so you don't get the stadium-wide throng that you need for a more dynamic atmosphere.
Still, the stadium is a great place to watch rugby, with a beautiful green field and colorful blue and yellow seats making it an attractive scene when you first enter. With the buildings of Aoyama nearby, it does make for a good stadium experience regardless of who is playing.
The stadium is part of a larger sports complex that includes National Stadium, a soccer and track facility that hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, Jingu Baseball Stadium, a couple of gymnasiums, and even a smaller baseball field that doubles as a golf range. It is a very central location, but the large number of other venues make it somewhat weak as a true neighborhood. There are restaurants and shops along Aoyama-dori, just south of the stadium, but little worth noting from a tourist point of view, at least in the immediate vicinity.
Once you get more than a mile away though, you can see the bright lights of Shibuya, or the nightclubs of Roppongi, or the two faces of Shinjuku, all within a short walk or subway ride.
I've been to this stadium for several different matches featuring several different home teams, so I'll rank the Japanese rugby fans on an overall basis. I have always been impressed with those who follow the sport here; unlike baseball which attracts a lot of casual fans, rugby supporters are serious about the sport and understand what they are watching. Despite the brutal nature of the game on the field, fans are well-behaved, cheer with passion, and make a positive impact on your stadium experience.
The closest station to Chichibunomiya is Gaienmae on the Ginza line, the oldest subway in Tokyo. From here, it's about a 5-minute to walk to the stadium, with the sidewalk quite narrow in some places. This is where you would buy your food or stop at the pub as mentioned above. After the game, the crowd spills out onto the street as you return to the station. The Ginza line train can be quite crowded at this time, so I prefer to walk a few extra blocks to Aoyama Itchome station, which has some other lines that are far less busy.
There are several other stations within walking distance but the Gaienmae approach is the best as that is where you can stock up on food and beer.
Once inside the stadium, you will find the concourses to be more than wide enough with entrances to the seating area every few yards. Toilets are plentiful and I saw no issues with navigating the stadium, except upon leaving when the crowd jammed at the main entrance.
Most seats are unreserved regardless of the event. The main stand is partially covered and generally these seats cost a bit more, but the other seats are 1,500 yen for two Top League matches (a Top League match day consists of back-to-back games) and 2,000 yen for a national team game. The far stand is completely uncovered but offers seats right at field level, which is great for pictures as well as seeing and hearing the game close up. Both stands offer just a single level of seating, there is no upper deck.
One end zone is covered and offers seats while the other is a standing area. As mentioned few fans choose these areas as they don't offer particularly good views.
All seats are backless, and it can be a bit uncomfortable for four hours. But for such a cheap price, you can see quality rugby in a great setting. On a crisp autumn afternoon, there may be nothing better in Tokyo.
There isn't much more here than a rugby stadium. A statue of Prince Chichibu is here, but otherwise nothing worth mentioning.
The scoreboard is large and shows both lineups as well as replays of key plays, which are quite helpful. It is in the standing end zone, which is another reason to avoid that area.
Most likely rugby is not a sport that will enter the typical Tokyo tourist plan, but if you are in the city during the fall and winter, check out the Top League schedule to see if you can catch a couple of games here. It is definitely a unique stadium in one of the greatest cities in the world.
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