There's something about iconic sporting events that carries huge power. Whether it's the way the roar of the crowd and the action on the pitch can unite a nation; the ability it has to go far outside the sport itself and draw in hundreds of thousands of new supporters in doing so; or, especially in the case of an international tournament, to attract people passionate about their team to parts of the world they might never have visited before.
That much is certainly true of the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019. English rugby fans will have fond memories of Jonny Wilkinson's tournament-winning drop goal in 2003, and no doubt the fans who travelled to Australia for games will have experienced unforgettable moments on and off the pitch on their travels. That's not to mention the FIFA World Cup 2002, which welcomed football fans from across the world to Japan and South Korea.
And we've got good news: the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 is coming, and a trip to experience it will allow you to travel all over the inimitable country of Japan. From Hokkaido to Kyushu, Shizuoka to Kobe (and, of course, Tokyo, too), the tournament will open up the country to a host of travellers hungry to learn more about the country's rich culture, as well as to watch the action live.
It marks a watershed moment for tourism in the country, where new transport routes, air fares and the tournament itself are beckoning tourists to different regions and islands outside of Tokyo, while also doing away with the hassle of confusing itineraries and countless modes of transport. Instead, you'll be able to travel to some of this incredible country's most enviable destinations, and make use of the country's world-leading transport infrastructure while you're there, to make your journey a breeze.
Try the Japan Rail Pass to see the country's vast natural beauty and vibrant cities on the bullet Train network; or make flying around the country a breeze with the Air Explorer Pass, which gives you access to great rates and simple booking on internal flights with direct carriers Japan Airlines, BA and All Nippon Airways. And, for getting to and from the country, you're bound to find a great deal, with Air France, KLM and Finnair all flying in and out of regional airports up and down the country.
With all this in mind, we've rounded up some of the key destinations to visit, along with the key matches taking place there. And, because a trip to Japan wouldn't be complete without some sightseeing and culture, we've thrown that in, too.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: regions to visit
The Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 takes place across 12 cities of Japan and five key regions. We've mapped them out, so you can make sure you're set for the action, and find some travel inspiration.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: travelling around Sapporo, Hokkaido island
Key Matches: Australia v Fiji, 21 September; England v Tonga, 22 September
The stadium: The futuristic Sapporo Dome usually plays host to both baseball and football as the home of both the brilliantly named Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. With a capacity of 41,484, it rotates between sports using a giant retractable, floating pitch.
The Region: A population of 1.9m makes Sapporo the fifth-largest city in Japan. There's a big focus on culture, with the Sapporo Concert Hall playing host to the Sapporo Symphony Orchestra, and historic and modern art to be found all over the city's galleries, museums and parks, as well as vibrant nightlife in the buzzing Susukino district.
Sapporo aside, the region of Hokkaido – an island province at the northern tip of Japan – is full of outdoor activities, from rafting, cycling, hiking and canoeing to skiing and snowboarding come winter, with plenty of onsens (that's hot springs to you and me) to relax and unwind in.
Must-visit: When the sun's setting, climb up the 531m-high Mount Moiwa. If you're with a partner, you can hang a padlock on the deck for good luck in your romantic endeavours, but either way you'll be rewarded with an absolutely stunning view of the city's twinkling lights from the top.
Hidden gem: Make sure you check out the Makinomanai Takino Cemetery's Hill of the Buddha statue. This incredible, mind-bending piece of architecture sets a 13.5m Buddha inside a huge well. The edge of the well is surrounded by hundreds and thousands of lavender plants, and you can see the statue face-to-face by travelling along a 40m tunnel to its feet.
Getting there: Internal flights from all around Japan fly into New Chitose airport, just 30min by JR trains from Sapporo. Make use of JAL's Japan Explorer Pass or ANA's Experience Japan Pass for heavily reduced fares on domestic flights to New Chitose, or go longer haul with the JR Pass using the new bullet train line connecting Tokyo to the north island of Hokkaido.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: travelling around Kobe, Setouchi prefecture
The Matches: England v USA, 26 September; Ireland v Russia, 3 October
The stadium: The Kobe Misaki Stadium, with its retractable roof and a capacity of 30,132, is home to a football club Vissel Kobe, who play in the J1 League, and rugby union team the Kobelco Steelers.
The city: A classic port city, Kobe looks out from the bottom of the Japanese mainland, across the shimmering Setouchi archipelago towards rustic Shikoku island. The vibrant Kobe Harbourland is made up of shopping plazas, restaurants and parks – Meriken Park is a particular highlight.
Must-visit: You'll recognise Kobe's name for a reason – the type of wagyu beef it has made famous is some of the finest meat available in the world. At one of the city's many teppanyaki restaurants, you'll be able to get up-close and personal to the chefs preparing, cooking and slicing beef and other dishes right before your eyes.
Hidden gem: The Nada sake district should be first on the list for fans of Japan's national drink. In this neighbourhood – a 3km stretch of old-style sake breweries – you can stop off for tastings and tours, and get a close look at the sake-making process at the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum.
Getting there: Kobe is situated on the main JR bullet train line, with transfers to speedy local JR lines for exploration of the Setouchi region. AirFrance, KLM and Finnair all fly into nearby Osaka for a much shorter train transfer than from Tokyo.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: travelling around Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto, Kyushu prefecture
The matches: France v USA, 2 October; France v Tonga, 6 October; Wales v Fiji, 9 October
The stadiums: Home of the Avispa Fukuoka football team, the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium holds a capacity of 30,000. Though surrounded by forest, it's actually walking distance from Fukuoka's airport. Meanwhile, Oita Stadium has the largest retractable roof in Japan and a 40,000 capacity, and the 32,000-capacity Kumamoto Prefectural Athletic Stadium hosts rugby league, too.
The region: Kyushu is the southernmost of the main Japanese islands, and Fukuoka is its largest city. The region is known for many things – among them beautiful nature spots like the breathtaking, volcanic Aso-Kuju National Park in Kumamoto and the less-trodden Nokonoshima Island, as well as world-class boutique crafts and popular street-food stalls known as yatai in Fukuoka.
Must-visit: ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall is a dazzling piece of architecture – a cultural centre whose stepped terrace roof gardens are covered entirely in lush vegetation overlooking nearby Kushida Shrine.
Hidden gem: If you're in search of somewhere to relax, look no further than Yufuin, a small lakeside hot-spring town full of teahouses and galleries – a time-capsule
to ancient Japan
Getting there: Fukuoka and Kumamoto are accessible by JR bullet train from Tokyo/Osaka on the JR Pass, and Oita, by changing to a direct line from Fukuoka. Finnair flies directly into Fukuoka via Helsinki from April to October.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: travelling around Fuji and the Izu, Shizuoka prefecture
Key matches: Japan v Ireland, 28 September; France v Argentina, 21 September; England v Argentina, 5 October
The stadium: The 50,889-seater Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa can be found at the centre of the lush Ogasayama Sports Park, about 50 minutes from Shizuoka Station.
The region: In the shadow of Mount Fuji and between Tokyo and Nagoya, Shizuoka Prefecture is full of vibrant city life, pretty small towns and even beaches, due to its position on the southern coast of mainland Japan.
Famous for its hirayama hilltop castles, Shizuoka is also a bounty of food and drink: it's one of the biggest tea-producing regions in the country, and it's home to the Sakura shrimp – a delicate shrimp that can be served as sashimi – as well as housing the best views of Fuji around.
Must-visit: The Nihon-daira district in Shizuoka City is a vaunted tourist attraction – climb to this hillside plateau and you'll be greeted with stunning panoramic vistas across tea plantations to Shimizu harbour, with the peerless Mount Fuji in the background. Put simply, there's a reason it's often said to be the best view in all of Japan.
Hidden gem: If you're visiting Izu, you can grab a bus to the The Seven Waterfalls, a beautiful forest trail that takes in (surprise!) seven waterfalls along its 1km route, before finishing with an onsen overlooking dramatic coastlines and sandy beaches.
Getting there: Shizuoka is 2h30 by JR bullet train from both Tokyo and Osaka. Finnair fly directly into nearby Nagoya airport via Helsinki all year round.
Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: travelling around Yokohama and Tokyo, Greater Tokyo Area
The matches: Japan v Russia, 20 September; New Zealand v South Africa, 21 September; Australia v Wales, 29 September; England v France, 12 October
The stadiums: The 49,970-capacity Tokyo Stadium is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the ground that hosts the Japan national football team's home matches, a stone's throw from the center of the city, about 30 minutes from the bustling Shibuya Station. The International Stadium Yokohama is one of the country's biggest at 72,327, and was used for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
The region: The Greater Tokyo Area is the largest metropolitan area in the world by population, and both the Japanese capital of Tokyo and the city of Yokohama fall within it. Both cities are among the country's (and the world's) most progressive and modern, where cutting-edge architecture and a high standard of living combine.
Although their skylines are pierced by skyscrapers and their streets illuminated with neon advertising, you can find slices of antiquity in both, like the districts of Yanesen in Tokyo and Noge in Yokohama, where you can grab a bite in a tiny restaurant or drink in the small sake shops that line the streets.
Must-visit: Shibuya is an iconic sight for a reason, and it's likely that if a picture forms in your head when you think of Tokyo, it's here. Its famous Shibuya Scramble Crossing, right next to Times Square-style digital billboards, can be used by up to 3,000 people at once in the middle of the day, and there's plenty of shopping available too. For something a bit quieter, try to get to the Meiji Shrine nearby if you can.
Hidden gem: Take a walk through Yokohama's historic Sankeien Garden, a beautiful, quiet paradise of ponds, pagodas and trees.
Getting there: Yokohama is situated 30mins by JR train from Tokyo, where all major airlines arrive into. JAL, BA and ANA provide direct flights from London to Tokyo.