Tokyo (AFP)

Thousands of Japanese on Wednesday greeted the players of the national rugby team, the "Brave Blossoms", who marched Wednesday in Tokyo to celebrate their brilliant career at the World Cup-2019, held this fall in the Japanese archipelago.

Led by their iconic captain Michael Leitch, the Brave Blossoms on foot and in suit and tie walked up an avenue in the city center of the Japanese capital, lined with ginkgo trees with golden autumn foliage and skyscrapers.

"I am surprised to see so many people here, and I am very happy to see that we have been able to make such an impact in Japan," said Michael Leitch.

Japan reached the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals this year for the first time ever, winning against Ireland and then Scotland, two historic oval-ball nations.

In the quarter-finals the Brave Blossoms lost with honors against South Africa, future world champion.

Their exploits have thrilled a country that until then had eyes only for baseball and sumo mainly. In the stadiums, in the "fan zones" or in front of their televisions, the Japanese massively followed the matches of their team during the World Cup.

One team, the motto of the Brave Blossoms, was named in early December as the main word of the year 2019 in Japan in a high-profile annual competition.

"I hope that rugby will become popular among younger generations," said 48-year-old Koji Kabuki, who was attending the parade on Wednesday wearing the red and white striped jersey of the national team.

Rugby before, "It did not interest me, honestly," said Masae Honma, 51, from Tochigi Prefecture, about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo.

But she became a fervent amateur after attending the "historic moments" of the World Cup: "Now I think it's a great sport."

© 2019 AFP