Giant rugby ball bounces into downtown Tokyo
28 Oct 2009
New Zealand is dominating downtown Tokyo with its giant rugby ball in pride of place beside the iconic Tokyo Tower to promote the country and the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The ball was officially opened today (28.10.09) by the New Zealand Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism John Key in a rich cultural ceremony that featured a formal Māori miki whakatau, or welcome, and a formal blessing by a Shinto priest.
The giant rugby ball - adorned with the silver fern and offering an evocative New Zealand journey - will be open until 3 November, and directly exposed to the 10,000 people or more who visit the Tokyo Tower every day.
Timed to coincide with the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup match against the Wallabies - the first to be played outside New Zealand - the ball’s promotional visit is the third appearance in a high profile world tour that has seen it sitting beside the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Tower of London.
As well as promoting New Zealand and rugby, the ball’s Tokyo visit coincides with two major business and diplomatic events - the Japan - New Zealand Business Council and the Japan - New Zealand Partnership Forum.
New Zealand promotion
The unique venue, which is 25m long and 17m wide, can hold up to 160 people. It will be used to host government and business meetings and a range of functions showcasing New Zealand’s produce, food, wine, business, education, tourism and immigration opportunities.
Maori cultural performances by the Te Arawa touring group will be staged outside enticing visitors in to experience the free 10-minute, 360-degree virtual tour of New Zealand which begins with Tana Umaga kicking a ball that bounces around the country. Visitors will be eligible to go into a draw to win return flights to NZ.
Official proceedings at the ball opening included a blessing and tape cutting ceremony involving a number of dignitaries including Mr Hisao Inaba, chief priest of Nikko Toshogu Shrine.
The shrine is a World Heritage site and a major tourist attraction - one of the major features being a sacred white horse from New Zealand. The history of the horse and continued tradition surrounding its significance has provided a strong bond between the two nations.
Mr Shin Maeda (Tokyo Tower chief executive), actress Beverly Maeda who promotes New Zealand as a holiday destination to the Japanese market, Mr Shintaro Ishihara (Governor of Tokyo), Mr Noboru Mashimo (vice president of Japan’s Rugby Football Union), well known Japanese actor and rugby far Hiroshi Tachi, and former New Zealand All Black John Kirwan (coach of Japan’s national rugby team) - also attended the blessing ceremony and cut the tape to officially declare the ball open.
The giant rugby ball’s first appearance was in 2007 at the Rugby World Cup in Paris when it enjoyed a prime spot beneath the Eiffel Tower and was visited by more than 26,000 people in 14 days.
The ball was used as a promotional venue again in London during the All Black’s tour of Britain and Ireland last year and attracted major attention with media and the public.
Despite the increased cost of taking the ball to Tokyo, Tourism New Zealand says promoting New Zealand to the Japanese market is particularly important as tourist numbers have dropped off recently.
Rugby is considered an elite sport in Japan but, due to the huge population, it has the fourth-highest number of rugby players in the world.
Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Background: Giant rugby ball
- Holds up to 160 people, or an estimated 600,000 ordinary-sized balls
- 25m long, 17m wide, 13m high
- Takes five days to set up
- Requires 8000 litres of air per second, provided by two pumps
- Needs 14 people to staff it
- Designed by Inside Out Productions, and cost NZ$3.5 million to build in 2007
- 26,600 visitors in 14 days in Paris, and estimated to have reached an audience of 138 million through media
- 7500 visitors in seven days in London, and estimated to have reached 200 million on screens and in media
- Hosted the IRB pool allocation draw for the 2011 Rugby World Cup on 1 December 2008.
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