Japan’s rugby fans had nothing but praise Sunday for their team’s fairytale march to the World Cup quarter-finals that came crashing down with a 26-3 defeat to South Africa.

The Brave Blossoms have captured the imagination of a country hooked on baseball and sumo and supporters packed out fanzones and tuned in in their millions to watch the game on television.

“I want to tell them a big thank-you for the inspiration,” said 32-year-old businessman Akihito Kojima at a fanzone in downtown Tokyo.

Captain Michael Leitch pronounced himself “not satisfied” even with his team’s historic run to the last-eight and some fans already had their sights on loftier goals.

“This is not our goal. Our goal is a tournament victory,” said Satoshi Sekihata, 33, a dentist from Chiba prefecture, who played rugby in college.

At the Tokyo fanzone, supporters erupted in thunderous roars every time the Japanese players threatened the Springbok line – mirroring the tens of thousands of Brave Blossom fans at Tokyo Stadium.

Spectators stood on tip-toe to catch a glimpse of the giant screens and even those who could barely see a thing were belting out loud cheers anyway.

“I cannot believe how the whole of Japan has gone rugby-mad,” said Takuya Okumura, a 30-year-old businessman who lives in Brazil but was on a business trip to his home land this month.

“It’s like football. If the national team does well, then fans follow,” he said.

“Tokyo will host the summer Olympics next year. Maybe this is an opportunity for the popularity of rugby to rise.” (AFP)