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Kitakyushu: The city that turned red for Wales

  • Reporter and producer Sian Thomas reflects on her time spent in the Japanese city of Kitakyushu where Wales held their pre-tournament training camp - and where thousands of local people helped create a home-away-from-home.
Fans turned out in their thousands to show their support for Wales

Walking into the arrivals terminal of Kitakyushu airport, the first thing that greeted us was the Welsh flag and a banner that read "GO GO Wales."

Airport staff were there to greet the media and the players when they touched down in Kitakyushu

It was then I knew we were in for something special.

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Kitakyushu, on the island of Kyushu, is an industrial city that contributes to Japan's manufacturing industry. A stone's throw from the stadium is a steel works, which reminded me of Tata Steel in Port Talbot.

You could say we have much more in common than just the rugby.

The steelworks in Kitakyushu resemble the skyline in Port Talbot

Every corner of the city, there were billboards, banners and even a bus that's donned the Welsh flag - testament to the city's support. 6,000 miles away from home and I thought to myself there's more Welsh paraphernalia here than in our capital city.

15,000 fans queued up to watch Wales' open training session

But this new fanbase has come from years of hard work and relationship building. During my time at Kitakyushu I met Rhys Williams from the Welsh Rugby Union who told me he visited the city three times in 18 months with an objective to leave a lasting legacy, not just of rugby, but of Wales.

Everyone from young to old seems to have embraced Welsh rugby

The real highlight for me though has to be the open training session, held on Monday afternoon in Kitakyushu Stadium. 15,000 Japanese fans signing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau in perfect unison.

The open training session in Kitakyushu Stadium

I had to pinch myself a few times to make sure I wasn't dreaming!

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The queues of people who stood in the baking Japanese sun just to get a glimpse of the Welsh team showed their dedication - and frankly, the hard work, that's been put in to developing this very special relationship.

I came to understand that for many of the supporters in the stand, it would be their first and only chance to watch the closest thing to a live game of rugby.

Fans wore Welsh flags, hats and donned the official World Cup t-shirts to cheer on Wales

It didn't end there, one evening after a very late edit to make the six o'clock news, we went to a quiet bar above a restaurant in one of the arcades. The owner came to understand we were from Wales and the expression on his face is something I'll never forget. Within seconds he had the whole bar chanting "GO GO CYMRU" and singing Calon Lan, with pronunciation as good (if not better) than match day in the Principality Stadium.

The team said they were blown away by the reception they received

From my short time in Kitakyushu, I've been blown away by the reception. Wales may have a special relationship with the city, but the city most definitely has a special place in my heart.

The ITV Wales team will be following every moment of Wales' World Cup journey in Japan

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