An unlikely cute icon emerges from left field.

Japan defeated Ireland in a nail-biting Rugby World Cup match held at Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka on Saturday, surprising the world as the tenth-ranked Brave Blossoms came out with a 19-12 victory over the Irish team, which went into the tournament as the top-ranked nation.

Media were quick to label it the “Shizuoka Stunner”, or the “Shizuoka Surprise”, but for many Japanese fans, there was another surprise in store, which revealed itself when the national broadcaster interviewed lock Luke Thompson in Japanese after the game.

▼ At 38 years of age, Thompson is the oldest player in the tournament, having returned to rugby for the 2019 World Cup after retiring four years ago.

When Thompson appeared on camera, viewers who’d never heard him speak in Japanese waited with bated breath to see if the New Zealand-born player would be able to converse in Japanese. Others who’d heard Thompson speak in interviews before knew they were in for a treat, as the 38-year-old player has a tendency to speak the local language with a distinct casual flair, even in formal situations like press conferences and TV interviews.

His signature quirk is his use of Kansai-ben, the dialect of Japanese spoken in Osaka, where Thompson resides. While it’s common to hear Kansai-ben spoken in the Kansai region of Japan, in formal situations locals usually drop the localised inflections and use common, textbook Japanese instead, especially if they’re well-known names speaking before the public in serious TV interviews.

Thompson, however, uses Kansai-ben all the time, and one local slang word he’s particularly fond of using is “めっちゃ” (“meccha”, pronounced “metcha”), which is an enthusiastic way to say “very”, similar to the way the word “totally” is used in English. Oh, and it’s generally used more often used by schoolkids and young people, not 38-year-old sportsmen. 

So when Thompson responded to questions after winning a rugby match that many said was an even more astounding victory than Japan’s surprise win over South Africa four years ago, he was understandably thrilled, and the mecchas flowed like water, to the delight of Japanese fans.

Take a look at the video below:

Could you hear the “mecchas“? The clip starts off with the interviewer asking him, in a slightly convoluted way, how he felt after winning. After Thompson asks him to clarify the question, the interviewer rephrases his question by saying, “How did you feel in that moment of triumph?” Thompson immediately responds with a smile, saying “ma, meccha ureshii ne” (“Well, I was totally happy”). At that point, a Japanese commentator in the background can be heard saying “kawaii” (“cute”) under their breath.

Thompson then goes on to commend his teammates for their play and discusses their great work at sticking to the game plan, before finishing his sentence with “meccha ii kikan” (“it was a totally good opportunity”) and “meccha ureshii desu” (“I’m totally happy”).

That’s when the Japanese commentator in the background can be heard cooing with delight, saying: “meccha – kawaii!“, in reference to his use of the slang word.

Thompson then goes on to answer other questions with remarks that the next game is “meccha daiji” (“totally important”) and Ireland is a “meccha tsuyoi team” (“totally strong team”), and by the end of the interview, he’s said “meccha ureshii” a total of four times.

In a country where a lot of Japanese-born players will play down their delight at winning and conform to speaking in a more reserved manner for interviews, Thompson’s happy remarks and casual language won him a lot of fans.

▼ “I meccha like Thompson’s interview.

“How many times does Thompson say ‘meccha ureshii?’ It’s meccha kawaii.”

“I like old man Kansai-ben lolol”

“Thompson’s Japanese is meccha good.”

“Meccha ureshii over and over lol. Thompson is cute.”

“Interview with Thompson. His meccha ureshii is so, so adorable.”

It wasn’t long before even more comments began to appear on Twitter, with people saying they wanted to watch his interview over and over again, and many more saying they could relate to his feelings, being “meccha ureshii” themselves with the team’s fantastic result.

With two wins out of two in the tournament so far, we now have to wait until Japan’s next match, against Samoa on 5 October, to see if the Brave Blossoms will score a hat-trick of victories in the tournament. Until then, we’ll be sure to keep our lineouts outside of Japanese trains, cross our yukata kimonos left over right to avoid the Canadian rugby team’s fashion faux pas, and keep our fingers crossed for the return of the Starbucks Meccha Matcha Frappuccino, which Thompson would be the perfect spokesperson for.

Sources: Twitter/@nhk_sports, Twitter/#トンプソンルーク
Featured image: Twitter/@SBPeroricorde

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