KOBE (Kyodo) -- Covered in mud from head to toe but with smiles a mile wide, tambo rugby players give a whole new meaning to the idea of playing dirty.
With the Rugby World Cup bearing down on Japan, people's interest in the sport is higher than ever, and it was perfectly demonstrated near Kyoto last month when an annual rice field rugby tournament saw a huge turnout.
Some 400 people -- men, women and children -- splashed, dashed and crashed across a flooded tambo, as rice paddies are called in Japanese, in pursuit of glory.
Being only "touch" rugby, contact is limited, making it accessible for people of all ages and genders. There is no tackling, with two-handed touches replacing the usual heavy contact.
"We were able to create a place where people from our community and far away can connect," said Naotsugu Miyamoto, a 47-year-old farmer who organized the event.
Tambo rugby was invented in 2015 after farms in Fukuchiyama, northwest of Kyoto, were ruined by a typhoon that flooded a nearby river two years earlier.
The muddy game began to spread when high school students who participated in the first event took the game to their own community in the central Japan city of Obama.
In Ryugasaki, northeast of Tokyo, women from farming households had their interest piqued when they saw information about tambo rugby on social media and floated the idea of organizing the games of their own.
This year, approximately 15 tambo rugby events have taken place across Japan.
And Japan's corporate world is also getting involved, with leading farm equipment maker Kubota Corp. sending some of the players from its professional Top League team, the Kubota Spears, to play.
Some of the players became regulars, showing up to multiple events, according to Kubota.
"We didn't expect the event to become so widespread," a company official involved in the activities said.
The Japan Rugby Football Union have also joined in on the effort to popularize tambo rugby by setting up a website on which interested players can meet, providing information on how to set up their own event and even how to rent equipment.
The JRFU's Nobuyuki Nagate, 51, said, "I hope that initiatives like these help spread the appeal of rugby to people who have had no prior experience with the sport."