1866 and all that: the untold early history of rugby in Japan Article written by JMG for The Japan Times …
Keio was the first Japanese team to play overseas and at the time they arrived in Shanghai they still had …
Days before the eagerly awaited RWC2019 commences, Yokohama City will commemorate the city’s leading role in the start of rugby …
I wrote and circulated the information below with Japanese translations to a number of people involved in the rugby world in Japan including at least one director after initially making a complaint to the two Japanese officials on the spot at the Japan Pavilion in London during the RWC 2015 in the UK immediately after reading the information about the history of rugby in Japan that was offered in the display. I didn’t expect to get any response and I didn’t get any.
E. B. studied at the Victoria Public School alongside TANAKA Ginnosuke who helped him to introduce rugby in 1899 to the students of Keio University. At the age of 15 he won nearly all the academic and sporting prizes in the school, except that for mathematics which was awarded to Tanaka, and had several inspirational meetings with the famous writer Lafcadio Hearn while Hearn was a guest in the headmaster’s house.
Unlike with the first official games of soccer, rugby, hockey, etc. in Japan., American football started with a big BANG and a big exhibition at the Meiji Shrine grounds on Thanksgiving Day (November 29) in 1934 watched by 15,000 (according to the JAFA* today – the Japan Times at the time said 10,000) people including Prince Chichibu and the American ambassador Joseph Grew who gave a speech as part of the ‘colorful’ opening ceremonies. These included the Florida Dance Hall orchestra playing the football songs of leading US colleges.
Over-40’s rugby originated in Japan in the aftermath of the second world war. Its beginnings can be traced back to one evening in October 1947, two years after the end of the war, when Tokyo was still utterly devastated having been reduced to heaps of rubble. Life was a struggle characterized by confusion and disorder.
The image is most likely the oldest image of rugby in Asia and one of the very oldest in the world relating to ‘club’ football – at glance at the picture will tell you that the players were certainly not playing a game of soccer – actually being played as opposed to football/rugby played in schools and universities.
However, the conventional history of rugby in Japan, at least since World War II, has been that rugby was introduced to Japan by Cambridge University graduates Ginnosuke Tanaka and Edward Bramwell Clarke who taught Keio students how to play the sport and arranged Keio’s first game against the YC&AC in Yokohama Koen in 1901
According to most Japanese historians rugby was first introduced to Japan when Ginnosuke TANAKA and Edward B. F. Clarke started …
- Slide presentation on 150 years of rugby in Japan at FCCJ in Tokyo on March 31st 2016 The video on the FCCJ website is nearly one and half hours long including almost five minutes of filming before the press conference actually starts so here is quick guide to the starting point of the key parts: a. Official start of the press conference – 4 mins 27 secs; b. Kazumi Ohigashi speech – 7 mins 3 secs; Nobuyuki Ueyama speech – 15 mins 58 secs; Mike Galbraith speech – 20 mins 48 secs; Questions – 57 mins 45 sec.
- Interview about rugby history in Japan in audio podcast called JRugby Podcast (Lee Watkins & Taito Sakurai) in early September 2016 The interview starts at the 16 mins 32 secs mark
A version of the publicity prepared by the FCCJ for the press conference and slightly modified by me before the event and again after the event
Japan’s 2015 World Cup shock 34-32 victory over mighty South Africa catapulted the national team into the limelight, giving the 2019 Rugby World Cup host badly needed momentum to pull their sport out of near obscurity on their own home ground. Heralded around the world as the biggest upset in World Cup history, television ratings in Japan soared overnight from single digit to record breaking heights unimaginable in recent years, while the world clamours to learn about the nation’s rugby and rugby team which had previously only ever won one World Cup match.
Unbeknownst to the world of rugby in general, rugby in Japan has a long and rich history dating back to the age of Shoguns and samurai, The country is, for example, home to the oldest rugby club in Asia – the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club (YC&AC), which held a special 150th commemorative rugby festival and dinner on April 2 2016. No club in either New Zealand, home of the legendary All Blacks, or Wales, another home of rugby, has reached the 150 mark yet.
This history is known and recognised by, for example, the World Rugby Museum in London, but Japan is only just starting to change its view that rugby started in Japan in 1899.