The first recorded playing of an early form of rugby by a Japanese is that of 17-year old KIKUCHI Dairoku (1855 – 1917) while studying at University College School in London.
KIKUCHI Dairoku Yasuyuki1 was the second son of Dr. MITSUKURI Shuhei whose family produced a number of leading scholars. In 1866 he was the youngest of a group of Japanese boys sent by the Shogunate government of Japan to study at University College School in London. He returned to Japan in 1870 before going to England again and continuing his study at the same school.
Despite apparently having no interest in football, he was mentioned in the magazine of University College School as playing in the annual game between the school’s 3rd fifteen and ‘any fifteen chosen from the school’ on October 28th 1872 at Primrose Hill. The game appears to have been a good and close one and resulted in ‘4 goals, 4 touch-downs, and sundry rouges2 to our 3rd, against 3 touch-downs to the School.’ Kikuchi was one of four players in the School fifteen who ‘deserve mention’ and, because the players on each team are not listed, that is how it is known that he played.
The same page that mentions him playing a form of rugby also mentions him winning a prize in his Greek studies.
Kikuchi was the first Japanese to graduate from Cambridge University (St John’s College) and the only Japanese to graduate from London University in the 19th century. While at Cambridge, according to the research of Ian Ruxton and colleagues, Kikuchi was involved in rowing and was cox and secretary of his college boat club as well as coxing at least once for another Cambridge boat club.
On his return to Japan, be became a professor and then became the president of the Imperial University of Tokyo. From 1901 to 1903 he was Minister of Education and later the head of the Imperial University of Kyoto. In 1908 he was made a Baron and, finally, in 1917 was appointed the first head of Riken, Japan’s first national science research institute.
In summary, the first Japanese to play rugby went on to become one of his country’s greatest educators and educational adminsitrators.
1. KIKUCHI is capitalized to indicate that it is the family name because in the Japanese language the family name is stated before the first name.
2. Readers may wonder what a ‘rouge’ is. The rouge is said to have originated in the Eton Field Game and was adopted into some other forms of football during the Victorian period. If a drop kick went over the goal line but wide of the goal posts and was touched down by a member of the attacking team, that was judged to be a rouge. It was a kind of tiebreaker in cases where a game ended tied in terms of the number of goals or was goalless which was often. However, no number of rouges could equal the value of a goal. It was not only early forms of rugby that featured rouges. Sheffield Rules, a popular forerunner of soccer, adopted the rouge in 1860 and tried to persuade the FA to introduce it into association rules soccer before replacing it with goal kicks and corners in 1868. The ‘rouge’ makes a few appearances in the reports about football matches in Yokohama.