This year the Tokyo Gaijin are celebrating 20 years since the club was established. This is quite an achievement when one considers the transient nature of the ‘Gaijin’ in Japan. Along the way many people have worked hard to make this club what it is. In celebration of 20 years of existence in Tokyo we take a look at some of those people who have made playing for the club a fond memory for Gaijin passing through Japan, the long term Gaijin resident and our Japanese members alike. In many cases their tireless work off the field or long-term commitment on the field has made this club stronger and we would be all the poorer without them.
We kick off the series with Jo & Shino Iwasaki who joined the team in 2002. Jo has played various positions during that time and is considered the most senior backline player. He has also filled in in the second row and flanker and will also tell you about the time he filled in at prop when one of the big men went down with an injury.
Shino has been the Team’s Girl Friday and Number 1 fan since that first day and rarely misses a match. Even when Jo is injured or working you will see Shino walking up and down the sidelines with water bottle and medical kit in hand. Not long after the birth of their daughter Suzu, Shino was seen running onto the field with the medical kit with the young Suzu strapped to her back.
A few years ago at the Manila 10’s this writer was approached by the Phillipines National coach who wanted to know who the enthusiastic girl supporting from the sidelines was.
TG: When did you join the Tokyo Gaijin RFC?
Jo: I joined in the summer of 2002. Around about August.
TG: Why did you join the club?
Jo: Shino’s friend knew of the Clubhouse (a Sports Bar that was run by ex-Gaijin players in the Shinjuku 3 -chome area that was frquented by Gaijin. It closed down a couple of years ago) and before entering the club I had a fight with a co-worker at my company team. Shino said “How about playing with the Tokyo gaijin RFC” so I followed her advice.
TG: How long have you played rugby?
Jo: I have played since I was a school boy. Since High School in fact. About 20 years.
TG: What positions can you play?
Jo: Lock, flanker, No.8, centre, wing and fullback.
TG: Whew. That’s a lot. What is one of your most memorable moments in your time with the Tokyo Gaijin?
Jo: There are many but probably a costume party we had at Bar Neko in Shinjuku to celebrate the birthdays of myself, Alaister Nimmo and Jonathon Dean which was all planned by Shino. There were some excellent costumes and we even had a prize for the best one.
TG: Who is your funniest/craziest team-mate?
Jo: Mark ‘Wolf’ Davies Sargent. I remember he screamed ‘Shi ne!” at a referee while pointing at him. That means “Die !”. So finally he got a letter from the League saying that he can’t play in the San Tama League anymore. Basically he was banned. Another Mark, in Mark Sargent, will also be remembered for many bad reasons. He seemed to make enemies with everyone in the team.And Romeo ‘Heats’ Devlin. He was very funky!
Shino: Romeo ‘Heats’ Devlin was a funky boy. I remember starting the 2005 Manila Tour from the Clubhouse in Shinjuku. But we were going to miss the train to Narita so we had to run to Shinjuku Station. I saw Heats running with his Yukata open and he was going ‘commando’ so you could see his ‘sausage’ in the middle of Shinjuku at noon. Very funny.
TG: Why have you played with the Gaijin for so long?
Jo: Shino has enjoyable time (sic) and me too. We have made so many friends from around the world. We went to a wedding in Prague this year for one of our team-mates and that was a special experience.
TG: How do you prepare for games?
Jo: Pray to God. No, just joking! I usually make onigiri (rice balls) to take to the game. Nothing special!
TG: What event do you look forward to every year?
Jo: Sugadaira. It’s a family tour and many players take their wives and kids or girlfriends.
Shino: Our Wedding Party and the Manila Tour. Many of the players came to our Wedding Party and the highlight was the NZ Haka performed for us by the boys, led by the NZ players. The Manila Tour is fantastic and has such a party atmosphere.
TG: I thought you would say this Christmas Party as the girls all dress up and you usually wear a kimono. What is the best place to drink after a game? At the park, station or at an izakaya or bar?
Jo: At Yanokuchi Field (usual training ground). Nobody wants to go home even though it has already become dark and you can’t see who you are talking to. It’s Tokyo gaijin style.
Shino: At the station.
TG: Which team do you love to beat. Otherwise worded as who do you hate?
Jo: Mandara RFC (The team had many battles with Mandara in the Tama League and they are considered one of the top amateur teams in Japan).
Shino: YCAC !
TG: What group of players is most important for the team, forwards or backs?
Shino: Forwards. I like the ‘prop’ guys hard work!
TG: Who will win the next World Cup ?
Jo & Shino: JAPAN!
(Below is Joe’s best 22 over the time he has played for the Gaijin. He was restricted to guys who had played at least a season with the Gaijin.)
Jo’s Best 22:
1. Takayuki Kitajima(Japan)
2. Yukio Suyama (Japan)
3. Tsukasa Takasugi (Japan)
4. Joe fisher (NZ)
5. Murray Clark (NZ)
6. Kevin Rebay (France)
7. Bati Apisai (Fiji)
8. Jeff ‘Joffa’ Harris (Australia)
9. Alaister Nimmo (England)
10. Ian Roy (England)
11. Tucker McEwen (USA)
12. Blair Parkin (NZ)
13. Matt Downer (NZ)
14. Romeo “Heats” Devlin (Australia)
15. Blake Walker (NZ)
16. Mark Pearson (USA)
17. Chris Fearon (NZ)
18. Mauro Sauco (Argentina)
19. Sean O`Donoghue (Ireland)
20. Takashi Mutou (Japan)
21. Niall Conlon (England)
22. Hitoshi Chihara (Japan)
Horrible John, all the girls