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Tokyo Gaijin’s Rugby Expedition: A Journey to Kamaishi’s Rugby Heart

The Tokyo Gaijins’ made an early start in attempting to line up a bunch of current, occasional, outright retired, and in all cases, older gits for what would be latest venture north to the rugby heartland of Kamaishi City, Iwate prefecture. The Kamaishi Rugby Tour was to be an opportunity to compete against other senior teams (40 years and over) at the Kamaishi Unosumai Fukko Memorial Stadium, which was the venue for a Rugby World Cup match between Fiji and Uruguay back on 25th September 2019.

The tour commenced with a Saturday morning, 6.45am assembly at Tokyo station, and remarkably all 21 members were on time and nobody showing ill-signs of pulling an all-nighter either. The touring group was suitably cosmopolitan with members from Croatia, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji, America, Spain (ok – Basque Country to be precise), Hong Kong, Ireland and Japan of course. It was all very civilized, the only oddity being that the experienced tourist “Sukebe” (living up to his nickname) was for an unknown reason clutching what would be a regular sighting for the following three days – a wooden dildo. There was many a confused glance at such an early hour, with the thought that this was surely a mistake and the dildo would be safely put away for the rest of the tour, or be kept for discreet personal use by the owner, as and when needed. Sadly, that was not the way things turned out.

The Shinkansen departed exactly on time of course, and off we went. The tour had been arranged by Kamaishi City, and a representative kindly came all the way to Tokyo to accompany us on our trip north. We shared a Shinkansen carriage with members of the Tokyo Masters who were also competing. Upon arrival at Shin-Hanamaki we boarded a touring bus which took us directly to Kamaishi City, not realizing that this bus would stay with us for the entirety of our trip. First thing on the agenda was to play a mini-tournament of touch rugby, quickly followed by a generous BBQ showcasing some of the regions local delicacies – chief amongst those being the local scallops, which were excellent. It always helps when your rugby tour is sponsored by a brewery, and Kirin Beer certainly didn’t disappoint with an endless supply of cold beers. We were then taken to see some of the local attractions, before arriving at our hotel for the night. In the evening we were treated to a feast which was attended by all of the competing teams, and unexpectedly each of the Tokyo Gaijin foreigners were invited on stage to address the audience. Much to my surprise all members addressed the audience in Japanese. Perhaps the volume of beer which had already been consumed had swept away all inhibitions about a lack of coherency. Nevertheless, the efforts were well received by the locals, if perhaps not particularly well understood in all cases. Those members who had avoided drinking too much so that they might preserve themselves for the games the following day were cruelly punished for their efforts. The sleeping arrangements of 3 and 4 to a room ensured that the drunkards were out for the count in short order, falling into an unshakeable sleep filled with ear shattering snoring. This is what I am told anyways – by one of those who didn’t manage to get to sleep before I did.

The day of the tournament arrived and we made the short trip to the big stadium. The draw ensured that the Tokyo Gaijin would have the shortest possible route to becoming champions, with a bye in the first round. Our first game was a tight contest against the local Kamaishi Team, with the Tokyo Gaijin prevailing 7-0. Kirin Beer provided the next opposition, and the Gaijin once again prevailed to secure the trophy with a score of 19-0. As befitting the purpose of the tournament, and the focus on comradery as opposed to outright competition, the rugby activities continued for some time after the tournament winner had been settled.   One of the stand out moments up this point has to be the ‘American Goose Step’ we witnessed from Lonnie.  He is willing to give lessons to those interested so please contact him by all means.  Another game against the local Kamaishi team had been pre-agreed, and on this occasion, they triumphed in what was another tight match. The cup lifting ceremony was duly celebrated at the stadium upon which we made our way to our next Ryokan. In typical Japanese fashion we enjoyed the onsen prior to enjoying what turned out to be an excellent meal. We were also given an excellent overview of the history of Kamaishi, with a detailed explanation of why it been at the center of Japan’s initial attempts to create a steel industry. In essence that particular area had one of the only iron ore deposits in Japan. The post-match celebrations continued into the night, with the music playing and games of uno being played – all the while Sukebe dangling the aforementioned dildo to great effect, capturing some wonderful photos.

The following day the Gaijin Tour Group were provided with a retelling of the events of the tsunami that sadly swept away most of Kamaishi, and many souls, on that fateful day of March 11th 2011. The central messages were about the lessons learnt about what to do if the tsunami happens again. However, one of the unexpected messages was about the decision to not build a giant wall to guard against a tsunami causing damage once again. The locals said that their love of the sea meant they did not want to block it off as it provides so much to the locals, and they wanted to treasure it every day. In addition, they will also be better able to see the tsunami coming and make their getaway in good time.

We departed the Ryokan the next morning, making a visit to the steel museum and another local restaurant. We also visited the rugby museum at Kamaishi and immediately understood why Kamaishi is so synonymous with rugby all over Japan. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, when the steel works in the town were still busy, the local team was sponsored by Nippon Steel.  Kamaishi Nippon Steel won the national championships every year from 1976 to 1984, only once losing to Toyota Motors in 1977. With their mining, steel manufacture and rugby culture, the locals were proud to declare that they are the Wales of Japan!
The tour group made our way back to the Shinkansen, very grateful for the extreme hospitality. I think that many of us would like to return again for a private visit, and certainly wish to return for next year’s tournament which will hopefully include a higher number of teams.

Article By: Damein Naughton

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