By Lee Watkins
In our first episode of “Ask Rich” we talk to the Kyodo News journalist, Rich Freeman, about salaries, international eligibility and other peculiarities surrounding rugby in Japan. If you want to listen to the full “Ask Rich” episode, please listen to the JRugby Podcast on SoundCloud or i-Tunes.
Q: If a Japanese player plays all the games in the Top League, Super Rugby and international matches, how many weeks per year would the player get off?
Rich: Probably about a week! The season starts in August…and finishes at the end of January. November is a test match period so they would have played from the end of August through to the end of January. Then they’re straight into Super Rugby because that starts at the end of February. That then goes through until the beginning of July…They then get about a week or two off and then they’re back to pre-season because the rest of their teammates at Top League have been in pre-season since April.
Q: With all of the games that Japanese players have, wouldn’t it be wiser for them to not take part in Top League and still participate in Super Rugby?
Rich: Well, the problem then is, who pays their wages?
Q: Wouldn’t the Super Rugby team pay their wages?
Rich: They don’t have any money!
Q: So you mean that the Sunwolves don’t actually pay the players?
Rich: From what I understand, it would be very difficult with the budget they have…obviously some of the foreign players (get paid) because they only play for the Sunwolves, but as far as I’m aware, the Japanese players might get a little extra but the main bulk of their wages comes from their Top League team.
Q: How much does a Japanese international player earn? I think English players earn £22,000 per match and so how does that compare with Japanese players?
Rich: I’d probably say that Japanese players would be lucky to get ¥2,200 ($22)! Rugby in Japan is not like baseball. They don’t publish the salaries, but from what I have heard from a couple of good sources in the last couple of weeks, Japanese players are on about ¥4,000 ($40) a day, daily allowance.
Q: Do the Top League clubs have a good relationship with the JRFU regarding international call-ups. At the moment we have problems in England between Premiership clubs and international teams and so do the same kind of problems exist with the Top League since they are paying for the majority of the salary?
Rich: Things are certainly a lot better than they used to be. I remember back in 2004, Japan took a team to Europe and got 100 points put on them by Scotland and 98 by Wales because the tour team was missing so many players. Things are a lot better now. I think between the Top League and the union, there are no problems.
Seven-a-side is a completely different matter…because the players are not centrally contracted. Certain players will be needed by their Top League side during the season and can’t play for Japan. Interestingly, in Japan’s 2013 tour of Europe, Kenki Fukuoka and Fujita had to come back early because their universities told them that their university teams were more important.
Q. (From our listener Victor O Perez):
How does the Japanese public or the union itself feel about having non-ethnic Japanese players play for the Brave Blossoms?
Rich: I think the Japanese public doesn’t mind. The players certainly don’t mind. The union has accepted it. I think that in any walk of life you are always going to have some people who will object…to any outsider.
It was sad in 2011 when John Kirwan got fired, that there were certain comments made about his over-reliance on foreigners. Those people were quite happy when John Kirwan was picking them and they were winning the Pacific Nations’ Cup but as soon as they didn’t do as well as they were supposed to do…suddenly the race issue was brought out.
I think that in this particular side, a lot of those players have been educated in Japan. I don’t think they are like the rugby league mercenaries that come over and think they’re going to get in the national team straightaway. They’ve all got a longstanding history with Japan. A lot of them are Japanese citizens and I think the public accept that and understand it.
When Luke Thompson was being interviewed…with a broad Kansai accent, speaking fluent Japanese, you know, people respected that and I don’t think it was an issue.