Playing the Japan Way, London style.

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Written by Satoshi Takehana
Photos courtesy Stanley Dellimore

Like all rugby teams the London Japanese team brings together players from all walks of life.

The youngest is a 20-year-old university student while the oldest is well into his 50s and their backgrounds are just as diverse.

Japanese corporate expats, students and those who left Japan and ended up in London for whatever reason play alongside a number of locals and players from all corners of the globe, coming together for the love of the game, love of the team and love of the “tasty beer” they all have after the game.

London Japanese RFC was founded in 1979 by a group of former Japanese internationals who came to London for different reasons, and former members include such big names in Japanese rugby as Hiroaki Shukuzawa, Seiji Hirao, Toshiyuki Hayashi and many others.

The owner of the Japanese restaurant, Yoshi on Goodge Street, Noboru Watanabe, is one of the founding members of the team.

The team has an ever changing ratio of Japanese to non-Japanese players, as there are no controls and nobody minds where you are from as long as you share a love of the game and appreciate the team spirit. As a friendly social team, it’s not easy to quote the exact number of players but currently the team has more non-Japanese players than those from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Tamekuro Nagata and Satoshi Takehana who have been playing for London Japanese since 2006 recall the day they joined the team. “We remember there were a couple of English guys in the team and the rest were all Japanese. Going through a decline in Japanese rugby players in London, the team naturally evolved into a cosmopolitan group with a Japanese flavour in its team culture and playing style.”

Traditionally a lightweight team, the London Japanese love to pass the ball around and play a wide expansive game. Often they get bullied around the rucks and scrums but when they manage to keep possession, they ran rings around the opposition as the big boys can’t catch them.

The well-travelled side has a track record of playing well on the tour – two trophies from Dusseldorf Rugby Festival in Germany (2011 and 2012) and runners-up in the Piotrowice Nyskie international 7s tournament in Poland (2013).

The members are sociable and well-connected to Japanese rugby society and of course England.

Hang out with them in a friendly pub in London, and you many end up having a pint and who knows what rugby legends from Japan, England or the rest of the world you will end up talking to and maybe even playing alongside.


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