The Japan Rugby Football Union have over recent years adopted the phrase “All for one, one for all,” as their catchphrase. So often as it been used by former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, the union’s president, that it has started to appear in other walks of life in Japan as a modern day version of the spirit of wa.
The problem is actions speak louder than words and over the years the various bodies that run rugby in Japan have shown they are anything but united in their bid to promote the sport.
On Thursday afternoon the Kansai Rugby Football Union sent out a tweet with a link to the sides for Saturday’s game in Kansai between a Japan XV and the Maori All Blacks.
To the outsider it seemed like the union was supporting an event in its jurisdiction. But to those in the know it was nothing more than a sham, as that same body had already scheduled a heap of university games for the same day.
“Pretty much university player in Kansai will be either playing or obliged to watch their own B team players in these fixtures,” said one frustrated coach.
Former players also spoke of their dismay at the decision, saying it made no sense.
To those outside Japan it may seem a trivial matter – “They don’t stop junior rugby in London when England play” was one comment posted on the subject from someone in the U.K. – but that’s forgetting one important fact.
Rugby is not a major sport in Japan. Player numbers are declining, as are crowds at Top League and university games. With Rugby World Cup 2019 just five years away the union should be doing all it can to encourage rugby players and fans and those new to the sport to attend big matches, especially those involving the national team.
“It’s pretty disappointing but there is nothing we can do about it. It’s out of our hands,” was Japan coach Eddie Jones’ take on the issue.
It’s not the first time Jones has spoken out on the issue as there have been a number of occasions in the past when sides (Top League, university and schoolboy) were prevented from watching the Brave Blossoms because of preseason games or training sessions.
Back in 2009 a number of players contacted me when they realized they were being forced to play in a club competition on the day Tokyo hosted the final of the IRB Junior World Championship.
When asked why the clash of schedules, the JRFU said it was out of their hands and was the responsibility of the East Japan Rugby Football Union, who in turn said it was nothing to do with them, it was, they said, the Kanagawa union that had decided the dates of the club games.
The same set of excuses have also been used over the past few years for high school tournaments being scheduled at the time as the Tokyo Sevens, which is set to be cut from 2016 following some less than spectacular attendances.
Over the years players have been prevented from playing for the national team because the dates of the tests clash with “the more important” university games, with the most recent example coming in 2013 when Kenki Fukuoka and Yoshikazu Fujita were both forced home early from the Brave Blossoms’ tour of Europe.
What makes the situation all the more frustrating is that there have been examples of that “All for one, one for all” spirit, and they have shown just what can be if things are done properly and with the interests of the game at heart.
In 2013, legendary former Japan wing Demi Sakata managed to persuade the schools and clubs near Hanazono Stadium to cancel all games and training sessions on the day Japan played Wales. The result, a sold-out stadium, the first in Osaka for many a year.
But with committees more often than not over-ruling enlightened souls Sakata’s actions remain an exception not the norm.
With so many committees and bodies putting their own interests ahead of the game and the national team, it’s no wonder little has really changed in the way rugby is mis-run in Japan.
So much for the concept of wa.