On Friday I set off to Japan from Wellington. After a long flight with a dodgy TV I finally arrived. Noboru met me at the Airport and we took the train into downtown Tokyo from there we took a taxi to my hotel. My hotel was in Aoyama which is a very flash area. You walk down the road and there are flash cars parked outside every house. The share volume of people amazed me. At my hotel I met Yoshi who is in charge of the international relations with referees. He is a very nice man and after I had checked in we went off to a small Japanese restaurant for dinner. I took the philosophy when it came to food of don’t ask questions and just eat. It paid off. Over a couple of quite beers I consumed sea urchin and also the entrails of beef. I was pretty tired after the flight so after dinner and finding out what my programme for the week was I headed off to bed.
Saturday I woke up early not quite adjusted to the time zones. I wasn’t being picked up until 11.30 so I had a lot of time to kill. I needed to purchase an adapter for my laptop so I googled the closest electronic store. This was about a half an hour walk away. I needed to stretch my legs so off I went. Thanks to googlemaps i am pretty sure I went the most off the normal road route possible. I got to the store with no issues though and got to see a bit of the residential part of Tokyo. After purchasing what I needed I took the train back to my Hotel. This took 5 minutes and was surprisingly easy to use.
Yoshi picked me up and we made our way to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium. The stadium was similar to AMI Stadium in Christchurch. I met the referee I would be ARing that day for and then headed off to the Pre-Match meeting. This was a different thing about rugby in Japan. An hour and a half before the game the referees, ARs, Match commissioner and the manager of both teams meet and it is decided when the referee will speak to the player/ do the toss/ If there are any issue. After this we got ready for the match. The game that took place saw Yokogawa Electric Company take on Kurita Kogyo. Kurita had ex OBU player Ash Parker and Chief’s first five David Hill playing for them. These two dominated the match with Kurita winning by 20. It was an interesting first experience to Japanese rugby. A lot of structure and one thing that stood out was the lack of depth that their back-lines run with.
After the match we headed to an English Pub around the corner. There we ran into Ash and David and managed to have a chat to both of them. This was helpful as I am refereeing them next week against Mitsubishi. This should be good fun as the first five match up will be David Hill vs Stephen Donald while Shane Williams plays on the wing for Mitsubishi. After a few beers and some food I headed back to my hotel to get some sleep. I kept being told what a massive match my game would be on Sunday so I thought it would be best.
Sunday I woke up to watch the All Blacks. The live-stream was amazing quality but the American commentary was hard to listen to. After this I got ready to head to the same stadium as Saturday. About 200 people watched Saturdays match. 2 hours before kick-off the stadium was already full. The hype around this match was huge. Live on TV and a full house I was pretty excited. After the pre-match meeting I had the hardest front row talk of my life. It needed to be translated but I think the message came across. The toss took place at half time of the curtain raiser and was filmed and played on TV. Scrums are an interesting concept here. They like getting really low and their feet go really far back which can lead to a lottery to whether or not it will stay up. Something that I’m sure they will work on.
Kick off came around and I was ready to go. This game is the biggest game in their University calendar. Teikyo University are the champions and Waseda are the All Blacks of Japanese rugby in terms of reputation. A TV audience of over 3 million apparently tuned in to watch this game. After the University anthems (yes they have anthems which they sing as loud as we sing our national anthem) it was time for kick off. An amazing atmosphere for the first couple of minutes. I was able to observe for the first 5 minutes and not be forced into a decision which was nice. In the second minute Waseda won the ball just on Teikyos side of halfway. The 10 for Waseda was back in the pocket about 55 metres from the goal line. I thought he was just going to kick for the corner but instead he unleashed a monster drop kick which sailed over the posts. From there though it was pretty much all Teikyo they were just too strong and too clinical. The score blew out towards the end ending 53-11. An amazing game to be involved with and something I really enjoyed.
After the game I had to give a speech at the aftermath. I used very limited (and probably very bad) Japanese combined with Noboru translating for me. After this post match function we headed to a “Japanese Pub” with members of their association. The amount of food ordered was amazing and I had to convince them that I was in fact full and anymore I would explode.
Monday I was ARing another University match. To get to this match required catching 3 trains. Maybe if the public transport of Wellington was as good as it is in Japan I may consider catching it. Everything is on time which does make it very easy to plan a trip and get places. The game took place in Kamiyugi which was a far cry from the Stadium at Prince Chichibu. Another strange thing about this game is that a rule was established that if the ball went onto the athletic track that enclosed the field teams would not be allowed to take a quick throw.
After the game we watched another game that followed ours. This game produced a huge upset apparently, not that I knew who was meant to win. After this we went to a BBQ restaurant. The BBQ was a cast iron pot filled with hot charcoal with a grate on top. You cooked the thin slices on meat onto of this. It was a very nice meal. Nobouro also told me to try some of the cold sliced meat he had ordered. It tasted like beef but he proceeded to tell me it was in fact Horse meat. It tasted just like a lean bit of beef. Post dinner we took the train back to the centre of Tokyo. We went to visit the large crossing which you see on Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift (great movie). Nearly 3000 people cross this crossing when the light turns green. It was amazing to see all the people around and also as it was dark the amount of lighting and advertising on the surrounding building was something I had never experienced before.
Tuesday saw me have a day to myself. I used this day to explore the local area where I was staying. It was really cool to be able to wander around and take everything in. A couple of things really interested me. The first was that there were lines of about 50-60 people outside a couple of stores. I thought there may have been someone famous inside or something special going on. No it was the line for buying POPCORN!! I couldn’t believe it. I asked about this later as I thought it must be pretty special popcorn but apparently not it was just normal popcorn. Wow. Another thing that amazed me was the lack of rubbish around the city. The Japanese pride themselves on being clean and you can see this when you walk down the street. There is not a spec of rubbish. After having some Sushi Train for lunch I wandered back to my Hotel. That evening I attended a meeting of their up and coming referees. At this meeting I presented (through a translator) on my experiences as a referee so far and any small pieces advice I had. It was a very humbling experience and they hung on my every word. They also asked a heap of questions which were very good. They are eager to learn when it comes to rugby. After the meeting we had a dinner at a Chinese restaurant which was very nice.
Wednesday saw me with another free day. I employed the services of Noboru and Tasuku to show me around some of the sights of Tokyo. The first stop was the Tokyo SkyTree. Look wise the Skytree is very much like the Sky Tower in Auckland but slightly bigger. We went to the top 350m above the city and this gave me an insight into just how massive the city is. We then headed to a tepenyaki type place for lunch where we had fried Soba noodles and a Japanese pizza. They are always eating here but the majority of the people are very skinny it’s amazing. After this we went to a Japanese Temple. This was an amazing experience and the place was very pretty and spiritual. Attached were some Japanese Gardens which were also very pretty and were even better in real life compared to on the movies. After the temple we went to Ueno where we went to the Zoo. At the Zoo I got to see 2 animals I have never seen before; Panda Bears and Polar Bears. This was awesome. After wondering around the Zoo we went to get some dinner. Dinner was at a sushi restaurant where they made the sushi in front of you. I proceed to try crab brain which was very enjoyable. We found a street side pub type place where we proceeded to consume a number of beers.
Thursday saw me travel to Yamanashi Prefecture. This was an hour and a half to the west of Tokyo out near Mt Fuji. Out there I would be meeting Amemyia and his family. Amemyia came to Wellington this year. He was extremely friendly and his family were extremely inviting as the welcomed me into their home. They provided me with lunch before we proceeded to travel up Mt Fuji. It was cloudy as we drove up the mountain but once we got to the top it has cleared enough to provide a stunning view. The highlight of the trip was everyone laughing at me for wearing jandals while it was only 3 or 4 degrees. It is amazing mountain and the view was something like I had never seen before. We then went to the Hotel I would be staying at that night. It was a traditional Japanese hotel where the bed would be the floor. It also had a hot spring which was very relaxing. Dinner that night was with 8 or 9 of the referees from Yamanashi. Again this was a very humbling experience and they all asked heaps of questions and wanted to know every bit of advice I had. This has been the part of the trip that has surprised me the most. Everyone is so kind and friendly. After that it was off to bed/the floor.
The next morning started off by me opening my curtains at 6am to a view to die for. A clear blue sky with the mountains in the background, the huge figure of Mt Fuji dominating the skyline. After a traditional Japanese breakfast we took Amemyia’s daughter to school. This was fun and everyone was very interested in the white man. All the children wanted to use their little bits of English they had learnt on me it was very funny. After this it was back on the train to Tokyo. I rechecked into my hotel who gave me the exact same room I had for the first 5 days. I wandered around Aoyama. That evening I had a dinner with the directors and chairman of Tokyo East Rugby Referees Association. I presented them with a Firebirds shirt and a WRRA shirt. They were very honoured and the Firebirds now have supporters in Japan. This was after we spent half the dinner explaining what cricket is. Not too many beers consumed as Today I had to referee the next day and the game is one of games of the round. The game saw Stephen Donald vs David Hill as well as Shane Williams playing on the wing for Mitsubishi. It was good to have a few kiwis playing and I think Stephen and David enjoyed being able to moan at the referee from first five and someone understand them. It was good to see Donald had found a bigger jersey than what he wore in the world cup final but his next mission should be to find some bigger shorts. The first 10 minutes was a kicking dual between to 2. After that Mitsubishi pulled away and ended up winning the game 45-23. Stephen and David are good mates and towards the end were just having a casual conversation while marking each other and I was setting the scrum. Was very hard to keep a straight face.
After the game we headed back into central Tokyo and was very lucky to be able to attend the All Black Maori vs Japan after match function. I was truly humbled to be invited to this. I was able to speak to referee Angus Gardner and also catch up with IRB sevens referee Taizo. This was a great way to spend my last evening in Tokyo. The Maori were great at showing off their culture to the Japanese. They sung a couple of songs and the amount of cell phones that came out to record was amazing.
On the Sunday I packed up and proceeded to head to the airport. I was able to sleep the whole flight home which was a very good thing
Links to my matches:
Teiyko vs Wasada – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bgg4fhU67k&feature=youtu.be
If you don’t watch the whole match at least watch the first 5 minutes to see the drop goal.
Mitsubishi vs Kurita – I will include once I have uploaded the footage
Highlights – So many highlights but the top 4 would be:
- Refereeing in front of 19000 people on live TV
- Presenting to the young referees and them being so interested in everything I had to say
- Being hosted in Yamanashi and seeing mount Fuji
- Spending the day seeing all the sights of Tokyo
Lowlights – There were none. The whole trip was amazing and the generosity shown by everyone who I meet and hosted me was amazingly humbling.
Observations – This was a hugely valuable experience for me in helping to develop my refereeing. While the social side and the treats on the side were really cool and a huge part of it the experienced I gained from refereeing was the main part of the trip. The language barrier was a huge challenge and was something I had to adapt. This combined with having to quickly learn a new style of rugby was something that I think will only improve my refereeing.
Others who are given this opportunity should embrace it with open arms. It would be dangerous to take a closed minded approach into this trip as you can learn so much from a very different rugby culture.
On the social side if I had one tip it would be just to embrace anything and everything presented to you. Try the food, try the drink you will not regret it.
Last Word – Lastly I would like to say a huge thank you to the Wellington Rugby Referees Association for sending me on this trip. I only hope that I can repay the privilege I have received.
Editor – Nicks blog on his trip can be read here