The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

As another year comes to a close, my eyes have been on the gridiron, as they are each fall. This year has been especially interesting to me as a die-hard fan of college football because I was able to take in a game filled with many similarities and great differences. As Japan succumbed to rugby fever, so did I—and there were some interesting experiences along the way.

Great Divider
I was born into a rich football tradition. As a native of Birmingham, Alabama, one of the first bits of clothing I ever wore was crimson and white. Another was orange and blue. My family was split down the middle—Alabama and Auburn, with my father’s side being Crimson Tide and my mother’s War Eagle. The Iron Bowl, the annual regular-season finale between the state’s two largest universities, loomed large over the family. Back then, the game was played the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and it was very important for your side to win before everyone gathered the following Thursday for turkey and stuffing. In my home state, sports has long been the great divider. Alabamans spend 364 days a year fighting over which team is better. Once a year, the players take the field to battle for bragging rights. Then we do it all over again.

Great Uniter
What I saw September 20–November 2 was quite different. The Rugby World Cup (RWC) 2019 brought together not only a nation but the world. All around Tokyo and the country, we saw visitors who had come from afar to support their team mingling with one another, reveling in the shared experience made possible by a sport from which college football evolved. Supporters of both sides in a match watched side-by-side in a way rarely seen back home when the Iron Bowl rolls around.

And I joined in. I was honored to be invited to the residence of British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden to watch the opening match between Japan and Russia. And in the lead-up to this, I enjoyed the events hosted by the joint-chamber Rugby Alliance at which panel discussions revealed how the core of the sport brings people together and fosters understanding.

Great Experience
Returning from Wakayama Prefecture on September 28, the Shinkansen that I was on pulled into Kakegawa Station just after the Japan vs. Ireland match had finished at nearby Shizuoka Stadium Epoca, a 19–12 victory for the Brave Blossoms. As fans flooded onto the train, I watched the somber Irish supporters. The loss had been a shock, yet their respect for Japan was obvious. And many Japanese fans wore Ireland jerseys.

In the weeks that followed, I encoun­tered fans throughout the city—on the subway, in restaurants, and on the street. Each time I was struck by the camaraderie fostered by the sport, not just among supporters of the same team but by those who just love the game and what it represents. It was a novel concept for someone who grew up in the midst of a rivalry that has resulted in fans going to prison for acts of vengeance against the other side. Prior to this year, I knew little about rugby—and I still don’t understand the rules. Now I see the appeal and respect what the game can teach society.  

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.