Rugby Representative Keita Inagaki Speaks at Awards Ceremony: “Newlywed Life and Challenges Abroad
The “man who never smiles” seemed to have a faint smile on his face.
On Sunday, May 29, the final of “League One,” a new rugby competition that started this season, was held at the National Stadium in Tokyo, and Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, the team of Keita Inagaki, 32, a PR representative of Japan, beat Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath 18-12 to become the first champion. Inagaki played the full 80 minutes in a highly expendable position, but due to injury, he put his body on the line and contributed greatly to the team’s title win.
After the victory, Inagaki, wearing a commemorative T-shirt, greeted his teammates in the back stand. The players’ families were there, and of course Inagaki’s new wife, Takako Arai, 31, a world-renowned model who had just gotten married on January 26. Takako was said to be wearing a Wild Knights blue baseball shirt in support of the team.
Inagaki, who played in 15 of the 16 games, was again selected as one of the “Best 15” this season, chosen by the coach, captain, media, and fans. It is the only time he has won the award in eight consecutive seasons since his rookie season. At the annual “League One Awards” ceremony held the day after the final, Inagaki, his forehead red, said, “I am happy to win an individual title even though it is a team sport. I want to work even harder in training after taking this award.
The female presenter then asked, “You got married during the season. How have your feelings changed? I often talk with my wife about how we should support each other when we can afford to support each other after we have done our best to take care of each other. I think it would be a waste to keep supporting one without doing what one of us wants to do. In talking about doing what we both want to do, my wife has given me a lot of help and support in her spare time. I would like to thank my new family and my wife.
After the 2019 World Cup, he was invited by NZ, Australia, and Europe.
True to his word, Inagaki never cut back on his rugby even after marriage. Although Inagaki has a new house in Tokyo, the Saitama Wild Knights’ training ground is in Kumagaya. This season, however, a new hotel has been built next to the new training ground, so much so that the employees say, “Inagaki almost lives there! Inagaki almost lives there. Apparently, he has been devoting himself to practice while living in the hotel about half of the week.
Inagaki said, “Right now, I make my living by playing rugby for money. Fans come to the games, pay money to buy tickets, and come to the games. Therefore, I have to play a game and give a performance that satisfies those who have paid to come and watch. I think that is the responsibility of the players.
Inagaki and Takako, who talk about “doing what we both want to do,” launched the jewelry brand “H-Pole Ash Pole” with their husband-and-wife team, which was sold at Isetan Shinjuku in April for a limited time. It is easy to imagine that Inagaki, the fashionable leader of the Japanese national rugby team, and Takako, who has appeared at the Paris Collection, naturally had fashion in common.
Inagaki also made some suggestions for the Japanese national team at the League One awards. The Sunwolves, which had been formed in Japan until 2020 to play in Super Rugby, a professional league in the southern hemisphere, is no longer in existence, leaving only one member of the Japanese national team playing overseas this season, FB Koutaro Matsushima (Clermont, France). However, Matsushima has decided to return to Japan after this season, so there will be no Japanese playing overseas next season.
Inagaki, who also played for the Australian Rebels in 2015, said, “The Japanese national team is currently maxed out at seven test matches a year at most. （Now that the Sunwolves are gone (in 2020), will that fill the gap with the rest of the world? There are no new players coming up, and there are few opportunities to try out against world opponents. I think we need to change our approach in some way. Now that the Sunwolves are gone, I think everyone should think about going overseas more (to raise their individual level). I told him.
About seven years ago, a French scrum coach for Japan’s national team assured Inagaki that he was “still good enough to play in Europe. After playing one year with the Australian Rebels, he was offered a contract extension for three seasons, but turned it down for various reasons. Furthermore, after his performance at the 2019 World Cup, Inagaki received invitations from a number of professional teams in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. However, he turned them down because of the Sunwolves.
When asked about his goal for the 2023 World Cup in France, Inagaki categorically stated, “I want to win. Of course, “I still want to play overseas. I always want to go to Europe. Perhaps after the World Cup in 2023, Inagaki and Takako will be seen together on the world stage in Paris or London, while developing their jewelry brand overseas.