Graduates from Fukaya National High School to Play in Japan National Rugby Team | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Graduates from Fukaya National High School to Play in Japan National Rugby Team

Takuya Yamazawa and Hiroki Nakajima will be in the team for the match against Uruguay on the 25th.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on LINE
Takuya Yamasawa (right), who was selected to play against Uruguay, and his former teacher from Fukaya High School, coach Noriyuki Yokota (now a teacher at Kumagaya High School)

On Tuesday, May 31, the 34-member Japanese national rugby team for the World Cup in 2023 was announced (the number is now 37, including those promoted from the reserves). While two players each were selected from private, nationally strong high schools, Higashi Fukuoka (Fukuoka), Tokai University Osaka Gyosei (Osaka), and Kyoto Seisho (Kyoto). The largest number of three players were selected from Fukaya High School, an ordinary prefectural high school in Saitama.

The three players are: SO (standoff) Takuya Yamasawa (Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights), who contributed to the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights’ victory in the first year of League One and is expected to be a leader in the Japanese national team; HO (hooker) Daigo Hashimoto (Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo) and SH (scrum-half) Daiki Nakajima (Kobelco Steelers), who have two caps. 


Training kids within commuting distance on a dirt field

In the third round of the 2011 National High School Rugby Tournament, in which Hashimoto participated as captain of his senior year, Yamasawa, a sophomore, and Nakajima, a freshman, played on the way, and all three players were on the pitch at Hanazono Rugby Stadium. Yamasawa himself commented on the fact that three Fukaya High School graduates made the national team at the same time : “I think it is amazing! The locals are there, and they helped me loosen up during the tense (Japanese) training camp. I hope we can continue to support each other, even though we may or may not remain in the World Cup team,” he said.

Noriyuki Yokota (now coach of the Kumagaya High School rugby team), the three’s former teacher, who coached the Fukaya High School rugby team for 18 years until F.Y. 2017, leading them to nine appearances at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium.

Coach Yokota played LO (lock) for Kumagaya Technical High School, and was an active member of the team at Hansen (Flower Garden), as well as at Nihon University from his freshman year. After graduation, he became a teacher in Saitama Prefecture, and in 2000 became the coach of Fukaya High School, where he also served as the national high school coach and youth coach.

Director Yokota said, “It is incredible that three of the 34 members of the Japan national team came from Fukaya High School! Looking back, we were at our peak when the three of us were there (in 2011). The team advanced to the best 16th place by beating Tenri High School and Fushimi Kogyo (now Kyoto Kogakuin), and went on to the best 8 in the spring selection tournament. We had a good group of players, and we had a Japan national high school player every year, so it was very fulfilling as a coach,” he recalls fondly.


However, Fukaya High School was a regular prefectural high school, so the ground was dirt, not artificial turf, and the players were constantly getting scrapes and scratches from daily practice, and when it rained, the ground was like mud. The training room was prefabricated. There were, of course, no sports recommendations or entrance fee exemptions as in the case of strong private schools, and all the students entered the school through regular entrance examinations with some being rejected. In the 18 years that Director Yokota has been coaching, he has only had one student who crossed the border. “Yamasawa and Hashimoto were from Kumagaya City, and Nakajima lived very close to Fukaya High School. Only kids within commuting distance came to the school. It was a weed army,” said Yokota.

Of the three, it was Yamasawa whom coach Yokota was in love with for his talent, saying, “I started using him regularly from the spring break of his third year of junior high school. Yamasawa is the second son of three brothers, and his younger brother, Kyohei, currently plays with him at Weitzdonitz. In fact, his older brother Kazuhito was a member of the Fukaya High School rugby team first.” Yamasawa used to come to his brother’s games and was acquainted with coach Yokota.

However, Yamasawa was crazy about soccer at Kumagaya SC when he was in junior high school. He only showed up at the rugby club on days when Kumagaya Higashi Junior High did not have soccer. When coach Yokota happened to catch a Kumagaya-Higashi Junior High rugby team game, Yamasawa was playing in it, and his running speed, kicking, and passing skills were spectacular. But Yamasawa, who had also shown extraordinary talent in soccer, had failed to make it into the youth team of Omiya Ardija of the J-League, but had been invited by the powerful soccer clubs of seven schools, including Ryutsu Keizai University in Kashiwa, Maebashi Ikuei, and Yamanashi Gakuin, as well as Saitama Prefecture.

So coach Yokota decided to take the plunge and write a letter to Yamasawa.

He wrote: “I know it sounds a little off, soccer is good, but if you play rugby, you have the potential to represent Japan,” “I think you have the material to stand on the field at the 2019 Rugby World Cup as a standoff. I want to play rugby at Fukaya High School with you!” Yokota said it seemed like a love letter.

“I told him my thoughts, and if it didn’t work out, I was going to give up on trying to recruit Yamasawa.”

Yamasawa (center) and Nakajima (far right; photo by Kenji Saito) follow up with Yamasawa running with the ball against the prestigious Fushimi Kogyo in the third round of the Hanazono tournament on January 1, 2013.

I even remember the date of Yamasawa’s reply to my letter

On December 4, 2010, Yamasawa, who was so enthusiastic about what coach Yokota wrote to him, said, “I have read your letter. I will join Fukaya and play rugby!” and he still remembers it to this day. Thus, Yamasawa began to devote himself to rugby in earnest at Fukaya High School.

Yamasawa had been active since his first year in high school, scoring a try at Hanazono, and his talent was highly regarded by then national team coach Eddie Jones, who called him up to the Japan national team training camp in his junior year. He also participated in a match against Tonga as a member of the national team reserve team. In 2017, he earned his first cap for Japan’s national team.


Thinking back to Yamasawa’s playing days as a high school and college student, coach Yokota said, “At the time, I thought he would be number 10 for the 2019 tournament, but he had a natural bone in his body. If he wanted to pass, he would pass. If he wanted to kick, he would kick. If he wanted to run, he would run. He didn’t know what he was doing, and he was doing it with just his talent, so there wasn’t much reproducibility. Even so, he was troubled by the recognition he received from those around me. So, after joining the Wild Knights, many things came together, and now he’s in a period of fulfillment. He was thought to be precocious, but I guess he is not precocious, but a late bloomer. I want him to show his desire to be a member of the Japan national team, but at the same time, I want him to show his strengths and do his best as Takuya.”

When asked for encouragement for Hashimoto and Nakajima, coach Yokota said, “Hashimoto is a physically strong and dexterous player who can do anything. The fact that he was selected for the national team this time is proof that he has built up his career at Toshiba and has been recognized. I hope he will make the most of his abilities, including set plays. Nakajima is fast, physically strong, and can throw a pass from any position. In high school, he played in a half-squad with Yamasawa, and I think that was a big part of his success. If he plays in a normal way, I think he has a high level of ability, so I want him to play without fear,” 

What is the secret behind how Director Yokota was able to produce three members of the Japanese national team from an ordinary prefectural high school?

“Because we were together every day, the basic premise was that we were doing a good job of guiding the students in areas other than rugby play, such as greetings and organization. We also made sure that they studied hard during exam periods so that their studies would not be neglected. Hashimoto and Yamasawa were always in the top five in their class.”

Coach Yokota also prefaced his comments by saying, “Of course, we wanted to win at the national championships.” He added, “Now that I think about it, when you have too many excellent players like at a private, nationally strong high school, it becomes your mission to win the national championships. There is a lot of pressure, and maybe they understand a little bit more about how to approach their players.” 

“Some private national powerhouses have teams with more than 100 players, but Fukaya High School had fewer than 60 at its most” he said. Even when they competed in Hanazono, there were some players who said, “Two or three of them are a bit tough to compete in the national tournament. So, coach Yokota decided to develop players such as Hashimoto, Yamasawa, and Nakajima, who he thought were interesting.”

He would say, “We want to win, so don’t do these things!” or “Play this way!” He didn’t try to fit them into a mold, such as “Don’t do this!” Because it was a public school, there were not many good players. So he wanted to bring out the best in each player. He was coaching with this in mind. Hopefully, the team can win in that situation. The fact that they were not too strong schools may have been an advantage, as they were able to play without pressure. Without a doubt, their high school days were not their peak.


Yokota is currently coaching the rugby team at Kumagaya High School, and in addition to coaching club activities, the high school students will have final exams in July. The Japanese national rugby team has three consecutive matches coming up: against Uruguay on June 25 (Sat.) at Kitakyushu, against France on July 2 (Sat.) at Toyota, and against France on July 9 (National Stadium).

“If there are three Fukaya High School graduates in Japan’s national team, one of them will be in the 2023 World Cup squad for France.”

Coach Yokota is now looking forward to seeing his students perform on the world’s biggest stage.

Nakajima at the 2013 New Year’s Day match against Fushimi Kogyo; he will be a reserve SH for the match against Uruguay on January 25, but may be called into action in the second half (Photo: Kenji Saito).
Rikiya Matsuda shakes hands with Yamazawa (left) after the loss to Fushimi Kogyo. They are now teammates of the Saitama Wild Knights and inspire each other (Photo by Kenjin Saito).
HO Daigo Hashimoto (left) and Nakajima, Fukaya High School alumni who earned his first cap against Korea in May 2016. Hashimoto did not make the squad for the match against Uruguay on May 25, but is looking for more opportunities in the future. (photo by Dr. Yokota).
Coach Yokota watches his students practice from afar, and although he will not be able to be there for Japan’s three national rugby team matches starting on the 25th, he hopes that one of his students will be able to go to the World Cup in France next year (photo by Kenjin Saito).
  • Interview, text, and photos Kenjin Saito

    Born in 1975. He is a sportswriter who covers and writes for magazines and websites, focusing on rugby and soccer. He has covered the World Cup for five consecutive years until the 2019 tournament. He covered all 57 matches of the last World Cup, when Japan was coached by Eddie Jones. His recent books include "Rugby Language Dictionary" (Seibundo Shinkosha) and "Introduction to Rugby Spectatorship" (Kairyusha). In his high school days, he played FB, which is good at tackling.

Photo Gallery6 total

Photo Selection

Check out the best photos for you.

Related Articles