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.”