Captain Hakaraia Richards Coxhead describes visiting the Hiroshima Peace Park as an "eye opening experience for the boys."
After a long off-season training period and a rigorous selection process, the students were excited to finally get out on the field, and the fact that we were able to do so in Japan made it that much more special. Although filled with excitement, the team got on the plane not really knowing what to expect from both the rugby and the culture.
In the first four days, we were lucky enough to be hosted in Tokyo by Teikyo University who have won nine of the last 10 university titles in Japan. This is currently home to Hamilton Boys' High School old boys Nik McCurran, Kenta Komura and Josefa Logavatu.
The days there were spent training including what we call the ‘Longest Day’, a day where the boys are pushed to their physical and mental limits by the coaches for 11 hours with only a short breaks for lunch and water.
After surviving this, the boys finally had the opportunity to put all their learnings from training into practice in actual games. Over an eight-day span, we faced a very tough schedule where we played four games against teams we knew nothing about.
The first game was against Keio High School, where the score was 74-14. We then travelled to Kyoto to play Kogakuin High School. We have had a relationship with this school for a very long time and played against them in 2010 on their 50th anniversary. We won our next two games 58-14 and 80-17.
Over these eight days, we were fully immersed in the Japanese culture; with each team, players were billeted with a different family. Although communication was sometimes very difficult, the boys and the families thoroughly enjoyed their time together. As the team’s captain Hakaraia Richards Coxhead notes, "…it was real different [living in a Japanese home] but by the end of the boys’ stays they had definitely made new friends.”
The team took some time out to mentor a group of smaller rugby players
In between all the trainings and games, the team found time to go on a cultural visit to the Fushimi Inari shrine and Universal Studios, Osaka. We also coached a group of young children at Atsugi Rugby School, where we stayed before our game against Keio. The kids really enjoyed the Māori game we taught them and were pretty awestruck by the boys' haka.
The highlight for the team though was a day trip to Hiroshima where the team experienced a visit to the Peace Park and museum to get a Japanese perspective on the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Hakaraia: "The boys were all pretty amazed to learn about what happened there. It was sort of a big eye opener for them."
As well as these experiences, the team got to experience the bullet train and a variety of other trains during our travels across Japan, and a trip to one of the busiest shopping areas in Tokyo, Shibuya.
We were also fortunate enough to spend a day training at Kobe Steelers, a professional team and current Japanese national champions, and home to old boys Brodi McCurran and Charlie Lawrence as well as former All Black Dan Carter.
There was a lot of learning on this day as we were lucky enough to have two training sessions with coaches Dave Dillon, a former Hamilton Boys' High school teacher and hostel master and now head coach, and former All Black coach Wayne Smith among others.
In spite of the fact that we had a very busy schedule, the students definitely enjoyed an experience of the lifetime, which also provided a chance for the team to prepare for a very exciting season ahead.