Coach Moorby "...the Japanese experience opened our students' eyes to a world beyond their imagination, igniting their desire to travel and explore more of what Asia has to offer."
The Hamilton Boys High School 1st XV Rugby team embarked on an exciting journey to Japan in April to participate in the Sanix World Youth Rugby Tournament.
With only the management staff having previously been to Japan, the 28 players were filled with anticipation for the new opportunities that awaited them.
The team travelled to Kyoto after arriving in Osaka, where they visited the beautiful Kiyomizudera Temple, immersing themselves in Japanese culture and marvelling at the city's thin, winding streets.
Upon meeting their host families from Kyoto Kogakuin High School, the boys greeted them with a hongi, a traditional Māori greeting. Despite initial confusion, the gesture provided lighthearted humour and helped ease nervousness on both sides.
The billeting experience turned out to be one of the highlights of the two-week trip, creating lasting connections and memorable experiences.
During their stay, the team had the opportunity to explore the renowned Fushimi Inari Shrine, guided by thousands of closely spaced bright orange torii gates.
The players got to take in some sites and a little food along the way
They also attended school where they participated in a typical Japanese class with their host students, taking part in a Japanese calligraphy session and gaining first-hand experience of the differences between Japanese and New Zealand schooling.
The boys showcased their coaching skills by leading a coaching session for close to 100 junior Japanese players, overcoming the language barrier and creating a positive experience for everyone involved.
As well as these team based experiences, even more lasting were each player’s own personal stories from their time spent in Japanese homes, with Japanese families.
From the food they ate to the way it was prepared and consumed, right through to the day-to-day normalities of Japanese life. This was an irreplaceable experience for the team.
The tour then shifted its focus toward the Sanix Tournament itself, and the team travelled to Fukuoka on the Shinkansen Express Bullet Train travelling over 300km/h along the way.
We made a significant stop at Hiroshima along the where we visited the Peace Memorial Museum, the boys gained an in-depth understanding of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb in 1945, leaving a profound impact on them. This experience was incredibly moving for the team and opened their eyes to the devastation caused by nuclear war.
Trying some not-so-traditional Japanese food
On to the tournament we went, where the team faced strong competition, beginning with a hard-fought 24-14 victory against Saga Technical High School.
They recognised the high level of Japanese rugby and the significant development of the game in the country. Following this first match, they dominated against Hotoku Gakuen High School, winning 54-0.
The team then had a rest day, during which they visited the Dazaifu Tenganu Shrine situated in Fukuoka City and gained a shopping opportunity at Aeon Mall. All the boys certainly made the most of this.
The tournament continued with impressive victories, including a 76-3 win against Jianguo High School of Chinese Taipei and a 52-19 victory over Napier Boys High School in the semi-final.
The boys enjoyed a change in dining experience, visiting a traditional yakiniku restaurant in Munakata City, where they cooked their own meat cuts over a hot plate. Again, this was a memorable experience, putting the boys in a very happy place leading into the final the following day.
The two captains posing for the traditional pre-game photo
In the final against Higashi Fukuoka, the team showcased their skills and determination, securing a thrilling victory 28-22 and claiming the school's fourth Sanix World Youth title.
The Higashi Fukuoka team led by one point with only minutes remaining and the match really could have gone in either team's favour.
A huge amount of credit must be shown to the current state of Japanese rugby. It is certainly in a strong position moving forward. Nonetheless, the team were thrilled to claim the Sanix World Schools Title once more and enjoyed celebrating together.
Some weeks later and now with the opportunity to reflect, the Japanese experience opened our students' eyes to a world beyond their imaginations, igniting their desire to travel and explore more of what Asia has to offer.
The support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation allowed our boys to realise the transformative power of sports, particularly rugby, and provided them with an opportunity to experience a culture completely different to our own.
The team returned from Japan with a deeper understanding of the country's history and culture, along with cherished memories that will last a lifetime.
The Foundation's sports programme provides New Zealand sportspeople opportunities to grow more knowledgeable, connected and confident with Asia. The School Sport Fund provides grants to school groups travelling to Asia to include cultural activities that deepen students' appreciation and knowledge of the host country.