One year on Rugby remembers in Japan
Tokyo came to a standstill on Sunday as the whole of Japan mourned for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunamis to mark the first anniversary of the natural disaster that struck the nation in 2011.
As it has done in the re-building process, so too rugby played its part on Sunday with the players, coaches and spectators at the Tokyo National Olympic Stadium observing a minute's silence before one of the semi final matches in the National Championship.
Many of the players' families have been either directly or indirectly affected and the moment's silence was especially poignant for Suntory Sungoliath tighthead prop, Kensuke Hatakeyama, whose family home in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture, was washed away by the devastating tsunami. Fortunately, his family all survived, but they lost all of their possessions.
Toshiba BraveLupus lock Hitoshi Ono’s family dairy farm in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture, also suffered greatly as a result of the radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
With Hatakeyama and Ono in the Japan national team, the Brave Blossoms spear-headed rugby's response to the disaster, carrying messages of support for the Tohoku region throughout last year’s HSBC Asian 5 Nations, which started less than two months after the disaster. John Kirwan, then Japan’s head coach, named Hatakeyama and Ono captains for the matches against Kazakhstan and UAE respectively to mark the team's solidarity for the cause.
At the National Olympic Stadium on Sunday all stood silent again at half time, just after 2:46pm, when the massive earthquake hit Tohoku region one year ago.
After the hard-fought match, which Suntory Sungoliath won to advance to the final, Hatakeyama and Ono joined in an emotional embrace.
“I tried to play as hard as possible on the pitch, and that was my sincere message to those in the affected regions," said Hatakeyama, whose teammates and opponents each acknowledged the privilege of playing rugby on such a special day.
This year’s Japan Rugby Top League All-Star match will be held in Sendai-city, Miyagi Prefecture, which is the closest major city to the epicenter of the quake, and severely suffered by the tsunami. The match will raise funds charity for the victims of the disaster.
Tickets available for Tokyo Sevens
Tokyo is also gearing up to host the seventh round of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
One week after the Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, the finest players in the world in the abbreviated version of the game will travel to Tokyo, which rejoins the Series for the first time since 2002.
To purchase tickets now Go to www.tokyo7s.jp/tickets/index.html
Video: The season so far