Japan on the World Stage

A rugby world cup is less interesting at a language school than it perhaps could be (unless, as at OISE, the principal is a Kiwi). Of the nations which play the game to a high level, only the French, the Italians and the Argentines need help with their English. So conversation is limited.

Until this week, that is. By an odd miracle, the Japanese took centre-stage at the Rugby World Cup this weekend, beating one of the world’s strongest (and biggest) teams, South Africa, in an upset the like of which we have not seen.

Rugby is not accustomed to upsets: the points system and the number of scoring opportunities mean that the biggest, meanest team will generally win over eighty minutes; and the professional game is so highly-developed in a small number of countries (of which South Africa is pre-eminently one, alongside New Zealand, Australia, France, the nations of Great Britain, and Ireland) that skill and fitness levels will almost always far exceed those of the next tier of nations.

And Japan is not even in the next tier of nations. Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Italy, and especially Argentina, would all generally wipe the floor with the Japanese.

So, quite an upset. Ultimately, as they say, it is not the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog (although I am reminded by our principal that the dog in this particular fight, the Japanese team, contained five players of Kiwi origin, which in rugby terms makes for some considerable gnashers). And a fight it most certainly is. Someone observed just before the competition began that rugby is the only sport where the players feel it prudent, before they take the field of play, to gaffer-tape their ears to the sides of their head.

Fortunately for the Japanese nation, they have a few days to recover from the shock. Today, I understand, is Respect-for-Elders day, and Wednesday is Autumn Equinox Day, and most Japanese build a bridge between the two and have themselves a long weekend.

The South Africans have no such luxury.