From The Vaults

18 June 2024
The Original Brave Blossoms Tour by Hideki Shoji

In 1930 the first representative Japan rugby team embarked on a tour of Canada. Setting sail from Yokohama on August 17th, the touring party came on the Canadian shore on the evening of the 29th, three days before their first match. The squad consisted of 19 university students and six graduates, with Shigeru Kayama, a former London Harlequins player in the early 1920s as Coach.

The tour

The national side played seven matches in Vancouver and Victoria, including the first-ever 'test match' against the British Columbia Representatives.

Intent on playing fair and square throughout the tour, the young 'Blossoms' won six and drew 3-3 in the 'test.'

As the results show, their first tour was a great success.

[photo - Vancouver v Japan, 1 September 1930]

Half a century later, a video of the Canada tour was broadcast in 1980 to commemorate the 50th anniversary, with some tour members in attendance at the TV studio as guests. After the memorial event however, the whereabouts of the video were unknown.

43 years on, in November 2023 Kyoto University RFC released the video of the Tour. According to the University, the video has been preserved with great care by the family of Seiichiro Ueda, a Kyoto University graduate and one of the tour members.

The existence of the video itself impressive, not only because the 16mm films survived the ravages of war but also because the tape was only rediscovered whilst the Club was delving into their past videos as part of the 100th anniversary celebration project.

It is inevitable that the film or video tape deteriorates over time. The glare of sunlight in the video often makes some parts of the film hard to see due in part to technical reasons. Nonetheless this could be an artefact that has a significant impact on the history of Japanese rugby. The legacy and the legendary tour are anticipated to be long remembered.

In fact the 46-minute-long video footage unfolds priceless recollections of the tour, mainly 'off the pitch' activities; various shots on board the ship, coastal landscapes of Vancouver and Victoria, Art Deco buildings, famous tourist spots, Canadian officials at a tea party. Above all, cheerful faces of the Japanese players who outlive in the video beyond time are a must-see. Some short scenes from the first match and the 'test' are the iconic moments in the history of Japanese rugby. Toward the end of the video, it also depicts fraternity between the two countries, with Seiichiro Ueda, an initial owner of the video, playing a leading role in developing a friendship. In addition, the attire, vehicles, buildings and cityscapes captured in the film reflect the elegance of a bygone era in British Columbia.

The film can be watched in full here and a full analysis of the video can be downloaded at the end of the article:

About the Author

Hideki Shoji is a translator of electronic components at a local company in Tsuruoka, Japan. He is a collector of rugby memorabilia and researcher on the history of Japanese rugby. He plays wing/fullback at Harbor Blacks, a local club in Sakata city.

He is very grateful to the Ueda family, Kyoto University RFC and those who have made it possible to share the moments in history with rugby followers around the world.