From The Vaults

29 April 2022
A Royal Exhibition in Japan

In the spring of 1922, the Prince of Wales paid a royal visit to Japan in reciprocation for Emperor Hirohito's visit to the United Kingdom of the previous year. According to an official itinerary, Prince Edward arrived in Yokohama by HMS Renown on April 12. The journey began immediately after arrival, and it continued until May 9th, when the party visited Kagoshima as their last destination.

About a month earlier, news of the forthcoming visit had reached the rugby community in Japan. One of the notable, emerging figures who was thrilled by the news was Shigeru Kayama, 28, then a student at Tokyo University (Later Head coach of Japan during their tour of Canada in 1930). He thought it would be great if his team could show the Prince a game of rugby, which had become firmly established as a sport in Japan since late 19th century.

Kayama swiftly started devising a plan. He attempted to influence the government with an aim to schedule a rugby match in Tokyo for the Prince's itinerary. However he soon found it impossible to change their strict, minute-by-minute schedule.

Kayama didn't give up. He instead approached one of his rugby friends, Takenosuke Okumura, 20, then captain of the rugby club at Sanko High School (translated literally as "the third high school". Incorporated into Kyoto University in 1949) in Kyoto. Okumura promptly agreed to take over the project under the guidance of his mentor, Kayama.

After a while Okumura and his teammates organized a proposal for the game and brought it to Kyoto Prefectural Government. It was however refused flat-out by the officials. Despite their huge disappointment, Okumura continued his efforts to make things happen. He spoke to Charles G. Elder, their English teacher, about what they aspired to do. Elder explicitly advocated; "Go for it. In London, even beggars loitering in Piccadilly send a letter to the King." Okumura with the aid of Elder drafted a letter, and sent it to the Prince who at that time was staying in Hakone (hot spring, about 100km west of Tokyo).

As Elder envisioned, the letter was acknowledged by the Prince. Three days later a reply was delivered to Sanko High School through an aide-de-camp. It said that the Prince would come to see the game.

The moment the incredible news spread across the school, the site fell into utter chaos. Okumura instantly started to find an opponent team. He contacted KR&AC (Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club) and got an agreement to play. Atsushi Mera, 19, one of Okumura's teammates met with an executive manager of Mainichi Newspaper Kyoto Branch and succeeded in getting sponsorship from the company.

As for security, the Kyoto Prefectural Government, who once flatly denied the students' aspiration, offered in turn security support to the organizer. The school however spurned their offer on the spot and decided not to allow the police to enter school's premises.

The "Prince match" was scheduled to take place at 3 pm on April 29 at Sanko High School ground. Mainichi Newspaper published on April 30, 1922 reports the match day:

"In the ground, a low stage with VIP seats was set up facing south. At the back of the stage, a red and white striped curtain was hung up. At each corner of the stage, Union Jack, the flag of Sanko High School and the company flag of Mainichi Newspaper were waving. Placed on the right-hand side of the table was a big champion cup that Sanko won at a national rugby championship under the sponsorship of Mainichi Newspaper."

"Four sides of the ground were surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic spectators. KR&AC team wore red jersey while Sanko wore white. When the two teams were about to finish their warm-up, the crowd broke into loud cheers. Escorted by Major General Imamura, Prince Edward in morning dress and with a black topper on his head appeared at the venue. The Prince then walked up to the teams who lined up along the touch line of the field and shook hands with each player ahead of kickoff."

The players were deeply moved by Prince Edward's gesture. One of the players, Atsushi Mera (Later vice president of JRFU in 1960s) recollects; "I wiped my right hand on my jersey again and again until the Prince comes to shake hands. I still remember the feeling of the Prince's soft, womanlike hand."

The match was officiated by Shiro Takegami, an OB of Sanko High School. Keisuke Tanimura who had graduated from Sanko and then coach of the club served the Prince as a guide. According to the newspaper, the Prince enjoyed the game, applauding brilliant plays performed by both teams, although he had to leave the ground after the first half due to his busy schedule. The result shows that Sanko came from behind to win 8-3.

At a later date, the Prince presented the school a card with his signature written by an ink brush as a token of his appreciation to the students.

A writer of 'The History of Japanese Rugby' (1963) makes mention of this event; "This unprecedented enterprise solely organized and executed by a group of young lads is a superb exploit. It represents a determined character of trailblazers of the Japanese rugby in the early days."

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.