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As rugby proliferated in America in the 1950s and the decades after, colleges and clubs started to make first-time-ever tours abroad, starting with Dartmouth’s 1958 trip to England. The Big Green racked up a 5-2 record, and surprised the locals with their spirit and rugby knowledge. In 1968, Manhattan RFC was the first American club to tour South America, playing games in Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.
Yet, it was not until 1982 that an American club journeyed west to Japan. The Finlanders, a first division member of the SoCal RFU, arranged a five-match tour to Japan, playing in four cities; Tokyo, Mishima, Osaka, and Kagoshima. The Finlanders could not muster enough players from their first XV, and filled in with players from nine other California clubs.
The excellent tour write up by Mike Shain in Rugby narrated not only the matches but also gave an informative and detailed accounting of the culture (food, lodging, nightlife, etc.) and the cost of the visit.
Traditionally, rugby in Japan thrives by corporate sponsorship, the company providing kit and pitch. When the Finlanders toured in 1982, there were 3,700 clubs in Japan, often operating five sides.
The tour opened with a match against Meiji Seimei RFC of Tokyo and a pummeling of 51-0 by the Japanese side. It was an eye opener for the Americans who had no previous concept of the skill of their opponents. However, the biggest surprise was discovering that the Japanese club practiced four-hours a day, six days a week.
The second game was against Acorn RFC, the oldest club in Japan. The result was the same, a 21-13 drubbing. The Finlanders went one and two in the remaining three games, including a scoreless loss to Osaka Police 30-0.
Although the match outcomes proved disappointing, the hosting revealed warmth and cordiality, even though the language barrier persisted. Shain summarized his positive reaction, and advice for American rugby clubs in the future: “Head for Japan, for its there that you’ll come home with the fondest memories of your rugby career.”