YOKOHAMA, BALIPOST.com – When 70,000 fans cram into Japan’s Yokohama stadium for the Rugby World Cup final, few will be aware of the area’s rich rugby history which stretches back more than 150 years and includes one of the world’s oldest clubs.
It all started in the early 1860s when Britain sent troops to Yokohama to protect its subjects after samurai warriors slashed to death a British trader — and some of their 19th century officers turned out to be rugby fans.
According to historian Mike Galbraith, who has extensively studied Japanese rugby’s early history, the first mention of the game being played dates to 1863, only 40 years after Rugby School student William Webb Ellis famously “took the ball in his arms and ran with it”, giving birth to the sport.
As military tensions eased, the bored officers — many of them from British public schools like Rugby — took to the oval ball to pass the time.
“They started playing every afternoon because the troubles subsided and so they didn’t really have anything to do. In December 1864, there’s evidence they were playing every afternoon with a few of the civilians,” Galbraith told AFP.
Two years later, in 1866, more than 40 of these early rugby players banded together to found the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. A Japanese newspaper report from January 26, 1866, records the official establishment.
“As we happen to have two or three Rugby and Winchester men in the Community, we may be certain that we shall have really good scientific play,” said an editorial in the Japan Times.
This evidence leads Galbraith to claim that Yokohama may be one of the world’s first “Open” clubs — meaning that unlike a university or school, anyone can join.
“The Yokohama Country and Athletic Club appears at present to be the oldest open club in the world with contemporaneous documentary evidence of its founding,” he said. (AFP)