Front Row Grunt

Rugby … with cauliflower ears

It’s all about respect!

Law abiding to a fault, the respect for one’s fellow human, and the space we share, is other worldly, and to Tank Lanning’s mind, the primary reason life in Japan is just so orderly.

Tank Lanning

One hundred and twenty six million people live in Japan, more than double the 56 million people that live in South Africa. Japan has a geographic area of just 377 973 km², while South Africa comes in at a ginormous 1.2 million km²

38 million of those living in the live in the Greater Tokyo Area. Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous area, is home to a comparatively paltry 12 million residents. Tokyo takes up just 622 km², while Gauteng spreads itself over 18 176 km².

That is a LOT of people per square kilometre! In fact, the Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. It should be total chaos. Yet the complete opposite applies!

Having recently taken part in the World University Rugby Invitational Cup as forwards coach to the UCT Ikey Tigers – who went on to defend their title at Waseda University in Tokyo – I got up close and personal with this truly unique culture.

Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every light change. It’s a truly amazing sight as the main crossing outside Shibuya Station handles the 2.4 million passengers that pass through the station each day, often at around 2 500 people per crossing!

And mostly in eerie silence. No shouting and screaming. No pushing and shoving. Instead via a respectful wait for the green man in orderly queues.

On streets you could eat your Ramen noodles off, you will never hear a mobile phone ring. Never! And there are a lot of them! If taking a call, it’s done in an almost embarrassed manner in a little corner. On trains, passengers are reminded that sound can “Leak” from headphones, and are thus asked to set the volume accordingly.

Listening to some loud clip your mate sent you on what’s app without headphones? Never, ever!

Law abiding to a fault, the respect for one’s fellow human, and the space we share, is other worldly, and to my mind, the primary reason life in Japan is just so orderly.

It does make for a slightly clinical existence, though. We were asked to turn the music down in our changing room before a game, and the post-match singing was met with a good few tut-tuts.

So given the huge difference in cultures, the lack of English (signs and spoken) in Japan, and having to make use of public transport to get to our various destinations (the tournament was spread across 5 different fields), there was potential for proper chaos.

Out solution – Star Trek level WiFi!!

Sure there is a need to Tweet or ‘Gram everything we do outside the bathroom, but it is just unbelievable to see how reliant we have become on What’s App. Not only for social reasons, though. Entire rugby campaigns get built on it.  

So when uber-manager Raun Billett handed each of us our MiFi dongles (each loaded with a 1000GB of data), it was like Father Christmas had come early. Who cared that our room at the 1964 Olympic Village we were staying at was smaller than Kobus Wiese, or that we had just spent 30 hours getting there … We had flippen WiFi!

It proved to be a complete master stroke! Not even Stephen Fry could navigate a change from the green to blue line at Shinjuku station without the help of Google Maps!

Gone are the days of the manager having to slip a piece of paper under each team member’s hotel room door each night with that day’s agenda. In fact, be gone foul agenda, or even a tour itinerary!

Instead the constant beeping and vibrating of mobile phones as practices, piss ups, daily schedules, mgmt. meetings, team dinners get sorted …

Beep, beep … A pic of one of your team mates making merry at a restaurant offering a sushi buffet for 1800Y …. Drop a pin, Bru, looks awesome …. Beep, beep … A pin that opens Google Maps at said venue … Hit directions, get on a train or into a cab, and Bob’s your uncle, you are smashing all you can eat sushi for under R300.00!

It allowed us to be less structured. And it allowed for much more “Tommy the Tourist” type activity on days away from rugby. Fewer morning planning meetings over brekki. Fewer opposition analysis meetings as that got done via Skype or Google Hangouts.

Happening on the fly, it can all feel fairly helter skelter, offering up multiple options. Sometimes too many, perhaps? I missed the concept of a regular evening meeting at the local pub, and it does see a little more splintering of the group, which is fine as long as it does not lead to cliques.

We cooked Kobe beef on a Hibachi braai. We had music on the bus – via a team playlist linked to the bus sound system by Bluetooth. In addition to sipping from the trophy, we took in the Bok game against the All Blacks at the Yokohama Stadium. We coached young children trying out rugby for the first time. We ate directly from a recently caught tuna at the Tokyo fish market. And we had a team dinner at a restaurant that will never be the same again. Ever.

Helped by technology, it was brilliant to see the guys hitting their straps both between and outside the white lines. I am guessing that not only were memories made for life, but friendships, too.

The above column first appeared on Brightrock’s Change Exchange website.

Author: Tank

Ex WP prop with a fair amount of experience in all things media ...

One Comment

  1. Great article Tank. Visited a few times myself but never got to really immerse myself mostly at hotels . Sadly I cant condone what they do to their marine environment ie whaling ,dolphins etc ..
    But a great country to visit seeing the cherry trees blossom, culture, food