Into the Wild
I feel like having a conversation this week. If you guessed as much and you're basing it on my apparent state of isolation from all things I'm acquainted with, you're getting warmer.
However, my chirpiness doesn't stem from a yearning for the long-familiar and my need to reconcile with it, but rather my desire to share my new experiences as they unfold before my eyes each day. It's spiritedness I feel, and so should you...
Indeed, any weekend that dishes up the holy grail as far as the average South African's bragging rights are concerned has to go down as an epic one. Of course, I'm talking about the Triple Crown.
Still not following?
Okay, I'm talking about triumphs for your national team, provincial team and, of course, Japanese Top League team.
Yeah, it's a real thing.
After impressive victories by the Bokke and the Bulls, my beloved Yamaha Jubilo wiped out a 24-3 deficit to snatch victory at the death with a successful conversion from the touchline to make it 31-30, treating the crowd of nearly 2 000 people to an absolute corker of a game. We're quite a big deal in these parts, and the long walk back to the bus gave the Yamaha faithful who brought their permanent markers to the game the perfect opportunity to grab a quick photo and signature with their idols. I was literally inundated by those three people.
Okay, so it's a little different than what I'm used to – not to say it ever looked like that zombie tower scene from 'World War Z' around me after a game at Roftus – but it doesn't matter. Despite being vastly outnumbered, the 300 strong Yamaha fan group, much like them Greeks of yesteryear, left everything out there. Unfortunately a lack of creativity in the singsongs department means that the chant of 'go go Yamaha, try try Jubilo' will haunt me until the end of days.
Not everything is unfamiliar though. As I sit here on my couch writing this column, the Kobe Steelers are playing Kyuden Voltex on the telly. I just saw the towering figure of Andries Bekker trapped by the opposition with ball in hand close to the touchline, and thanks to the total lack of commentary I could quite clearly hear the voice of Mossie (Jacques Fourie) ordering him to 'Hou Dries, hou hou'... I guess some things remain the same after all.
Incidentally, Capetonians, you can also feel chesty this week. Dries and Mossie's Kobe Steelers won the game 43-14, so add to that the victories of Western Province and the Springboks/All Blacks, and you've got a pretty decent triple crown right there yourselves.
After years of playing professional rugby that still baffles me.
Unlike the two of them, who are based in the bustling greater Osaka metropolitan area, I am stationed in Iwata, which looks a lot like the Kirkwood of Japan. Apart from being the home of Yamaha Headquarters, Iwata is known for the nice melons – alas not that kind. It's countryside.
The biggest building is probably the coach's double-story house, and the local specialty dish is Unagi – which I was told is broiled sea eel, and not Kabeljou as I had made myself believe. I don't quite have the jellyfish and the raw octopus down yet – in fact, just keeping it down will be a tremendous achievement, but the Unagi is actually really good.
Weirded out? Don't be. The truth is, despite all the differences and the adjustments one has to make, Japanese life and Japanese people have so many endearing qualities – especially here in Oudtshoorn.
On my way back home from lunch I found my next-door neighbour drawing a hopscotch circuit with a piece of chalk in the street in front of her house for her two small kids. If we were back in Pretoria I doubt she would win any 'mother of the year' awards. Come to think of it, she probably won't win one here either, it seems a pretty dangerous pastime regardless of the location of the street and the notoriety of the taxi enterprise... Nevertheless, I'm so intoxicated by the serenity of my environment that I had to stop myself or else I would've skipped through that circuit like a little girl goofed-up after a gummy bear binge. I've been joking about the countryside, but you can't help but be aware of being unaware of any surrounding BS in a place like this.
But don't let the peace and quiet fool you... It's no surprise to me that guys like Fourie du Preez and George Smith can pull a test jumper over their heads and produce world-class performances. It's definitely the part of life in Japan that I underestimated the most.
These people work hard. I have yet to participate in a field session that lasted less than two hours – more often than not they go well over that mark. The game they play is extremely quick, so the training is basically 120 minutes of running at the highest attainable speed possible, up and down the paddock – my club anyway.
Most of those sessions are predominantly full-contact too – quite different from the 20 minutes a week I'm used to. I actually had a very interesting chat to one of our coaches about their penchant for full-contact training after querying him on the subject.
He remarked, with the help of Google Translate, that 'yellow people' are an 'agricultural tribe' (Google helped with the agricultural bit, not the yellow bit – those were his words), and in contrast to this 'white people' are a 'hunting tribe'. The point he was trying to make was that Japanese players can't really 'switch on' instinctively the way foreign players seem to be able to, therefor they have to train with the kind of intensity they want to play with.
Well, they might be an agricultural tribe, but some of these boys sure look like Spartans. We have a young rookie at No 8 that kind of resembles Pierre Spies, and remarkably he bench presses 180kg, which is even more than his South African doppelgänger can manage, who in turn manages a hell of a lot more than I ever could.
Ah, Mossie just scored...
I really am enjoying this venture at the moment – the one without the madness. My Japanese hand might have been forced by some unforeseen circumstances initially, but my coming here promises good things, and sitting here is a thankful man.
The stint, however long it may be, might not prolong my career by 20 years, but judging by the effect it's had on the likes of Fourie and George, will keep me in good nick for the duration thereof.
But what's more – I'm going to cherish it for reasons far exceeding those aforementioned.
“The core of man's spirit comes from new experiences”.
We're hosting Panasonic this week right here in Colesberg, which will give me a chance to catch up with JP Pietersen, who scored his first top league try after only 10 seconds on the field in his first game.
The Saffanese are looking good...