Cricket in Japan 150th Anniversary 2013
On March 11th 2011 the Tohoku region was devastated by a huge earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese cricket Association (JCA) set up Cricket For Smiles Aid with the aim of bringing smiles, hope and courage to the region's children, through cricket.
The aim was to introduce 25,000 children to cricket by the end of 2012. The scheme was a resounding success and introduced the game to thousands of children.
By the end of 2011, 3,000 elementary and junior high school students had been introduced to cricket in Sano city in Tochigi Prefecture, alone. The scheme was so successful that the JCA won the "Best Spirit of Cricket Initiative" at "The 2011, Pepsi ICC Development Programme Awards".
The local council hopes to put Sano on the map and attract business and have offered riverside land to develop a centre of excellence. At the 2012 awards, the City of Cricket Sano won the Best Cricket Promotion and Marketing Programme. It may still be the case that few people know that cricket is played in Japan but it has a long history which began in unusual circumstances.
History of Cricket in Japan
Cricket began in Japan in unusual circumstances in Yokohama, in June 1863. The shogun had suggested that foreigners leave following an attack by disgruntled samurai on the "southern barbarians.". However, the mainly, British merchants were concerned not only about their lives but their finances and refused. A standoff developed and with time to kill, they decided to challenge the Royal Navy, who had been sent to protect them, to a game of cricket.
The challenge was accepted and the Royal Navy sent ashore a small force, which were incidentally armed with rifles. In fact, players from both sides carried guns onto the pitch; one story even suggests that the Royal Navy's wicket keeper put his revolver behind the stumps for safety reasons. Unfortunately there is no official scorecard of the match but it is believed the Royal Navy won handsomely. The navy side included future arctic explorer Sir Albert Hastings whilst the Yokohama XI were captained by a Scot James Campbell Fraser who had played first class cricket for the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). Photos of the game are kept in the MCC library at Lord's cricket ground in England.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary the Japan men's and women's teams toured England and Scotland in late April and early May 2013 including a games at Lord's cricket ground against a Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) team which contained several players with first class and international experience. Both teams performed well, perhaps the highlight being the Women's victory over Scotland.
The Cricket connections between Japan and Scotland go back a long way, Fraser had passed on his business to Glasgow born, tea merchant, J.P.Mollison, who helped to form the Yokohama club, whilst present Japanese Cricket association chief executive Alex Miyaji is half Scottish.
Mollison established the Yokohama Cricket Club in 1868 on land that was to become the Yokohama stadium. The Kobe club was formed in the early 1870's and regular inter port matches took place.
Cricket continued to prosper and even featured in school curriculums as part of the westernization drive. Unfortunately baseball also took hold and cricket's popularity began to dwindle. Even though baseball had won the hearts of the local population, cricket continued to be played until the 1930's when the international situation bowled a googly at the sport's future and the foreign population began to leave. However, cricket refused to give in and its second innings began some fifty years later.
Cricket in Japan Today
In the early 1980's Professor Makoto Yamada from Kobe University of foreign studies was doing some research and cricket was rediscovered in Japan. He started a University team and the Japanese cricket Association was formed in 1984.
Initially involving mainly expats but gradually expanding the number of Japanese nationals, Japan joined the International Cricket Council in 1989 as an affiliate member. In 2005 their status was upgraded to associate membership. Japan's men played their international in 1996 in inauspicious circumstances losing by 380 runs to Fiji. Gradually things began to improve and the team became more and more competitive. In 2005 they won the EAP cup in Vanuatu overcoming the Cook Islands in the final. The team now plays in division 8 of the world cricket league however it was Japan's Women who first found success at a big international tournament.
In 2010 Japan's Women's football team were crowned world champions but they were not the first women's team to achieve success on the international stage Japan's Women under the leadership of Ema Kuribayashi won a bronze medal in the Asian games in Guangdong, beating the hosts, China by 7 wickets. The team was coached by former New Zealand test player Katrina Keenan. The captain, Kuribayashi went on to play club cricket in New Zealand.
Japan's women have developed rapidly since their first game on the international stage in a tournament in the Netherlands in 2003. They lost all five games heavily including a 301 run hammering by the hosts. During her tenure in charge Keenan set a goal of reaching the world cup qualifiers. In late July 2013 they will achieve this goal when they take part in the world cup T20s qualifiers in Ireland with games against Ireland, Canada and Sri Lanka.
Today cricket is played in many areas of Japan including Nagoya where local charity Santa and Friends have introduced cricket to local children.