Japan fly-half Yu Tamura Photo: AFP
rugby world cup 2019

It's all Greek to Japan star Tamura at Rugby World Cup

By Alastair Himmer

Japan fly-half Yu Tamura has been one of the standout players of the Rugby World Cup to date -- but captain's orders are apparently all Greek to the silky playmaker.

The 30-year-old currently leads the tournament's scoring charts with 40 points after orchestrating the host nation's Pool A victories over Russia, Ireland and Samoa.

But it turns out orders from either regular skipper Michael Leitch or Pieter Labuschagne -- who took over the captain's duties for the stunning 19-12 upset over Ireland, and last weekend's 38-19 win over Samoa -- often go in one ear and out the other.

Tamura has been involved in lengthy confabs with both players before kicking penalties, and on Monday he revealed why.

"There's usually a bit of communication from the team leaders but they're speaking in English, so I haven't got a clue really," he said. "I'll basically have a go from anywhere so I just get on with it, focus on my kicking routine and don't worry about it."

Preparing for next weekend's crunch game against Scotland in Yokohama -- when victory would see Japan reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time -- Tamura insisted it would be business as usual for the Brave Blossoms.

"I don't care about topping the World Cup points-scoring," he shrugged.

"Matsu (Kotaro Matsushima} probably wants to get the most tries though," Tamura added with a grin.

Matsushima added a late bonus-point try against Samoa -- his fourth of the tournament -- that could yet prove crucial to Jamie Joseph's side.

But Japan are mindful of the 2015 World Cup when a defeat by Scotland, four days after their shock 34-32 win over South Africa, cost them a place in the knockout stage.

"It's fate I guess," said Tamura, asked about his memories of four years ago. "That was a tough game schedule-wise -- this time Scotland will have the short turnaround, but I wouldn't say that makes us favorites.

"There's always big pressure on us," he added. "But we don't want to talk too much about Scotland. We just have to trust the process, stay humble and make sure we're perfect."

Tamura admitted there were a few sore bodies after a bruising battle with Samoa but joked that Leitch was in a particularly "chipper mood" at breakfast on Monday, his 31st birthday.

Tongan-born lock Uwe Helu added that the Japan team -- half of whom hail from overseas -- would take their talismanic leader out for a shabu-shabu beef hotpot to celebrate.

"We all belong to one culture," said Helu, explaining the team's close-knit bond. "The Japanese give everything, they respect everything. They have this fighting spirit as the samurai had -- it's a model we'd like to follow."

William Tupou, meanwhile, said it would be a "dream come true" for Japan to progress to the quarterfinals.

"If we execute our plan we can do amazing things," said the Auckland-born utility back. That showed against Ireland, but we want to start from zero and take that same mindset into a big game against Scotland -- the boys are believing in what we can do now."

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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While this is an entertaining and light-hearted article, the idea that Leitch and Tamura cannot communicate is not true, surely?

Michael Leitch is a 31 year old Japanese man who has been living in Japan for 16 years since the age of 15.

While not a native born Japanese, he is Japanese none the less. His spoken Japanese is impeccable (as you would expect after going to school and spending half his life here).

He is regularly interviewed on live television in Japanese. I think he has spoken with the Prime Minister in Japanese numerous occasions. Why would he be speaking English to someone who does not understand it?

To write a headline "it's all Greek" and follow it with an article about two Japanese men who can obviously speak to each other in Japanese plays on the trope that non-Asian looking people can and never will understand Japanese, and by implication, don't really belong in a society that revolves around the language.

Labuschagné is a different matter, having taken advantage of the three year residency rule to represent Japan. As a thirty year old South African, who arrived three years ago, it would be surprising if he spoke great Japanese. This is nothing to do with non-Asians struggling to learn Japanese specifically, and everything to do with people in their late 20s struggling to pick up a new language anywhere.

Labuschagné and Leitch have completely different life stories. Please don't throw them in the same box non-Japanese speaking box just because they both look "foreign".

This is not to disparage Labuschagné either. He is just following the opportunities presented by the rules and it is great to have him on board.

In any case, the initial interview with Tamura in Japanese was referring to trouble speaking to Labuschagné specifically.

日本は主将のリーチマイケル(Michael Leitch)の他に、アイルランド戦とサモア戦はピーター・ラブスカフニ(Pieter Labuschagne)がゲームキャプテンを務め、PGの前に田村と長く話し込むことがあったが、田村本人が7日、その内幕を明かした。

I can see why one could get confused here by the roundabout sentence structure and lack of a subject before 話し込む (hanashikomu; speak to at length) but the above Japanese translates as follows:

"While Japan's squad captain (主将)Michael Leitch, Pieter Labuschagne was on-field captain(ゲームキャプテン) against Samoa and Ireland. He [Labuschagne] had long discussions with Tamura prior to penalties. On October 7th, Tamura revealed what went down".

So let's please avoid contributing to the "only native born Japanese can ever truly understand the language" myth and give Leitch his due. Thank you.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

Whatever is it, it has been working. Don't fix what's working.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Given the coaches, captains, players...it makes sense that English would be the dominant language of this team.

I 'fondly' remember NH types used to point at the ABs and moan and whine about players like Jonah Lomu and Umaga and Michael Jones...all born in NZ, all raised there but with parents from other nations. Making spurious claims of poaching (all proved false). Same such people are incredibly quiet when a team like England picks a player, direct from a NZ competition, never having been to England to play in their international team (Brad Shields). There is no doubt where the real poaching is taking place... no wonder the 6Ns and Japan has improved the quality of its rugby.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Leitch is assimilated and speaks Japanese well. It's probably not Tamura's intention and he may be the victim of leading questions, but comments like this leave Leitch exposed to the "them foreigners just don't get it" prejudices of people. Given the team's makeup, Tamura should be more sensitive.

A popular comedy song of recent times, "ashita ga aru", about getting on with it in difficult circumstances had working with a foreigner as verse two. "Foreigners must be trouble" is a common prejudice. It did not have a verse about working for a black company with an abusive Japanese boss.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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