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Pro-North Korean Chosen High School in Osaka will set a precedent in Japanese rugby when it plays in the national high school championship tournament due to open on Saturday.

News photoPlayers of the Chosen High School rugby team celebrate after qualifying for the national
high school championship in this file photo from last month.

It will be the first ethnic high school in the country to be in the championship round since the door was opened in 1994 to so-called “miscellaneous” schools that do not fall under the definition of schools as set forth in the School Education Law.

Chosen High School’s participation will take place at a time when relations between Japan and North Korea have been chilly due to the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the past.

The tourney will be held at Hanazono rugby stadium, regarded as “hallowed ground” by high school “ruggers,” and located only about 2 km from Chosen High itself.

However, for team coach Kim Shin Nam, the stadium represented an unattainable dream in the past, because Koreans were not even allowed to play preliminary games until 1993.

“I couldn’t see (the stadium),” he recalls, even though it is near the school.

Kim became the school’s rugby coach in 1985 and the first thing he did was to reform the team because it did not seem to have any fixed goal.

Kim began calling on schools with strong rugby teams in the Kinki region to accept his team for practice games. Some schools did not want to play against the ethnic Koreans because of talk their style of play was “too rough.”

Still, he managed to have his students play against 50 to 60 schools a year.

“We poured out our frustration of not being able to play official games during our practice games,” he said.

Keiko Gakuen High School of Osaka, which has won the national championship four times, is one of the teams that agreed to play against Chosen High School.

Coach Toshikazu Kitora said, “We were a little apprehensive about the team because we heard rumors of scuffles. But I thought Kim’s enthusiasm (for the sport) would change (the team.)”

Chosen High School actually played high-level rugby, Kitora said, adding that there was no scuffling.

“Kim’s words that ‘each practice game is an official game for us’ were unforgettable,” Kitora said. “We thought it was natural for us to be in the championship but his words made us realize the importance of games.”

Pro-North Korean schools across the nation began accelerating moves to seek membership in the All Japan High School Athletic Federation in 1990 and after.

Although they failed to gain admission, they have been able to participate in high school general athletic events since 1994.

Tadashi Ikeda, secretary general of the federation, said, “We consider every school equal and welcome everyone who comes to participate in (competitions). With regard to their participation, we have been opening doors on the basis of our beliefs that children of the same generation should compete in the same place.”

Chosen High School won the right to play in the championship tournament in a game with Kinki University high school on Nov. 16. Victory came with a dramatic penalty goal shortly before the end of the game, and sending Chosen to the tourney as the Osaka representative.

Kim in the past had carried out petition drives to seek public support for teams such as his to take part in the championships.

“It has nothing to do whether ‘zainichi’ (Koreans living in Japan) or Japanese represent Osaka. I think the barrier between zainichi and our Japanese friends will be broken down by our going to the national championships,” he said. “The spirit of ‘no side’ (the end of a rugby game) remains unchanged.”

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