YOKOHAMA – With the Rugby World Cup starting in just two weeks, a monument was unveiled Thursday, marking the city’s place in the 150-year history of the sport in Japan.
With the help of donations, the Kanagawa Rugby Football Union erected the monument to commemorate the Yokohama Foot Ball Club as the birthplace of the sport in Japan and the first club in Asia.
Those involved hope their efforts will spark excitement for the sport’s showpiece event and promote the role Yokohama played in growing Japanese rugby.
“Building the monument will help create a new (understanding of) history in Yokohama, with the city expected to draw attention from the world in two weeks,” Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa said.
Yokohama will host seven matches at International Stadium Yokohama, better known as Nissan Stadium, including the tournament final, during the Sept. 20 to Nov. 2 tournament.
The Yokohama Foot Ball Club was established as early as 1866, two years before the Meiji Restoration which ended the rule of the feudal Tokugawa shogunate, according to a news article from the then-Yokohama-based Japan Times dated Jan. 26, 1866.
For a long time, it was believed that rugby was introduced in Japan in 1899 when English lecturer Edward Bramwell Clarke and a friend, Ginnosuke Tanaka, taught the sport to students at Keio University.
In 2015, however, the World Rugby Museum in Twickenham, England, recognized the Yokohama club as the oldest in Asia.
Mike Galbraith, an English rugby historian in Japan, provided the evidence that led to the museum’s declaration.
“I am very glad that my efforts bore fruit 10 years after I discovered the history,” Galbraith told reporters after the unveiling of the plaque.
The Yokohama Foot Ball Club merged with the Yokohama Cricket Club in 1884 and changed its name to the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club in 1912 and continues to operate under that name today.