Japan Touch on the rise

Sept. 25, 2020 @ 9:45 UTC

The Japanese call their country Nihon, which translates as the land where the sun originates, or the land of the rising sun. Something else is rising in East Asia, and that is Japan Touch, one of the success stories of the World Cup in Malaysia in 2019.

Touch in Japan is a remarkable success story. In Malaysia, Japan won bronze medals in Womens Open, Mens Open, and Mens 40. The Japan Mens Open team lost only narrowly in their matches against the finalists Australia and New Zealand. 

Similarly, the Japan Womens Open team were not blown off the park by the two superpowers of Touch. This is incredible. Japan only has a few thousand Touch players. Australia and New Zealand have hundreds of thousands of players.

Best in Asia

The International Relations Director of the Japan Touch Association (JTA), Tohru Ogasawara, shed some light on why his country has become the best Touch nation in Asia, in a recent discussion with Adam Collins from the Federation of International Touch(FIT), on an episode of ‘Set of Six.’ Tohru explained that despite having only a small player base Japan has a core group of experienced players. Many of Japan’s Touch players have been to multiple World Cups. “It has taken us many years to get where we are”, he said.

Earlier this year, Japan sent a timely reminder to its regional rivals with a clean sweep of the recent test series with Hong Kong in Tokyo

Close ties with the Aussies and Kiwis

Another key to the success of Japan Touch has been the close relationship the JTA has formed with Touch Football Australia (TFA) and the Touch Associations of the biggest Touch states in Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. Japanese teams have consistently competed at the National Touch League (NTL) tournament and in the State Cup competitions of New South Wales and Queensland. 

There is also a long history of individual Japanese players coming to Australia to spend a season playing Touch. 

The close ties between these Touch nations has exposed Japanese Touch players to high-level competition over a number of years, which has contributed to the dramatic improvement in the performance of Japanese teams, across the board. 

Solving challenges

Despite the on-field success of Japan Touch there have of course been challenges to overcome along the way. The most pressing issue currently is obviously COVID-19. Japan, a nation of 127 million people, is in a relatively good position with the pandemic. It has had nearly 80 000 cases with just under 1500 deaths. Daily infections are however still in the hundreds so there is an ongoing cause for concern. Tohru Ogasawara said the JTA will follow all sports ministry guidelines on COVID-19 “ It’s been tough for our players who want to get out there and play but the situation is not allowing that.”

The major medium-term challenge for Touch in Japan is youth development. Japan obviously has a talented pool of experienced players who have enjoyed World Cup success. However ultimately the next generation of players will need to be unearthed. Tohru recognizes this reality. “I guess that’s an area we need to work on”, he said. 

Touch is played in some schools and universities but player numbers are low. “It’s going to take time to convince a lot of people and to make arrangements with schools. We have a lot of players who are teachers so maybe we can tap into that”, Tohru said. 

Where are the coaches?

Bolstering the onshore coaching ranks is another focus. Japan has benefitted greatly from the assistance of offshore coaches. Mens Open coach Steve Roberts, from Australia, was singled out by Tohru as being, “Instrumental and great for the boys”. Finding enough players who are prepared to coach is difficult however Tohru is on top of this issue “Domestically I am trying to work on developing coaches and that is where the future is for Japanese Touch.” 

Leaving a mark in Malaysia

Japan Touch made a statement at Malaysia 2019. It is one of the top Touch nations in the world. The exposure of Japanese players to regular top-level competition, along with the hard work and talent of the players has been the key to success. Clever, forward-thinking officials like Tohru Ogasawara will mean any future challenges can be dealt with. That is a winning combination.

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