Letter From Nick Benbow
The Goannas and Box Hill North have worked together over the past few years to provide scholarships to both Japanese players going to Australia and an Australian player to visit Japan. In 2004, Nick Benbow came to Japan on scholarship. This was the second year of the Box Hill North/Goannas Scholarship and followed the same criteria set out for Matt Cummings in 2003. Nick Benbow has provided us with an account of his trip to Japan.
The Goannas and Box Hill North have worked together over the past few years to provide scholarships to both Japanese players going to Australia and an Australian player to visit Japan. In 2004, Nick Benbowcame to Japan on scholarship. This was the second year of the Box Hill North/Goannas Scholarship and followed the same criteria set out for Matt Cummings in 2003. Nick Benbow has provided us with an account of his trip to Japan.
Between the 5th and the 23rd of November I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to go to Japan. What an amazing experience!
My plane left Australia at 12:45am on the Friday morning and the next 20 hours, including a 1 and half hours at Kuala Lumpur (for my connecting flight) were spent flying. For a big guy like me the trip certainly took a while. On the trip I met a guy who was going over to live with his girlfriend in Britain for a year. I wonder if he has come back yet?!
My first experience of Japan was at Narita airport. From Matt’s stories last year, I gathered that this might be the trickiest part of my trip. However I was lucky enough to bump into an American ex-pat who made sure that I made my destination of Shinjuku, one of the major city areas of Tokyo.
I was then whisked up to the Clubhouse just nearby. The Clubhouse is an ex-pat Aussie hangout and is set up like a sports bar. From my experience in Tokyo these types of sports bars are pretty rare. The Clubhouse apparently was packed to the rafters on grand final day. From what I heard about that day I think I might have to consider going to another country on AFL Grand Final day because it certainly sounded like all the guys had plenty of fun (and some had too much fun also)! One guy who works at the Clubhouse, Shiba is very keen on coming to play with the Box Hill North boys in 2005. He has pretty good skills and a relaxed, laconic personality and I think he would fit in well if he decides to come.
From this night onwards I was billeted out with the Samurais. All the Samurais are university students and participate in football as their extra-curricular activity. My perception was that university in Japan is quite an easy and enjoyable time. Japanese school children work frantically hard to get good marks to get into the best university courses because the companies that recruit graduates only look at the name of the university, and are not too concerned with the marks that the students achieve while they were at university. This means that the Samurais are able to dedicate a lot of time and effort into training.
My first big experience was to go to the Senshu University Festival Day. I was amazed to go to a university where everyone looked similar – all Japanese faces. I certainly felt like the odd one out. I had a look around – the Japanese do these odd types of theatre games where people walk out onto the stage and a panel of judges adjudicates their performance. It doesn’t seem to be scripted but the whole thing looks very rehearsed.
The Samurais had set up a tent where they were selling meat pies. They had also set up a TV showing AFL games. For some reason they decided to show the absolute shocker of a game between Adelaide and the Kangaroos – the game where only a few goals were scored for the whole game.
The next big highlight was shopping in Shinjuku. Ordinarily I hate shopping, but in Shinjuku I found an entire tower where different CDs were sold. In getting to Shinjuku I had to navigate around the Tokyo subway system – a sprawling mass of interconnected lines that stretch out in every direction.
I also paid a visit to one of the Japanese “”Public Baths”” that was also very interesting, particularly the electric current that pulses through water in some of the spas and has the effect of loosening muscles. I highly recommend the Public Baths for next year’s footy season.
Given the lack of space to do much else in Tokyo, food is very important to Japanese culture. Many people in Japan go out in big groups together to eat, and to meet this demand there are restaurants everywhere. I had my fair share of Japanese cuisine while I was over there and I had some trouble explaining to the Samurais that in Australia there is no “”Australian cuisine””, we just eat food from different parts of the world all the time. Some of the different types of food or restaurants were:
1. “Izakaya“: a drinking restaurant/ bar. I went there with a group of friends of one Samurai, Ryo. Ryo grew up in Britain and was a fantastic translator for me while I was there. There was one very funny time when a group of young people were sculling down pots of beer at the next table, and then they started talking to me about how they all wanted to come to Australia.
2. “Okonomiyaki“: a restaurant where a noodle / paste type mixture is cooked (in my case by myself) into a kind of omelette. This was my favourite of all the Japanese dishes.
3. “Yakitori”: a restaurant where skewered meat is cooked with either salt or a marinade.
4. “Tempura”: like battered / fried seafood; and
5. “Ishi“/ yatai – my favourite – a square bar where people eat standing up and also drink a lot.
I was invited to Jun`s parent’s house, a Samurai who has the nickname “Crazy-Horse“. It didn’t take me long to see why he had this nickname – the guy is nuts! I was just expecting to go to their place, sleep and then leave. What I got instead was the absolute red carpet of hospitality. We had to get up very early the next morning, around 5:30am. Jun’s parents made the effort of getting up at 5am just to put the heater on in the kitchen so I wouldn’t get cold when I ate my breakfast. That morning we were able to see a fantastic view of Mount Fuji (which is often hidden by cloud).
I must admit that while I was in Japan I felt pretty sorry not to be able to speak any Japanese at all. I was very impressed with the people like the ex-pats and Ryo who were fluent in both languages.
So to the footy…I was amazed at this small group of university students, travelling up to 2 hours just to get to a training ground that was little more than some mud and grass in the middle of nowhere, and playing AFL! The boys are very fit and disciplined in their training and attitude towards the game and are well supported by a loyal band of girls (about 8) who form the support group for the team. The Japanese are very secretive about their relationships so I guess that all the girls there had Samurai boyfriends. But as to who was with whom I was not exactly sure. This is probably a huge reason why so many Japanese are addicted to text messaging.
The captain of the team was Michito. He is a ball-magnet and is very highly skilled at stab passing on the left and right foot. I would think that if he were to play in our team he would consistently be in the best of the seniors. Many of the boys aspire to play like him, myself included! Their style of training is to develop a fast, possession-style game where short passes hit leading targets. On the ground I had trouble keeping up with the Samurais – they are extremely fit.
The first game I played in was a match between a team called the Tokyo Gokongs (Samurais graduated from university and working) and the Tokyo Goannas (the Aussie ex-pats). The Goannas easily won this match as the Gokongs are not a strong side.
The second game was an intra-Samurai match (called the University Cup) between Senshu University and Komazawa University. Playing on a rugby ground with 7 a side, the Senshu University team weretoo strong. If anyone is looking to get really fit, try playing an AFL game with 7 a side, even if it is on a rugby pitch!
The final game was the grand final between the Samurais and the Goannas, and it was an absolute cracker, played at the Narita Radisson Hotel ground. I felt that I at least contributed something on the forward line with 3 goals, but in the final quarter, when we were overrun I was desperate to play a role in the ruck. However the final score ended Samurais 14-15-99 v Goannas 15-12-102. It was a game of contrasts, with the Goannas playing a long and direct game using their height to advantage, and the Samurais with mid-field attacking flair and superior fitness. On a personal note, I felt that I learnt a lot about a new country and that I continued to develop my skills. It is plain to me that I will need to develop my overhead marking and hopefully I can take this through to the 2005 season.
One point is that everyone in Japan needs an adequate playing ground for football. The Radisson hotelgroup have been very generous in providing a ground, but it is difficult as it is two hours away from where most of the boys live in Tokyo. It has the advantage over other grounds in that it can be played on in either dry or wet conditions. If a suitable ground playable in the dry or wet can be found closer in to Tokyo the game should have a good chance of being developed even further.
Meanwhile, the Samurais have a new goal with the 2005 World Cup. I am not aware of how good the other teams are, but apparently the favourites will be Ireland, Papua New Guinea, South Africa and New Zealand. The Japanese currently believe that they are about the 10th best in the world. Good luck boys for 2005! I look forward to meeting you all and showing you a bit of Australian hospitality when you come out next year.
On a final point, thank you to Simon, Gareth, the Samurais and the Goannas for allowing me the opportunity to experience Japan.