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Campbell and March

Campbell with Glen Marsh

Campbell and McLeod

Scott McLeod with Campbell in a Starbucks cafe

Campbell Lilly

University of Canterbury

Campbell is a Masters student in the Japanese Programme at the University of Canterbury. He is exploring the "acculturation" of New Zealand rugby players who go to Japan to continue their playing careers. His three weeks in Japan in late 2004 provided the opportunity to visit rugby clubs in five cities and to conduct interviews with New Zealanders rugby players and officials based in those cities.

New Zealand Rugby Players in Japan

Fieldwork, October - November 2004

The principal aim of my Master's thesis is to investigate how New Zealand rugby players acculturate during their sojourn in Japan. For three weeks in October/November 2004, thanks to the Asia:NZ-NZASIA awards programme, I was privileged to visit Japan, and learn first-hand how players in that country are coping.

The core element of my fieldwork consisted of interviews with eleven current players. As much as I could, I tried to interview players of different backgrounds so to achieve as great a degree of balance as possible. For example, of the eleven interviewed, one was of Samoan descent, one was Tongan, and another three have previously played for the New Zealand Maori team. For the same reason, I interviewed a number of players who are based in teams in places such as Fukuoka, Aichi, and Gunma to see if their experiences differed from those living in the Tokyo megatropolis.

In addition to the above, I considered it important to talk to a mix of players - that is, with both the single men and those who have a partner with them in Japan. Much to my surprise, a number of players who I had presumed to be single before I went to Japan actually turned out to be married, and I had to ask one of my interviewees to inform me which players were single (and very informative he proved to be!). In fact, the expatriate rugby community is much more close-knit than I had originally thought, and this is one factor which made my fieldwork progress more smoothly than expected. The players were always willing to suggest another player who would be good to talk to in regard to certain questions (such as that of loneliness), and my initial fears of not having enough contacts in Japan were soon allayed.

I let the players choose the location of their interview; most preferred the local Starbucks, but several were happy to invite me into their own house or apartment. Either way I was afforded a valuable glimpse into their social and private lives. I was surprised to find the significant role played by Starbucks within the ex-pat rugby community; during many of the interviews there we were interrupted by other rugby players who happened to be passing by. There may even be scope for a thesis on this subject!

The players were very candid during the interviews, happily expressing any difficulties they had encountered in Japan. One player even said: "I've got to give it to you, you've come a long way just to interview a bunch of has-beens!" Before I went to Japan I had thought most of the difficulties facing the players were lifestyle-related. But I was wrong, and this points up the importance of the interviews. The players revealed to me that most problems derive from frustrations with the rugby (that is, work) environment. Needless to say, however, the two are intertwined somewhat.

Contacts are extremely important in Japan, and once I had made myself known to the rugby community through the interviews, I was presented with more opportunities to witness first-hand how New Zealand rugby players in Japan live and work. One player whom I interviewed invited me to his team practice; this was fantastic because I then got the chance to see how he and the other foreign players in the team interacted with their Japanese teammates. On a personal level, helping this player (who incidentally is one of my childhood heroes) with his kicking practice was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip. But the opportunity to watch these players train was also critical to my research. The New Zealand players identified their relationship, or lack thereof, with their Japanese teammates as one of their major frustrations, and being present at team practice gave me a chance to make my own judgements.

Having watched these players at training, it was time to watch a real game in which New Zealand players took part. On the Saturday after I arrived I found myself sitting in the media box of Japan's premier rugby stadium, Chichibunomiya, watching two premier league games with Japan's premier English language rugby reporter. Whilst the games will go down in history as being rather unremarkable, I took particular interest in the second game in which a New Zealand player was captain, and was therefore required to give comments in the after-match press conference. A sociologist learns to find significance in apparenly insignificant happenings; the fact that this New Zealand player attempted to give his after-match comments in broken Japanese rather than English (and there was an interpreter provided), gave me plenty of food for thought for my thesis.

On a more mundane note, the fieldwork allowed me the opportunity to visit Tsukuba University (where a former recipient of an Asia New Zealand award kindly gave me space on his tatami floor to stay) and its library; I found in this library a number of books on rugby which are no longer available in bookstores in Japan, let alone New Zealand. I also visited many bookshops to have a look at the current literature available on rugby.

I thank the Asia New Zealand Foundation and NZASIA for supporting my fieldwork. My time in Japan would certainly not have been as fruitful and 'plain sailing' without it. Not only has it contributed immensely to my own post-graduate research, but perhaps it has indirectly contributed to helping New Zealand rugby players make the transition to life in Japan much more smoothly in the future!

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