A watershed has been reached – the 2015 Rugby World Cup has finally ‘arrived’ in terms of becoming fixed in the nation’s consciousness.
Yesterday I visited the residential home in which my father resides. He seemed, as usual, on pretty good form and at 2.30pm – after lunch – we sat down in his room to watch the Scotland v Japan match taking place at Kingsholm on ITV.
In advance I had explained that at the weekend, against all odds, Japan had beaten South Africa in Brighton but remained underdogs against Scotland not least because they were doing so only four days later.
My father, who played rugby to county standard in his youth, found the revelation that Japan had a rugby team, let alone were taking part in a Rugby World Cup, bordering upon the incredible. Going back in time he had ended the Second World War training to go and fight the Japanese in the Pacific and had only been saved from that experience by VJ-Day.
He once told me of being at a trade fair in Tokyo at which a Japanese businessman had made a speech about Japan’s energy crisis. In it he had pointed out that the USA devoured 60% of the entire world’s energy output and that one issue going forward was that Japan needed so much more energy than it currently naturally produced. My father reported that, towards the end of his speech, said gentleman had effectively warned the world that Japan could not accept this ‘lack of energy’ situation and that, if necessary, it was just possible that it would have to invade other countries in order to solve it.
That said, although he knew several former Japanese POWs (by which I mean to refer to Brits who during WW2 were incarcerated under the Japanese, not that they were Japanese who became POWs) who could never forgive the Japanese for the way they were treated, he personally was not of that persuasion.
He used to point out that in Japanese culture anyone who surrendered – whether Japanese or otherwise – was a sub-human and totally unworthy of respect. That’s how kamikaze fighter pilots came about, why the Japanese expected their own soldiers to fight to the death as a matter of honour and why they treated Allied POWs so badly.
(It was also, according to my father, why the Americans were correct in dropping the atomic bombs in order to end WW2 – the alternative was to go on fighting, yard by yard, all the way to Tokyo at a cost of probably hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives on both sides).
As yesterday’s game at Kingsholm began to unfold on the television it must have become apparent to my father that I was supporting the underdog ‘Cherry and Whites’ from the Land of The Rising Sun.
To be fair, Scotland were impressive. They stuck to their game plan, they were hard-nosed upfront and tried to throttle the life of the Japanese players’ exuberance. They are certainly a far better prospect in this tournament than their recent results would have suggested.
Meanwhile, despite not playing to the level that they achieved against South Africa and committed a far greater number of frustrating minor skill errors that ultimately contributed to their defeat, the Japanese team still gave their all and scurried around like hornets disturbed at their nest.
But let me get to the kernel of my post today.
Shortly before half-time, the referee blew his whistle to call a halt to proceedings in order to sort out someone who was temporarily injured, motion the captains to come over and then lecture them on how he wanted both sides to act in a certain aspect of the game.
That done, he blew his whistle again to indicate that a penalty had been awarded.
“Who was that awarded to – us?” enquired my father, by which he plainly meant Japan.
[They say small things engage small minds, but said query caused me to convulse with mirth. My own father, with his antediluvian attitudes to most things in modern life, especially in his dotage – including all foreigners generally – had declared himself an honorary citizen of Japan for the afternoon.]