Young Māori rugby players on life in Japan

By Oriwa Atkins

By Oriwa Atkins, Te Rito journalism cadet.

Following their dream to play rugby in Japan didn't seem realistic for Jordyn Tihore of Ngāti Porou and Pounamu Mackay of Ngāti Raukawa.

But, despite complications caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the two were still able to make it to Japan in April, and take up a $100,000 scholarship courtesy of LRB Sports.

After a long seven-hour wait at the airport, they have adjusted to life in the big city of Kashiwa, Chiba, a far cry from their small hometowns of Te Araroa and Ōtaki, respectively. 

Their first impression of Japan, the pair say, was amazement. “We were just buzzing because, when landing, we could see the whole of Japan, oh not the whole Japan, but just heaps of ricefields,” Tihore said.

Even though they made it safely to Japan and the country has a lot to offer, they are missing simple home connections.

Homesick

“I really miss the moana. I really miss the fresh air because the air here is really polluted here. And yeah, nah, it's hard to breathe,” Tihore said.

A simple swim is what has Mackay yearning for home. “I miss going out and being able to walk outside and there's a river. Nah, miss the whānau too, eh. A little bit.”

Adjusting to city living was not only a big change but it has also taken some time for the duo to adjust to the new schooling system that Reitaku High School has to offer, particularly the early morning starts.

“At 6:45am we have to run to the quad where we raise the Japan flag and we do morning stretches. At 7am we have breakfast and, by the time we finish, it is 7:30 and we have to get ready for school," says the former Ngāti Porou representative Tihore.

Former Horowhenua Kāpiti player Pounamu Mackay says, "We're at school for a solid seen to eight hours, and then straight after school we've got to go to training.”

Much in common

Even though there is a 9000 kilmoetres distance between New Zealand and Japan, the pair say that some customs of Māori and Japanese cultures are similar. 

“I think of the respect for the elders, so there is a big hierarchy here where juniors have to respect their elders. I think that something that's really similar to New Zealand, where tamariki have to respect our kaumatua,” Mackay says.

Not only are the customs similar but the pair have found similarities in the languages as well.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is the pronunciation of kupu so our alphabet here is quite similar to our alphabet back at home.”

The pair say they are grateful to LRB Sports, which has given them the opportunity to pursue their rugby dreams, and to their families back home in Aotearoa.

They are both hopeful of making everyone proud.

Tihore and Mackay will remain in Japan for three years, fulfilling their scholarship and developing their rugby skills to help achieve their goals.