Rugby players from Tonga and Japan took part in a charity match for the rebuilding of Tonga on Saturday following the January undersea volcanic eruption and tsunami that devastated the island nation.
The Japan-based Tonga-born players played for Tonga Samurai Fifteen at Tokyo’s Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground against a squad that included Japan national team contenders, the Brave Blossoms.
Rugby players from Tonga and Japan take part in a charity match for the reconstruction of Tonga at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground in Tokyo on June 11, 2022. (Kyodo)
Around 8,000 fans attended the game which ended with players from both teams gathering in a circle and offering their prayers for Tonga and its people. Over 2.9 million yen ($21,000) in donations were collected at the stadium.
At the start and end of the match, won 31-12 by the Japanese, the Tongan players performed their country’s traditional Sipi Tau war dance. It ended with the players making gestures like drawing and waving a sword, while shouting “kansha! (Thank you)”.
Befitting a match between players from nations whose rugby ties have been strengthened over a period of more than 40 years, fans roared as the action approached the try line, with their rhythmic applause reverberating throughout the room.
“Tonga is really a small country. We wanted to put on a good show,” said 32-year-old Tonga-born prop Isileli Nakajima, who played for Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
The Tonga Samurai were led by Sinali Latu, 56, a Tongan pioneer of Japanese rugby, who attended Daito Bunka University and represented Japan at three World Cups.
“I so appreciate the deep relationship between Japan and Tonga,” he said.