Japan winger Daisuke Ohata was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in November as the all-time leading try-scorer in test rugby with his 69 tries in 58 tests for the Brave Blossoms from 1996-2006.
We sat down with RWC 2019 Ambassador Ohata to talk about his induction, the impact rugby has had on his life and his excitement that Japan will host the first Rugby World Cup to be played in Asia in 2019.
Daisuke, congratulations on your induction into the World Rugby Hall of Fame, what does it mean to you to become only the second Japanese to receive the honour?
I have been playing rugby since I was a child and to me there's nothing that makes me happier than bringing joy to others. When a team wins, people are happy. So, I’ve been playing with that in mind, trying to score as many tries as I can. It fills me with joy knowing that I have been able to make the people who have come with me on this journey happy, and if people are proud of me, then that’s more than enough for me.
When I saw the list of inductees, I thought ‘I’ve done well for myself’. When I was first told about my induction, I didn’t quite understand what it really meant. When I told my former Japan team-mates Angus (Andrew McCormick) and Jamie (Joseph) about it, they drummed into me that this was a truly amazing thing.
I’m not going to play down what I have achieved so far, and I am proud of myself. Just because you played well one year, it doesn’t mean you’ll be inducted. The same goes for me world record for the most tries, I decided myself to rugby for many years and achieved these results, and I believe this is exactly why I received this honour. I want to give myself a pat on the back for playing rugby for many years as a member of the Japan national team and persisting even when it wore me down. I’d like to think I’ve worked just as hard as the other players.
What are you most proud of in your career?
There were many players better than I was, but my will to win was stronger than anyone else. I played with the mind-set of doing better than any other player in the world. Of course, there were times where I had to overcome my own weaknesses but I was able to motivate and pick myself up with the support of those around me, and through all of this I persisted and played on the national team for all these years. I’m proud of myself for this.
What does rugby mean to you?
For me it’s a means to express myself. I was never good at socialising with people, and rugby gave me a way of life and a place where I could belong. When I was young, all the kids around me played baseball and were fans of the Hanshin Tigers professional baseball team, but in an attempt to stand out and to express myself, I chose rugby. I had always been on the athletic side, but when I went to my first rugby practice, I was the fastest one there, which really attracted everyone’s attention. That was the exact moment that I found a place to express myself and was a place where I could shine. Because of that experience, I decided to push through with rugby, even when things got tough. That’s why I’m passionate about getting more people into rugby.
You played at both RWC 1999 and 2003, which left the strongest impression on you?
On the day of the match against Wales at RWC 1999, despite the fact that the match wasn’t kicking off until the evening, the moment I opened the curtains in the morning I was greeted with the sight of a sea of people dressed in the red of the Wales jersey. When I saw that I thought to myself that Rugby World Cup really does have the power to move the entire country.
For the 2003 tournament in Australia, we had a match in a rural city called Townsville, so that’s also where our pre-tournament camp was. What really left an impression on me was that it felt like the entire city was cheering our team on. My mother-in-law actually came to show her support and our first match was against Scotland. She just so happened to be sitting next to a Scottish fan and despite not being able to speak a word to each other, they were cheering on the teams together, and I’m sure the fact that it was a good game probably added to the excitement.
"I feel that the mission that I was given with my induction is to make sure that people will walk away after RWC 2019 feeling that it was the right decision to hold it in Japan. I will hold this mission dear to my heart and will continue to do what I can to bring more momentum to RWC 2019."
I don’t know what came over her, but after the match, as she was saying goodbye, she decided to trade the Japan’s jersey that I had given her in exchange for some random local craft. She’s not normally that excitable! This really made me realise that rugby is truly a wonderful sport that has the power to even overcome language barriers. I got onto her for giving away the jersey, telling her that I worked really hard for that jersey!
What does it mean to you that Japan will host the tournament in 2019?
I still remember watching the first Rugby World Cup in 1987 as a sixth-grader thinking ‘wow, what an amazing tournament’. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to take part in RWC 2019 as a player, but this is a tournament that I have dreamed of being a part of since I was young and now it’s taking place in Japan, so I’d like to help in any way I can to bring more momentum to it.
I think that part of my duty is to provide more chances for people to engage with rugby, so I hope that I can continue doing that. I feel that the mission that I was given with my induction is to make sure that people will walk away after RWC 2019 feeling that it was the right decision to hold it in Japan. Taking that into account, I think that I won’t be able to fully enjoy my induction until after RWC 2019 and having completed my mission. I will hold this mission dear to my heart and will continue to do what I can to bring more momentum to RWC 2019.
What do you think draws people to the Rugby World Cup?
I’m sure there were people in the crowd during the 2015 tournament who were attending Rugby World Cup for the first time and I’m sure they enjoyed the game regardless of whether they knew the rules or not. I think that the passion filling the air ignited a passion in everyone there and so that’s why they were cheering us on so fervently. It’s really hard to sum up what kind of sport rugby is in a few words. That’s exactly why I want people to attend a match, even if it’s just one, and get them to see it with their own eyes and get a feel for the games themselves.
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