Footy and Fukushima are not two words you hear in the same sentence too often, but last week the two came together in beautiful fashion. On a clear and sunny day in Fukushima City, 200km North-east of Tokyo a 2 hour AFL introduction session and clinic was held at a local primary school with 38 energetic 10yr olds actively participating.
Nature, kids smiling and sport is not the image that many have of Fukushima but for someone who actually lives here it is a daily occurrence and I felt it was important that people outside of Fukushima also recognize this fact. I also felt that my beloved AFL could also have a positive impact on children here by giving them an extra chance to exercise and to play as a way of fighting the extra stresses these young children live with in a post disaster environment. This was a sentiment shared by Michito Sakaki and Yosuke Kuno of AFL Japan, who were kind enough to make the 4 hour trip by car to Fukushima to run the clinic with aplomb.
Under the guidance of Sakaki, Kuno and myself the kids learnt the basic skills of the game; Handball, Kick, Mark as well as the rules associated with each one. The children partnered up and tackled each drill with vigor, some got a grasp very quickly and showed potential to be a future star, and others struggled with the oddly shaped ball but had fun trying.
In the hot conditions the kids were sent away for a 15 minute break, but such was the pull of the footy that the majority took 1 minute break 14 minute extra practice, I can imagine Gary Ablett Jr doing the same. The kids split up into 4 teams for several mini-matches where they could use the skills they learnt. There were some tears towards the end of the game for the one side who only registered one win, I guess those players wouldn’t work out at Melbourne or the GWS.
What was evident was the improvement in all kids, the fun they had while playing and the tenacity every student had towards learning this new and exciting game. The strength, drive and focus of the kids here didn’t surprise me, it is what I have come to expect from Fukushima people having lived here since December 2011. Perhaps it is some spirit left over from the samurai period, when Fukushima samurai were the last samurai to fall to the newly formed government. Maybe it is because Fukushima is home to the “Okiagari-koboshi” the lucky charm that no matter how many times you push it over it always gets back up. This is a perfect analogy for the people living and slowly improving their situation in Fukushima.
We were able to ask some kids what they thought of the experience.
“If I had a football I would like to practice and improve more”, “it was really exciting to learn a new game”, “I was so happy when I could use the skills I learnt in the first hour in the game and improve” were just some of the responses we were pleased to receive.
The guys from the AFL Japan topped the day off by providing the school with two footballs for the kids to practice with from here on.
As the organizer of the event I couldn’t have asked for a more positive day! I was able to share Australian culture and sport with Fukushima kids, from whom I have also learnt a lot. We used AFL to help keep Fukushima kids happy despite the large challenges and stresses they face. And hopefully the readers of this story outside of Fukushima can also begin to imagine that Fukushima is not just a nuclear wasteland, but a beautiful place with strong and vibrant residents.
Here’s hoping that one of the kids in Fukushima grows up to be the first player drafted from Japan!
From here on I will be supporting the fantastic work the AFL Japan development staff do here in Japan, good luck and ganbarre!
Lachie Tranter (25 yrs old)
Working at the Fukushima Prefectural Government as a Coordinator of International Relations since December 2011 doing what ever I can to help revitalise Fukushima.
Always take an interest in the development of AFL both internationally and in non-AFL states, also a passionate Hawks supporter, love Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli