Last week, our translator at Mitsubishi (Taro), asked if any of the team would be interested in going on a trip to the area worst affected by the tsunami to run half a day’s coaching with teams from the surrounding areas. They had been up two months earlier but as Taro pointed out, it is easy to help someone once but in tough times, you need to keep helping. I jumped at the chance.

What followed was one of the most eye-opening days of my life. During the seven hour bus journey north, we stopped at Fukushima service station, with Taro enquiring whether I had remembered to pack my radiation mask! Thankfully, it was a brief stop!To get to Ishinomaki (the worst affected area) we drove past Sendai and it was obvious that almost four months after the disaster, there was still a huge amount of work to be done. A further 50kms up the coast having past fields of debris, we pulled into the high school car park. Due to wet weather, the coaching session was held in the school hall. Despite being 3km inland, the watermark could be seen two feet up the wall. Just another indication of the immense strength of the tsunami.

The first two hour session was with U7’s through to U12’s and about 50 or so children charged around doing relay races and handling drills. As with everything I have seen so far in Japan, it was approached with levels of enthusiasm I would have thought impossible to sustain for the full two hours but I was wrong!

As weariness finally began to creep in, the juniors moved aside to be replaced by four high school teams. The high school coaches were undeterred by the hard wood floor and asked us to work on their contact skills and defence! Technique was the focus with the obvious limitations but we managed to keep everyone busy learning for an hour and a half before splitting for half an hour of units.

After we left we drove down to the coast and the devastation was shocking. Whole streets washed away; never ending piles of rubble; wrecked cars and boats stacked as high. It became clear that many of the children we had met earlier had lost their families and homes in the tsunami, yet their attitude was unbelievably positive. They seemed happy to have the distraction of rugby even if for just a couple of hours.

That morning in Ishinomaki, in extremely tough times, rugby brought the community back together for a few hours at least.