FUJITA Yoshikazu: Encouraging children to pursue their dreams

Fujita Yoshikazu of Japan during a match against Wales at the 2019 London Sevens
Fujita Yoshikazu of Japan during a match against Wales at the 2019 London Sevens

"I hope to convey my message that the world can overcome the pandemic with the efforts of each and every one of us."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that is requiring all of us to curtail our normal activities, there are many athletes who are continuing with their daily training routines ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year - many of whom share their thoughts via social media.

Among such athletes is FUJITA Yoshikazu, who played at the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England as a member of the Japan national rugby team, and is a member of the Japan's rugby sevens team set to compete at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

He spoke to Tokyo 2020 about his latest updates, the ideas he wants to communicate through social media and his aspirations for the Olympic Games next year.

Many athletes seem to have an aptitude for cheering people up

One of my dreams as a professional athlete is to inspire children to pursue their dreams. That’s why I am sharing with children updates of my life through social media.

During the state of emergency, I have been posting more messages online in the hope of helping raise people’s spirits amid the stressful coronavirus pandemic. I have also been collaborating with other athletes to communicate various messages and have even joined other rugby players to sing in a video. I have also recently launched a series of online rugby classes for children to get them up and moving. I’m delighted that my dream is beginning to take shape.

The song I sung with the other rugby players was “Victory Road” (sung to the tune of 'Take me Home, Country Roads'), which went viral as the de facto team song of the Japan national rugby team.

This sing-along project was organised by HIROSE Toshiaki, the former captain of Japan’s national 15-a-side rugby team, in the hope of sending a cheerful message of encouragement to healthcare workers and people struggling in this difficult period. We are pretty pleased with the outcome of the project.

Another initiative I participated in was the Aerobics Challenge project, which was initiated by a basketball player and my friend, TAWATARI Ryo. I received great feedback, telling me that my posts were both fun and funny, so I’m glad I did it. I think many athletes seem to have an aptitude for cheering people up.

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I have also started uploading videos on YouTube, which is a challenge I have taken on to fulfill my wish to inspire children to pursue their dreams, as I mentioned earlier.

Children have limited opportunities of interacting with top-tier rugby players as most of them do not live close to a professional team. By telling them through the videos about the Japan national rugby sevens squad and how professional rugby players train, I am hoping to help inspire and support children who may be dreaming of becoming a rugby player someday.

Giving back by hosting online classes

The online rugby classes I hosted lately were also a dream-come-true for me.

The classes were for children in Higashiosaka City in Osaka, the home of the Hanazono Rugby Stadium where I competed in the National High School Rugby Tournament, and Fukuoka prefecture, home to my alma mater Higashi Fukuoka High School - so I feel I was able to give back something to the places where I grew up.

As the online rugby class project was all new to me, I had concerns about whether children would understand me online. I taught the children indoor training drills including handling drills, which, if performed constantly at home, prepares them to play on the field. To my relief, the children did seem to understand me, judging from the smiles on their faces. I received feedback such as, 'I am grateful to you for having given us such a great experience', and 'The class has encouraged the children to stay positive', which made me pleased about having delivered these classes.

As a member of Japan’s national team, I have renewed my commitment to live up to the expectations of aspiring children.

During the stay-at-home period, I have been training at home and jogging early in the morning or in the evening when there are less people around. Our focus is on how we can set our team apart from our rival teams at the Olympic Games. To fight through a long season once the state of emergency is lifted, we critically need a solid foundation on which to build our training. We are therefore working to increase our physical strength and build our relatively vulnerable muscles to prevent problems from arising during the season. Solid preparation is essential to compete against world-class teams. We hope to perform to our best at the World Rugby Sevens Series as a build-up to the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Our greatest wish is for the coronavirus pandemic to be contained around the world. We would like to do whatever we can to help, including avoiding the 3Cs (closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings). If we can end the virus with our unified efforts, I’m sure that great times lie ahead. Putting an end to the pandemic requires each and every one of us to change our way of thinking and behaviour. I hope to convey my message that the world can overcome the pandemic with the efforts of each and every one of us.

Immediately before Rio 2016, I was massively disappointed to learn that I was assigned as a back-up member,

so I feel all the more passionate about playing at Tokyo 2020.

'Living this day as if it were my last' to win a medal

The Tokyo 2020 Games, although postponed, is an incredibly special event for me.

Immediately before Rio 2016, I was massively disappointed to learn that I was assigned as a back-up member, so I feel all the more passionate about playing at Tokyo 2020. I swore to myself then that I would achieve results at Tokyo 2020 and satisfy my ambitions both as an individual player and as a team member. I will make the most of each day to ensure I don’t have any regrets.

My goal is to win a medal as a member of Japan’s national rugby sevens team, and I intend to work as hard as possible towards achieving the feat, but personally speaking, I try not to think too far ahead. Unless our process leading up to the Olympic Games is of the very highest level and quality, we won’t be able to get the desired results. Climbing the ladder step by step is the way to eventually winning a medal.

I try to live by the phrase, 'ichinichi issho', meaning 'live this day as if it were your last'. I heard this phrase used on television by a person who had performed sennichi kaihogyo, [literally, a ‘1,000-day circumambulation’] an ascetic practice that involved walking through mountains for several days each year for a period of nine years. He said that instead of always looking ahead, he took things one day at a time, and ultimately reached his goal as a result of his accumulated daily efforts.

I intend to follow the ichinichi issho approach in working toward the Olympic Games, as if my life were on the line every day.

Fujita Yoshikazu tries to escape a tackle during a match against South Africa at the 2019 London Sevens
Fujita Yoshikazu tries to escape a tackle during a match against South Africa at the 2019 London Sevens
(c)JRFU

Making rugby an integral part of Japan’s culture

The Rugby World Cup 2019 was held in Japan last year and I was delighted that the tournament helped Japanese people to become more familiar with rugby. I hope that Japan’s national rugby sevens team can pick up the baton and help rugby take root in Japan as an integral part of its culture.

Although less known than the rugby played with 15 players a side, rugby sevens is played in shorter matches of 14 minutes and, above all, it is easier for first-time viewers to see the thrill of the game, as well as the players’ skills and strengths. Once you see a game, you will likely become hooked, even if you didn’t know the rules.

Let’s join efforts to enjoy the Olympic Games with smiles on our faces

I hope to make Tokyo 2020 the best event ever for us by achieving our goal of winning a medal. For this, I need to contribute personally to the team and demonstrate my strong points. I excel at attacking, so I hope I can catch the eyes of spectators especially by running past opposition players. Also, I’m often selected as a playmaker, a position whereby I have to control the flow of the team’s offensive play, so my hope is to impress people by helping our team earn points with my passes and assists.

To contain the pandemic, not only athletes, but also each one of us in Japan and elsewhere needs to raise our awareness. Whether we can make the long-awaited global event a reality together depends on how we can change our lifestyles today. I truly look forward to Tokyo 2020, where the entire world can happily gather with arms around each other and smiles on our faces, so let us join our efforts and make it happen!