Keeping Welsh culture alive in Japan

Welsh team Those of the Welsh team not with the Lions in Australia catch one of Japan's famous bullet trains on their travels around the country

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BBC Wales reporter Nick Webb caught up with some of those Welsh people who have made Japan their home for years or even decades.

The Welsh have come to town - both the Welsh government trade delegation and the national rugby squad were hoping to make their mark in different ways.

But for them and for the small media party covering their visit, it was a flying visit lasting up to a fortnight.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club is a prestigious, elegant venue in the heart of Tokyo - a meeting place reflecting the upmarket nature of the Welsh presence in the capital.

More used to hosting music and cultural activities, the committee of Cymdeithas Dewi Sant Siapan were preparing for a weekend of yelling their heads off in support of the Wales rugby team.

And for 30 years now, they've been keeping the flame of Welsh identity alive in a huge and overwhelming urban metropolis the other side of the world from home.

Starting with just a handful of people getting together in the early 1980s to ease their hiraeth (homesickness), the society has had up to 70 members, though now there are around 50, with 30 of them described as very active.

Wales fans console themselves after the second test defeat in Japan Wales fans console themselves after the second test defeat in Tokyo on Saturday

"We're focused on sharing our local knowledge, we host visiting Welsh personalities, wherever we can we go on television and talk about Wales, and we get together to celebrate Welsh victories on the rugby field," explains president Ursula Bartlett-Imadegawa.

"We have a big reception on 1 March, Catherine Nagashima our historian organises walks, as an art teacher I organise trips to pottery villages or to kabuki (traditional theatre) and we've had charity concerts."

And the society also makes an effort to promote the Welsh language. Chris Barnett, the membership secretary, is an enthusiastic Eisteddfod-goer despite his English family background, and is roped into leading a language group "by default".

"I'm English but I'm teaching Welsh in Japan which is something for the record books."

Cindy is one of his Japanese students, having visited Wales in the past, though she admits: "It's very difficult to produce natural Welsh sounds, to get them in my brain. But we want to speak Welsh fluently someday."

As a Welsh learner myself, I offer my sympathies.

Culture shock

Most of the group visit Wales fairly regularly to see family or friends, while some like events secretary Sian Iwata have a completely dual national heritage. Her parents Rose and Masa were among the founding members in the early 80s.

They're vaguely amused by my efforts to explain the culture shock most Westerners get visiting Japan, with the huge city scapes, towering skyscrapers, and the night-time neon jungle.

In fact treasurer Christine Kobayashi admits to reverse culture shock, and having to adjust when she returns to the UK.

Despite rugby being in the second-tier of sports popularity here, the Wales game in Osaka - which the visitors won 22-18 - attracted a lot of news coverage according to Ursula.

Chris the Englishman proves his experience of Welsh rugby goes further back than mine.

Wales rugby players sing the national anthem before the match with Japan in Osaka Wales rugby players sing the national anthem before the match with Japan in Osaka

"I have happy memories of seeing Gareth Edwards and Barry John play at Cardiff Arms Park, one of the great privileges of my life," he says.

Despite Japan hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2019, the recent qualification for football's World Cup finals and a bid to host the Olympics, plus the competition from baseball and sumo make things tough for the sport according to Chris.

"I'm always hoping rugby will make more of a mark in Japan but there is stiff competition."

Our hospitality continued until the last two of our hosts have to catch the last subway train home.

It had been a memorable evening, and one which shows Welsh people abroad can celebrate their own culture as well as embracing that of the host nation.

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