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My 19 years in Japan: Nawalu

February 20
12:00 2010

Written By : MACIU MALO.

One of the greatest enemies most Fijian rugby players face while playing abroad is homesick.
Unfortunately, a lot of them need to move away from home because of rugby and work commitment or lucarative contracts.
And despite the fact of enduring the pain of being separated from their loved ones, living away from home allow them to perform well in whatever they do without the added hassle of feeling homesick.
Former national rep Paulo Nawalu could well be a good role model for future Fijian rugby players who might have thought of leaving home for greener pastures but frightened to face the consequences of being homesick.
Nawalu has been living in Japan for the last 19 years without feeling too lonely.
The legendary halfback from Rewa shared his 19 years experience with SUNsports yesterday.
He revealed his passion for rugby and what made him fall in love with his adopted home.
The former star halfback rejected many rugby contracts to play in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa but selected Japan instead.
Nawalu said he never regretted the choice ahead of the three rugby superpowers. “The Japan offer came to me in the 90s. It was my last years of playing here in Fiji,” he said.
“It was through the then Fiji Ambassador to Japan, Charles Walker who was negotiating with Hino Motors who wanted to recruit two Fijian players.
“This Hino Motors Company in Tokyo builds diesel truck, their Headquarter is in Hino City in Tokyo.
“Seven of us were interviewed and Sirilo Lovokuru and myself, who are both teachers, were selected.
Before that I had offers from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa just after our rebel tour in 1987 but my interest was not there because I wanted to be a teacher when I go there.
“Then I waited and waited before this Japan offer came about. I only learnt about Japan in school geography and I think the chances was right, the offer was right, the contract itself was right that convinced me to go to Japan,” he said.”
Nawalu’s first few days in the Land of the Rising Sun were a bit hard but as time flew by, he started to adapt well to the new environment, food and language.
“My first few days in Japan,” he said with a pause trying to relocate details.
“We arrived at night, the food was new to me and I cannot understand the language. They just speak their own language. For the first few days it was hard for us since there was no other Fijian around.”
“But Japan was so special because of the teaching job they offered me apart from the rugby contract. The deal was clear and precise, that’s why I took it.
“As time goes by I began to like the country more and start getting into the system. Their food is best in the world. I realised that I was sent there for a purpose to develop young rugby players in Japan.
“The Japanese people are very polite, hardworking and are very particular in what they say and do. They don’t talk generally but in details, what is to be done, who will do it and the timings.
“Now after 19 years I’m fluent to get by and the food is really nice.” When Nawalu first joined Hino, their club was playing in the second division team.
He devoted more of his time to rugby and was instrumental in the promotion of their team to first division. He vividly recalled his first game at Japan.
“We were in the 2nd division during my first year and we were challenged to try and bring up the team to 1st division.
“The rugby level in Japan was low but we decided not to go that low, we just play our natural game and the Japanese boys somehow lift themselves. We enjoyed it and our very first game is still vivid in my mind. We went to this place called Ome just near Hino, we played a friendly game.
“We were surprised to see the ground without any grass and when we played the rain fell and we wouldn’t know who our opposition was because it was muddy.
“Many rugby grounds in Japan dont have any grass and in my second year we managed to go up to the first division and our reward was to tour Fiji where we played against Army and Marist teams.”
After few games with HINO, Nawalu’s rugby career blossomed as he was recruited by the Japan Rugby Union to assist their national 7s team.
It was at this 7s duties that Nawalu later went on to make his name in Japan 7s leading the Japan 7s team at the 1993 Rugby Sevens World Cup.
“At Hino there was a foreign rugby team formed to play against the Japan 7s team and many times we beat the Japanese 7s team.
“In 1993, I was called to lead the foreigners’ rugby team to play against the Japanese team Hong Kong 7s squad.
“We thrashed them in that game and the then Japan 7s coach called me asking for my assistance.”
With 7s just a minor sport in Japan then, Nawalu tirelessly worked around the clock in rebuilding the Japan 7s team until engraving a new chapter in Japan Rugby when they defeated Scotland in the 1993 Bowl final.
“I start helping the Japan 7s team and was later selected in the Japan 7s team that toured Scotland at the 1993 Rugby 7s World Cup.
“We played well, we were in the same pool as Fiji and I was told not to play against the Fijians because it was my team.
“Our boys did well but we lost by 5 points before we went on to beat Scotland in the bowl finals on their home turf.
“I was player/coach in 1993, 1994 went to Hong Kong then I was the head coach of Japan 7s team in 1995 until 2002.
“Many times I don’t play when we play against Fiji, it’s pretty hard for me and I just let other boys in the team to play.
“After some Japanese lessons and orientation work I Japan we started to adapt well to the environment and to rugby.
Nawalu’s contribution to Japan was huge and after the expiry of his 7s coaching job he was offered another contract by Japan rugby.
“After10 years with HINO 1991-2000 then Japan Rugby Union offered me a contract to be in charge of the 7s development,
“I worked there for two years even though 7s was not a priority for them unlike 15s.
“After my contract with Japan rugby another lucrative offer came my way as I was chosen as the full time head coach of Hakuoh University until today. Nawalu has best memories in Japan and believed that his 7s experience was much needed in Japan than in Fiji.
“Some of my friends told me to come back and coach 7s in Fiji but I told them I’m needed more in Japan than in Fiji as there were many good 7s coaches in Fiji.”
“I had many memories but to get a few bunch of kids from university and groomed them was one thing I liked best.
“When I see zero talents in 7s and after some sessions with them and see how they grow were some of the good moments I have come across here.” With age catching up on him Nawalu said he would spend the next 10 years in Japan.
“As we are getting into the seniority it’s hard to be living apart and I have a daughter in Class 3 which is a hold back to my wife, it’s a hard situation. The future maybe when my wife is retired then they might join me in Japan since the retirement age in Japan is 65 years which is another 10 years to go for me.”
Nawalu has also met some best friends in Japan and has named one of her daughters after the wife of his former Japan 7s team mate Kato.
“I have one daughter named Hiromi Tomoko, they are our friends back in Japan Hiromi is the wife of Kato a Japanese player and a great friend of mine and Tomoko is my wife’s friend,” he added. Nawalu will return to his adopted home next month.

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