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Scots are playing pivotal roles in development of cricket in Japan

Scots have made their mark all over the globe, so perhaps one should not be too surprised that both the man who established cricket in Japan and the current chief executive of the game in the Land of the Rising Sun have their origins in Caledonia.

Members of the 10th Regiment on the parade ground at what is now the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club where cricket was first played in Japan in 1868
Members of the 10th Regiment on the parade ground at what is now the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club where cricket was first played in Japan in 1868

That link helps explain why Japanese men's and women's teams will travel to Scotland this spring, as part of the 150th anniversary of the birth of the cork-and-willow pursuit in their homeland. Because, if it wasn't for the efforts of James Pender Mollison, an enterprising tea inspector in the 1860s, and Alex Miyaji, the CEO of the Japanese Cricket Association, who knows where the game would be in a nation where golf, Sumo wrestling, judo, Formula One and baseball tend to hog the headlines?

In April and May, for a few weeks at least, that situation may change when Miyaji's squads arrive for a ground-breaking tour. Naturally, their endeavours on the field, including an eagerly anticipated meeting between the visitors and the MCC at Lord's, and a women's international between Japan and Scotland, will be important in shaping perceptions. But, just as significantly, the venture will assist in raising cash for the charity Cricket for Smiles, which is working to aid the many people who were affected by the recent tsunami in Japan. "We are very excited by the tour, which takes in matches in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and other places, in April and May," says Miyaji whose mother, Wendy, was born in Dundee.

"The plan is for us to arrive in Scotland at the end of April, and take on Western and Eastern Selects, and the authorities across Britain have been very helpful and supportive in bringing this idea to fruition. The game is growing in Japan, but something on this scale can really help spread the message, and although we have only been an [ICC] Associate Member since 2005, we now have 1000 juniors involved in cricket, most of them in and around Tokyo, who weren't there five years ago, which gives us a terrific platform."

It is a different world from that which greeted Mollison when he stepped off the P & O steamer, Aden, which had completed the journey from Shanghai to Yokohama in the 1860s, and discovered terrible scenes of devastation.

"Practically the whole place was destroyed, including shops of every kind and most of the residents lost everything," recalled Mollison, as he spoke of the great fire which had engulfed the city less than two months earlier.

Undaunted, though, this passionate cricketer set about gaining permission from the authorities to "clear and turf" 60 square metres in the middle of what was known as the "New Swamp." It was a massive enterprise, one which required months, if not years of stakhanovite labour, but Mollison, in tandem with pioneering colleagues such as Ernest Price were the catalysts for the creation of Yokohama CC, an organisation which still thrives, albeit under the new name of Yokohama Country and Athletic Club.

Miyaji possesses some of that same visionary zeal. He and Scot, Ainsley Mann, the son of proud Glaswegian rates relief campaigner, Bill, have arranged cricket tussles between Japan and China, and Miyaji has a template for the future. With 3000 players of all ages under his stewardship, the next step is to refine the existing league structure and start climbing the ICC ladder to the stage where participation in World Cups 20 and 30 years down the line is no pipe dream.

"We already have several domestic competitions and we are aiming to build hubs to the north, south, east and west of Tokyo," said Miyaji. "Most of the Japanese players are based in Tokyo and Osaka, but we are branching out and taking the game to new areas.

"Personally, I see no reason why cricket can't find a young audience in this country. Baseball is popular here and I know that members of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce have gone along to watch Middlesex's Twenty 20 matches at Lord's – and I gather they liked what they saw – so I am optimistic about the future. And, of course, this tour can only help in the process."

During the January chill, it may seem as if spring is a long way off but cricket never sleeps these days and Scots are playing pivotal roles.

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