Cricket connecting Britain and Japan


While cricket is historically a sport played by countries with historical links with the UK, the game is gaining traction in Japan, thanks to a British connection. Japan Cricket Association CEO Naoki Alex Miyaji, who is part Japanese and part Scottish, is driving the sport forward. Currently, there are 3000 people playing cricket for teams in Japan. Senior and Junior teams can be found across the country and there are some 30 University teams.

Miyaji's passion for the game started when he was just 10 years old. He would spend his childhood summers staying with his aunt, who lived in Wimbledon, and passed many happy hours playing cricket in the garden or local parks. Baseball is traditionally the favoured sport in Japan and, while Miyaji never played competitively, he did enjoy throwing the ball around. That enjoyment transferred to cricket, and now he is not only the CEO of the Japan Cricket Association but also an international player. “Cricket was fun and was from the UK, and no one had ever heard of it back in Japan,” he said. “After returning to Japan, I had only played with my brothers in the park a few times but it had stuck to me as a fun sport, and, being half British, I had a special connection to it in a country where no one knew what it was.”

Japan Cricket Association CEO Naoki Alex Miyaji

National Japanese Men's Cricket Team

He quickly discovered Keio University, which he attended, had a cricket team, and he jumped at the chance to play. The rest, as they say, is history and for the last 12 years Miyaji has enjoyed representing Japan on the cricketing scene, travelling around the world playing the game he loves. He's played in 11 different countries and visited 13 for official cricket business. “The only continent that I haven't played on is the Americas!” he laughed.

Miyaji isn't the only national player to have a connection to the United Kingdom. His younger brother Naotsune has also picked up the ball and bat and has secured a spot on the national side. Naotsune is currently playing for Hampstead Cricket Club in England in preparation for the international tour to Samoa in September when the Japan side will participate in the ICC Division 8 tournament.

Cricket is more than just a game for Miyaji. The passion for the sport has allowed him to grow the game in Japan and to give something back to the local community. “Cricket has given me a lot. Working for the Japan Cricket Association gives me the opportunity to return the favour,” he said. "My goal is to introduce this fun sport to as many people as possible so that cricket can give them as much as it has given me. Another aim I have is to build bridges between Japanese communities and those in other countries, especially the UK.”

Indeed, 16 months on from the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, the Japan Cricket Association are working hard to bring smiles back to those who were affected by the terrible tragedy. After the March 11 2011 disaster, Japan Cricket set up Cricket for Smiles, a cricket development programme, with the goal of reaching schools, children and community groups in the North Eastern part of Japan. The aim of Cricket for Smiles is to deliver cricket sets and offer cricket clinics to children in hopes of bringing smiles back to those who experienced the devastation of the natural disaster.

The organisation saw a need to provide fun activities for those who had been badly affected by the tsunami that caused mass loss of life, homes and communities. Over 1500 schools were seriously affected by the tsunami, with many losing sporting equipment, so Japan Cricket set out to provide new equipment and training to help bring happiness and smiles back to the children's lives. "The wonderful thing about cricket is it can be played anywhere and enables children to participate in a fun activity and grow their skills in a new sport" said Miyaji.

Businessman Shyam Bhatia from Dubai, a huge cricket supporter, donated 250 cricket sets and in turn helped kick-start Cricket for Smiles. Since receiving the cricket sets, the JCA have been able to make a number of visits to Kesennuma and the surrounding affected areas, deliver the equipment and run clinics. Miyaji is thrilled how Cricket for Smiles is running. “We are seeing the huge impact Cricket for Smiles is having on children,” he said. “We are sending knowledgeable and skilful development officers into these areas and they are finding children are enjoying the experience of learning a new sport and having fun. Our main objective was to bring happiness and smiles back to those so badly affected by this terrible tragedy and a good benefit from this is we are seeing more children wanting to participate in cricket” he said.

Because of the hard work and dedication of the staff at the JCA, the organisation was recognised by the International Cricket Council with a Spirit of Cricket Award in February. “We are very pleased to have been recognised for our efforts with Cricket for Smiles,” Miyaji said. “We want to continue to provide opportunities for children to grow and learn more about cricket and provide them with opportunities to smile and be happy once more.”

While Cricket for Smiles has been supported financially, the need for more funds to continue providing smiles through cricket is important. “We have been well supported in our venture. However, to help it continue we need as much support as possible” Miyaji said. “Every donation counts, so please be generous, open your wallets and help bring smiles through cricket!”

Japanese school children learning cricket through the
Cricket for Smiles programme.

For more information about Cricket for Smiles and the Japan Cricket Association log on to http://cricket.or.jp/cricketforsmiles/ or http://www.cricket.or.jp/eng/

“Cricket is now a global game. It's almost like a universal language and it is wonderful to feel connected to other nations through such a wonderful, enjoyable sport,” Miyaji concluded.