Blue Bullets get an A for effort

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

When you watch the Tokyo University Blue Bullets play field lacrosse for the first time, you can't help but notice their enthusiasm for the game.

It might not always be the first thing you see -- those are giant golden teapots being used to fill the team water bottles and the players do have nicknames like "Bamboooo" taped on the back of their helmets. But the cheery goodwill and spirited competition, it's definitely there.

"We lack some of the technical points of the game," said Tohru Hayashi, Bullets' first-year head coach. "But we're happy with the way lacrosse has been growing in Japan. People are noticing it being played. All of the universities have a team, so the college division is strong. There are tournaments to enter. We practise all year and there are enough games for us to play."

Sprinting like the Skinkansen (Japanese bullet trains), Tokyo University beat Team Ireland 6-2 yesterday afternoon and are among the class teams of the men's open division in the World Lacrosse Festival at North London Athletic Fields.

"We didn't know anything about the divisions here and which one we should enter before we got here," Hayashi said. "We're a university team with players aged 20 to about 22 years old. We're doing pretty well so far."

The Tokyo boys are a long way from home, but the long trip was partly funded by the team's old boys group, or alumni, who threw in some cash to send the team.

"I played on the team when I went to Tokyo University, so I'm one of them (old boys) now," Hayashi said.

Almost on cue, the head coach showed he still owned some of his lightning-quick hand-eye co-ordination by saving a distracted reporter from an errant ball flying right at his head.

Before Finland rolled into London this week, Japan had been regarded as the country with the fastest-rising lacrosse program, following its national team's strong performance at the 2002 worlds in Australia. The game originated in the country 20 years ago during a cultural exchange between Keio University and United States college power Johns Hopkins University, which sent equipment overseas.

There are a handful of Japanese squads in the Festival portion, while Team Japan competed in the top division with Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Japan finished 0-5 in the Blue division and could drop to a lower bracket in 2010, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort or support from the Blue Bullet boys, who cheered on their countrymen during the preliminary round.

Hayashi is a graduate student studying to be a civil engineer, but he knows what is being built on the lacrosse field will have a lasting effect on Japan.

"It's good to see where the game is now and I think it should grow more. I think it will. We don't have a lot of clinics or camps right now, but hopefully that will come."


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