Ireland and the World of Sports - William T. Grey

Although not all of the individuals featured in this series have any particular ties with Japan, the Reverend William T. Grey is one who does.

He is remembered as the man who brought hockey to Japan while working as a pastor at Keio University. It is unfortunate that the Japan Hockey Association notes him as an Englishman owing to the fact that the Keio Hockey Club was established in 1906, prior to Irish independence, but he was in fact born and raised in Ireland. Many of the readers of this will know Yoshiko Ushioda (Ushioda-sensei) who is ever-present in the Japanese community in Ireland and it is her (and her husband’s) stories of William Grey (, which give colour to what must have been an event driven by mutual curiosity in this formative period in the history of modern Japan. These reflections follow a friendship, which started with him casually remarking, in Japanese, that “You shouldn’t work on a Sunday” on encountering Mr Ushioda washing his car in 1960 and continued until the very end of his life when they used to visit him in a nursing home.

Rev. Grey relocated to Japan in 1905 upon graduating from Trinity College with a degree in Theology where he remained until 1914. He recounted to the Ushioda’s that he had conducted a demonstration at Keio University with the aid of an interpreter, using sticks made modelled on one he managed to borrow from a member of the sports club in Yokohama, and promptly signed up 100 members to the newly established club. He was particular that athletes should not smoke, and there were also students who remembered not being allowed to drink while practising. It is also a particularly nice touch that the Keio University old boys’ team is known as the “Grey Club” in reference to his name, and also to their own ageing.

Speaking to him years later, and showing his humour, Ushioda-sensei relates that he said “It was for my missionary work I wanted to be remembered, not for hockey!” His own abilities as a hockey player are not much referenced although he played for Trinity, but nonetheless, more than a century on, I have seen first-hand a thriving hockey community, participating with the vigour that will be familiar to anyone who has been involved in sports in Japan, be they major or minor. The Japan men’s team went on to win a silver medal in the 1932 Olympic games in Los Angeles and the women’s team, in particular, have been strong in recent times. There are also leagues played all over Japan, and annual national tournaments at many levels including the “working person’s” (shakaijin) tournament in which I was lucky enough to participate a number of times.

Touchingly, in 2005, the Keio University team who visited Ireland, and Trinity College to celebrate the centenary of their club (and, as it happens, against who I played in several commemorative matches) visited William Grey’s grave in Mount Jerome. While not built around extraordinary sporting prowess, this story is a simple illustration of the power of sport to provide a sense of connection, and the ongoing impact that an action as simple as bringing people together to play a new game can have. Perhaps an additional legacy, for which he has not been recognized, is that he helped the Ushiodas feel at home in Ireland and they have gone on to contribute so much to Japan-Ireland relations in their own right.

John Blakeney