Midway through a football tri-scrimmage at Skippa Diaz Stadium at Farrington on Thursday, a brilliant rainbow adorned the sky in the East.
Coincidence, maybe. But it may also have signaled the arrival of a tight, disciplined, bunch of players from the Far East. They came from Tokyo — Kosei Gakuen High School — and are here to test themselves against Hawaii competition and take part in a cultural exchange.
“The first half, the offense didn’t do really good,” Kosei Gakuen quarterback Hiromitsu Kobayashi said through an interpreter. “But since we saw the really nice rainbow, we got the power from it and finally scored on our third series.”
Kobayashi is one of 73 Kosei Gakuen players and 12 staff members who made the eight-hour flight to the islands. They’re staying in the dorms at the University of Hawaii.
“I’ve been enjoying playing football here, but not just that,” Kobayashi continued. “Also, the whole experience of my time here. The players we face on the football field in Japan are not 6-3, 6-4, 320-pound linemen, so we’re enjoying playing against them here.”
Thursday’s scrimmage was against both the Farrington and McKinley football teams. The trip came about due to Kosei Gakuen’s trainer Tsuyoshi Kase‘s connection with recently retired UH trainer Jayson Goo. Goo put the Kosei Gakuen team in contact with Pat Silva, McKinley’s head coach, and they drew up plans.
The team, nicknamed Lotus for the flower that is considered spiritual and enlightening in some Eastern cultures, has won 45 games in a row in Japan with three straight national championships. After arriving Tuesday, the group took a tour of the UH campus. They practiced at McKinley on Wednesday before Thursday’s three-team scrimmage. On Friday is a joint Kosei Gakuen-McKinley practice with dinner to follow.
On Saturday, the Japanese boys scrimmage against Pac-Five at McKinley and will have lunch with those two teams as well as Aiea, which will be there to scrimmage against the host Tigers.
On Sunday, the Lotus will tour Hanauma Bay and then return home Monday.
Kobayashi, who is the son of head coach Takashi Kobayashi, believes the team’s discipline comes from following the direction of their elders.
“Basically, the younger people have to respect the older people,” he said. “In other words, all people have to teach the younger people and take care of them like family.”
He was not surprised that the team showed its hustle and superb execution against both Farrington and McKinley.
“We’re smaller, but we believe we have the nice skill to compete against bigger players,” Kobayashi said. “We believe we can play well in the Hawaii league.”
Kobayashi’s favorite NFL team is the Kansas City Chiefs and his favorite player is Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
He knows the Chiefs haven’t won the Super Bowl in a long time.
“If the Chiefs draft me, they can win the Super Bowl,” he joked.
Lotus defensive lineman Rikimaru Imakuma wears No. 99 and his favorite player is Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams, who also wears that jersey number.
But his favorite team is the Baltimore Ravens and he strives to play with the same intensity and skill as Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
He, too, is excited to playing America’s big boys.
“We never played with such big guys,” he said. I’ve never seen such fast receivers. Maybe one player per team. Here, on one team is players much faster and bigger than teams in Japan. All the things I experience on the field here is what I want to tell people about when I get back home.”
The Lotus’ success is built on fundamentals, according to Imakuma.
“We have good basic skills of football,” he said. “That’s why when we play opponents, we can tackle, block, catch and do everything really good. We believe we have those basic, good skills and that’s why we can beat whoever it is.”
Coach Kobayashi believes building player/coach and player/player relationships is the most important thing for his team.
But he’s also keen on keeping that winning streak going.
“(After winning 45 straight games), we feel this trip is super important for the team’s future,” he said. “We needed something different. Last year’s team was much better than this team’s current level. Right now, though, each player’s skill is nicer at this point. Last year’s team was more aggressive and had better players than right now.”
There are two seasons in high school football in Japan, the fall main season and the spring season.
In the fall, the Eastern and Western champions wind up playing in the national championship game that’s also called the Christmas Bowl and is played on Dec. 23.
In the spring, teams only get as far as the Eastern and Western championships. There is no national crown at that point.
Another interesting thing about high school football in Japan is that once you lose a game, you are done for the season. It’s tournament-style all the way through in the fall and the spring.
“Of course,” coach Kobayashi said.
In the spring of 2016, the Lotus made it to the Eastern championships and lost. The winning streak, though, started in the fall of 2016 and includes three straight national titles to go along with springtime titles in 2017, ’18 and ’19.
Football is serious business at Kosei Gakuen, which is a private all-male school that began its football program in 1975.
“That’s what the players are doing, playing hard for football, studying hard for the educational side,” coach Kobayashi said. “They’re not supposed to have girlfriends. Their girlfriends must be football. So, they’re dating football and say, ‘Yeah, I love football.’ ”