"It taught me the frailty of life": Scott Fardy returns to Japan, seven years after tsunami

by Iain Payten

In the seven years since the Japanese tsunami, Scott Fardy’s career has climbed great heights.

He made a belated Super Rugby debut, played in a Super Rugby decider, was capped by the Wallabies and starred at the 2015 World Cup, where Australia went all the way to the final.

He is now playing for Leinster, the most dominant club in Europe.

Year by year, it has been a steady realisation of the dream that Fardy once thought had passed him by, as a guy in his late 20s who couldn’t crack a gig in any Super Rugby squads.

Each step of the way in that dream, however, every game, training session and plane trip, has been tethered to one day in Japan.

March 11, 2011. 

The day a 9.1 earthquake struck off Japan, created a tsunami and devastated towns and cities on the north-east coast.

One of them was a small fishing town called Kamaishi, and on that fateful day, Fardy was wrapping up pre-season training for a third season with the town’s second-division rugby team, the Seawaves.

“People say it must be a life-changing experience and it was,” Fardy told RUGBY.com.au.

“For me, it taught me the frailty of life, and to concentrate on not looking into the future, but to be present instead. That’s important. It can all go in a millisecond and we saw that on that day.”

Fardy was in his apartment when the quake struck, and then the tsunami. 

It rolled over the breakwater and into the lower lying parts of the city, destroying homes and business. It would claim the lives of 1,250 of the town’s 40,000 population, 

Fardy and the Seawaves players were on higher ground and were safe, and Australian embassy officials later found Fardy and offered to get him out of Kamaishi and on a plane home.

He declined, and instead spent the next few weeks and months with teammates helping with relief efforts.

“I remember having the conversation and I was saying we can’t go, we can’t just leave now,” Fardy says in a “Dove Spirit of Rugby” video released this week.

“I think that’s the part of the ethos of rugby, it’s a team effort and rugby people are like that. They don’t turn their back on people when things are tough.”

Fardy plays down the notion he did anything noteworthy, and throughout the years, has required arm-twisting to tell the story of the tsunami experience at all.

He will mostly leave out the part that he slept in the cold and lost seven kilograms in the wake of the disaster, eating rice and basic foodstuffs like everyone in the town. Only others there will tell you about the sight of Fardy silently comforting a shocked old Japanese lady who didn’t speak any English.

“As I have said in the past, I didn’t suffer at all,” Fardy says.

“There were a lot of people really suffering and I look back at it now and understand I was one of the lucky ones. It wasn’t my hometown and it was easy for me to leave and go home and get on with my life.

“But people who lived there, that was their place and their existence. That was their family grew up and they grew up, it was hard for them to leave.”

Fardy played out an emotional final season with the Seawaves - he and the team became national celebrities as symbols of the recovery - before returning to Australia and launching an overdue Super Rugby with the Brumbies, and within year, a Test career too.

Those seven years have been busy, in other words.

But this year Fardy finally got the opportunity to return to Kamaishi, when he was invited back by town leaders for the March 11 anniversary.

“It’s been pretty hectic but I had a week off and was honoured to get a call to go over and have a look around,” Fardy said.

“It was pretty incredible. It seems such a long time ago that I was living there. It was quite a strange feeling, to be fair.

“Going back it has changed so much. Everything has changed. When I left the town was still in that clean-up phase, not a re-build phase.  

“So to go back and see the town centre and so on, things have moved on a fair bit from the time I was there.

“To see that was good but obviously it’s not done yet, there are still people living in temporary housing and stuff. There is some work to do but the people there are doing a fantastic job.”

Fardy caught up with ex-clubmates at the Seawaves, and saw construction work at their old home ground ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup, where the tiny town will host two games.

The 6,000-seat venue (which will have another 10,000 temporary seats added) is named the Kamaishi Unosumai Stadium, which translates as Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium, and it opened in August.

Kamaishi will be the smallest place to ever host a World Cup game. But it will carry greater meaning than any before it, too.

Just as rugby and the Seawaves’ season came to symbolise Japan’s resilience in 2011, playing World Cup games in a re-furbished stadium in Kamaishi in 2019 will exemplify a country - and a town - standing back up on its feet.

The tournament begins in one year.

“For a country like Japan, to have a town that is that small hosting a World Cup game is pretty special. It is something that has helped the people move forward, with a common goal and purpose and something to be proud of,” Fardy said.

Fardy is now a doting dad to baby son August and loving life in Dublin, where the travel demands of a European season means he can be at home a lot more than his globe-trotting former life as a Wallaby.

At 34, he is still playing good footy for Leinster, too. 

With the freshness of a hemispheric change, Fardy was nominated for European player of the year last season as Leinster won the European Cup and the Pro14.

He doesn’t dwell too much on the past and talks about it even less. 

But Fardy carries with him a constant sense of perspective on life, and gratitude for his lot in it. And it comes back to that day, March 11, 2011.

“People’s livelihoods and their existence, it just went in one swoop. One minute you’re living your life and then it’s all gone like that,” Fardy said.

“I guess understanding the frailty of life is the big one for me from that experience: to make sure you are enjoying yourself and if you’re not, go do something else.

“It gives you a lot of perspective. When these things happen, when tragedies happen, you walk away realising what’s important. And you treasure different things as well. 

“You are able to put losses and wins in their right place and get over them. 

“You realise, you know, it's footy. It isn’t life and death.”

Dove Men+Care are a proud partner of the World Rugby Awards 2018. Follow the ‘The Spirit of Rugby’ video series at www.youtube.com/dovemencareuk