OURFC 1979 Club Secretary Reg Clark was recently honoured by the Japanese government for services to Anglo-Japanese relations. The citation of the Foreign Minister’s Commendation moreover specifically refers to his role in honouring the memory of his fellow OURFC member the late Ambassador Katsuhiko Oku (1982-83).
The pair first met in 1982 when Clark was on a visit back to Oxford from Japan, where he was working and playing rugby for Kobe Steel, having gained Blues in 1978 and 1979. Katsu, who was from the Kobe area and had recently become the first Japanese national to play for the Blues XV was introduced by OURFC friends to Reg, who had just become the first foreigner to play representative rugby in Japan. The result was a close friendship spanning over 20 years, which was tragically curtailed by Oku’s death whilst on diplomatic duty with the UN post-war reconstruction programme in Iraq in November 2003. Over the last 10 years Clark has worked with various groups, including OURFC, Vincent’s and Hertford College to stage a series of memorial rugby matches to celebrate Oku’s life and honour his memory. Most memorably OURFC’s highly successful ‘World University Rugby Cup’ was kicked off last September by a game between the Blues and Oku’s alma mater Waseda University representing Japan, a match played for a new Oku Memorial Trophy donated by former Prime Minister Mori, Honorary President of the Japan RFU.
Clark first visited Japan in 1977 as an 18 year old freshman with an OURFC touring party (captained by Tim Bryan) which went undefeated and registered a 20-16 victory over the Japanese national side. He was Player/Manager to another Blues tour in 1983 (captained by Hugo Macneill) and played in the unique ‘Varsity Match’ against Cambridge in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on that trip, before again being Manager in 1988 of another unbeaten tour (captained by Rupert Vessey), which also defeated Japan, 23-12. Oku was Liaison Officer for the JRFU on the latter tour, infamously breaking a leg helping the Blues side prepare for their final game with some opposed practice!
After a career in the financial markets, Clark (who served as a Major Stanley’s Trustee for 22 years from 1985 to 2007) re-joined Kobe Steel in London in the late 80s, latterly as European Finance Director. The ensuing years witnessed a major era of collaboration between Kobe Steel and OURFC. Kobe sponsored the Stanleys Match for 10 years, contributed generously to the Major Stanley’s Scholarship Fund and memorably played OURFC in Kobe in 1990, when Mark Egan’s team registered a win as part of the celebrations for the ground-breaking ceremony of the St Catherine’s College Kobe Institute. Clark worked closely with former OURFC President and St Catherine’s Fellow Alan Tayler on the latter project and was a Founding Director and Trustee of the Institute. The Kobe Steel Scholarships for Australian students to Oxford at this time also brought the likes of Australian internationals Ian Williams and Bill Campbell into the Blues side.
Katsu Oku’s diplomatic career subsequently took him back to London in 2000 – as Reg comments: “ my happiest memories of Katsu are in this period: we worked closely together as Treasurer and Secretary of the ‘Japan 2001’ festival of Japanese culture in the UK; he became the first Japanese member of the Garrick Club; we played innumerable rounds of golf and travelled to Tokyo together in 2002 to watch the Blues, captained by Fraser Gemmell, play Waseda University to open their new training ground – a wonderfully diplomatic 22 all draw. No one could have had any idea what his subsequent posting to Iraq would bring”.
Oku was a longstanding member of the JRFU International Committee and worked tirelessly for their efforts to stage a Rugby World Cup. When the 2019 tournament was awarded, his contribution to that success was immediately and widely recognised in Japan and elsewhere. Again Clark comments: “Katsu Oku was one of the finest people I ever had the privilege to know – intensely talented, energetic and great fun to be with. Whilst I am greatly honoured by this Award from the Japanese Government I recognise that it has been given largely because of efforts I have made together with others to honour the memory of my fellow OURFC member and I have no hesitation in dedicating it to him and his family. He is most certainly someone of whom the club can be very proud’.