Like many Western customs, rugby football first reached Japan when gunboat diplomacy deployed by the United States and European powers ended the country's period of self-imposed isolation in 1854.
The first recorded instance of a team being established and rugby being played in Japan was in 1866 with the founding of the Yokohama Foot Ball Club. The rules committee of the club consisted of notable Rugby School, Radley and Winchester College alumni including Capt. Charles Rochefort and Capt. Robert Blount of the 20th (The East Devonshire) Regiment of Foot and Royal Navy Lieutenant Lord Walter Kerr. Other Rugby School alumni soon followed including George Hamilton who became captain of the Yokohama team. Games, mainly between service personnel, were played on the Garrison Parade Ground in Yamate, Yokohama.
In 1874 records also illustrate British sailors staging a game in Yokohama. Other games were played at other treaty portssuch as Kobe between teams of long-term foreign residents and visiting ships' crews, garrisons etc., but they rarely involved indigenous Japanese people.
The date of local Japanese participation in the sport is most frequently cited as 1899, when students at Keio University were introduced to the game by Professor Edward Bramwell Clarke (who was born in Yokohama) and Ginnosuke Tanaka. Both Clarke and Tanaka were graduates of Cambridge University. Japanese rugby only started to grow in the 1920s. Clarke taught English and coached rugby at Keio from 1899 to 1910, after which an injury to his right leg forced him to give up playing.
Clarke said that he wanted to give his students something constructive to do, as they
"seemed to have nothing to occupy them out of doors in the after-summer and after-winter days. Winter baseball had not yet come in, and the young fellows loitered around wasting the hours and the lovely outdoor weather."