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Johnny Toppon


Country: N. Ireland, Zambia

Almost exactly one year ago when I was in the departure lounge at Heathrow heading to Zambia I had an idea that I wanted to try and create something to highlight some of 
the special characters who were involved indirectly and directly in forging links between UK and Japan rugby and paving the way for the successful world cup bid.
There are many hundreds of people who could have been chosen for the project but I decided to chose 6 people who all shared connections with London Japanese, Kew 
Ocassionals, Oxford University, Richmond Rugby Club and now Shibuya International Rugby Club.
Those people that I selected all shared these common rugby threads that linked them all together.
The idea for the project title came from theJapanese concept of 運命の赤い糸 (unmei no akai ito) the red thread of fate, that ties certain people together in
life with an unbreakable bond. The people chosen were:
Katsu Oku
Seiji Hirao
Toshiyuki Hayashi
Reg Clark
Koji Tokumasu
Keiko Kato
The Journey
So in November 2018, I planted a field of organic cotton specifically for the project, and had visits from a Japanese volunteer from JICA (Japan 
International Cooperation Agency) which spurred me on to keep going.
We harvested the cotton by hand in June and had it ginned (separating the seeds from the lint) and spun into yarn. This yarn was then dyed and woven by hand into a striped red and white fabric in the style of a vintage Japanese rugby jersey on a traditional hand loom by my friend Martha Zulu to my design and tailored by hand by local tailors in Mumbwa.
I then designed special embroidered badges for each of the people above highlighting the clubs and teams that they all played for during their time inthe UK and Japan.
These badges were hand cut and sewn onto each of the 6 jerseys.
Katsu Oku was the real inspiration for me behind doing this project because I often felt bad that since I moved to Zambia in 2012 I would often miss the Oku Trophy as I always seemed to be in Zambia at that time of year as it coincides with the start of the rainy/farming season.
I know that he travelled to over 100 countries and wasnt scared to get his hands dirty and to really try and get an understanding of the struggles of people in the developing world. I thought it would be fitting to do something to celebrate him and these other players while empowering unemployed villagers through employment during the project who are highly skilled but struggling.

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