YOKOHAMA -- In time for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, a special craft beer has been brewed and named after Chester Williams, the only black person on the South African team that won the World Cup in 1995 and a symbol of integration in his home country.
Takeshi Kato, 49, who works at the Rugby Diner 7oath's sports bar in Yokohama's Naka Ward, was the catalyst for the beers. The two had promised to meet at the World Cup, but their pledge went unfulfilled after Williams' sudden death in September. Kato sees the remaining beers as a memento of Williams, and hopes they will increase awareness in Japan about South Africa's rugby history.
Williams was part of the South African team that won the 1995 World Cup, their first title, hosted on home soil. The country was widely known for the racial segregation policy of apartheid that lasted until the early 1990s, and Williams stood out as the team's only black player. The interaction between the national team and then President Nelson Mandela are dramatized in the 2009 film "Invictus."
The beer came from an opportunity born of an unexpected coincidence. In June 2018, Kato attended an event about gin in Tokyo, where he met Pete Gottgens, a businessman in the hotel trade and other industries.
The pair got along famously. When Kato told him he was collecting beers from each nation participating in the rugby World Cup ahead of the tournament, Gottgens said he would make a beer especially for Japan.
Later, the sample products arrived from South Africa with a picture of Williams on the label. Kato said Gottgens then revealed, much to his surprise, that Williams was a friend of his.
In his high school days, Kato played rugby. When he learned that Williams was going to be visiting Japan for the tournament, he got in touch with him through Gottgens. Williams then promised Kato they would spend three days together and get the word out about the beer.
A variety of events were planned, including live talks, teaching kids rugby and unannounced participation at rugby games. Williams was up for it too, sending a message that he was happy with the schedule on Sept. 5, just a day before he died suddenly from a heart attack. He was only 49.
In South Africa, laws relating to apartheid were abolished in 1991. The country hosted the Rugby World Cup just four years later. "Apartheid didn't just disappear overnight. I had wanted to ask him how it felt competing among all those white players," Kato said with a sense of disappointment.
The finished "Chester's IPA" craft beers arrived at Rugby Diner 7oath's at the end of August. Most of the beers have yet to be distributed around Japan. A portion of the beers sales will be set aside for education support and the eradication of poverty in South Africa.
The Japanese slogan for this year's tournament has been "Not once every four years, once in a lifetime." Looking to the future, Kato said, "For me, it's already been a 'once in a lifetime' tournament."
South Africa will make their debut at the 2019 Rugby World Cup playing against New Zealand on the night of Sept. 21, at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama's Kohoku Ward.
(Japanese original by Takuji Nakata, Yokohama Bureau)