"Lacrosse is My Life", One on One with Kaisuke Iwamoto

Photo Credit Ron Chenoy

Kaisuke "Kai" Iwamoto made headlines this summer as he became the first Japanese born player to play in an MLL game. It was a monumental moment for Kaisuke, the MLL, and the sport of lacrosse as a whole. That game was unique as it showed how far and wide this game had grown and that it doesn't matter what country you are from anyone, everyone can play with the best of them.

That game against the Dallas Rattlers on July 22nd was a huge moment for Iwamoto and the sport of lacrosse, but it was just one part of his lacrosse career that has taken him from playing high school in Tokyo to playing now in the MLL for the Denver Outlaws. Iwamoto's lacrosse career and impact on the game is far from over as Iwamoto said, "Lacrosse is my life."

I caught up with Kaisuke to ask him some questions about his experience playing lacrosse in Japan, coming over to the states and eventually playing in the MCLA, the process to tryout for and make the Outlaws, and of course what he thinks of our "Americanized" Japanese food that we have here in the US, and more. 

Q&A with Kaisuke Iwamoto, Denver Outlaws

Tanner: How did you get started playing lacrosse?

Kaisuke: My high school is one of few high schools in Japan which has a men's lacrosse team, after enrolling in it, my friend asked me to come watch their practice and tossed a bit. Then I got so into it because it was quite new to me and fun!

Tanner: How much has lacrosse grown in Japan and what has been the catalyst to that growth?

Kaisuke: Currently there are 20,000 active lacrosse players most of who are college students, but it's been gradually growing year by year. Then, as the Internet has been growing, we can see a lot of footages and games online, and some college teams go to the United States to have scrimmages against NCAA teams every year. I'm sure it helps us get better.

Tanner: Japan has a pretty strong college lacrosse scene. What is the chance you think we will see NCAA players from Japan?

Kaisuke: I Wish we had any Japanese NCAA players now but lacrosse is called a college sport in Japan, it means more than 95% players started playing lacrosse in college although some people are now trying to build youth programs. Also, we are not pretty good at English. Those are the reasons why we don't have any NCAA guys now. So I'd love to work on growing this game to younger kids more there. 

Tanner: What was the experience like moving over here for you and how did you end up playing in the MCLA at UC Irvine in 2017?

Kaisuke: First, I had moved to Portland, Oregon to study English to take over my father’s business in the future, but I started thinking about expanding my knowledge about business. Then I applied for some colleges and UC Irvine accepted me. Beside studying English, I had been playing lacrosse because all lacrosse guys in Portland were so nice to me and helped me improving my English skills. There is no way I was’t going to keep playing lacrosse in California. Here is the slogan of the Japanese Lacrosse Association that is “Lacrosse Makes Friends.” I do believe I am making GREAT friends by lacrosse.

Tanner: What was the tryout process like to make the Outlaws?

Kaisuke: The actual process is not that hard, to register the MLL player pool and then sign up for their tryout. However, to show my presence to the coaches is the toughest part of the tryout because I haven’t played for any NCAA teams, club teams on the East Coast or so on. I was/am just a Japanese guy who really loves lacrosse and pursue his dream to play his most favorite sport at the highest level. I was just lucky to catch the coaches eyes.

Tanner: You are the first Japanese MLL player, how does that make you feel?

Kaisuke: It honestly was an awesome feeling, but what the best thing to me was my coaches and players trusted me and let me play for the team to win the game and become the MLL champions. It means a lot to me, I really felt I finally became a member of the team because I had been nervous about that due to my English skills and background.

Tanner: You made your first MLL start this year. What was going through your mind when you heard that you were going to start and when you got in cage for the first time?

Kaisuke: What I was thinking during the season was that I should be always ready for the game and practice like a game. As a practice member, every single practice was my game day. So when I heard that I would start the game, I just thought “Ok, time has come. Just play as usual because I have been always ready for it. It is going to be fun.” Before the game day, lots of my friends reached me out and cheered me up. Not only were my teammates but also other MLL players and friends all over the world, I realized how nice all lacrosse players are. I believe that's how sports are supposed to be. Then I got in the cage, all of my thoughts were gone but just wanted to win the game as an Outlaw. I was not only the first Japanese MLL player but also a member of the Denver Outlaws.

Tanner: Winning the MLL championship is a great accomplishment for you and your Outlaws teammates. How special was this year for you guys?

Kaisuke: To win the championship is the best moment of my life, we all were playing and working out so hard only for that moment. Furthermore, we didn’t have Jack Kelly and Wesley Berg due to their injuries, so it was incredible. We all are pretty nice and kind to each others, and they are the best teammates I’ve ever share the locker room with, the nicest friends I’ve ever with and the greatest players I’ve played with.

Tanner: Many People refer to lacrosse as medicine. What does the sport mean to you?

Kaisuke: Lacrosse is my life. As I said, lacrosse has given me lots of friends and experience, and all my friends are the nicest I’ve ever met and all experience was just unforgettable. I couldn’t think of myself being here without ANY of those.

Tanner: Will we ever see MLL in Japan or Asia? I personally think that would be awesome.

Kaisuke: I really hope one day we can watch the MLL game in Japan or Asia in the future, but before making that happen, we should grow this game there (The US) much more.

Tanner: How would you rate our "Americanized" version of Japanese food we have here in the States?

Kaisuke: This is probably the hardest question to answer here. I have only lived in Portland/OR, Irvine/CA and Denver/CO and travelled some cities in the U.S. I would say it depends on the restaurants but Japanese food there is basically better than I expected. I believe some of the restaurants could be successful even in Japan. Then, “Americanized" Japanese food is interesting because I had never thought of those kind of food when I was in Japan. Some of those are actually tasty to me, but some of those are just horrible, lol. However, I always love trying new things and am so looking forward to having new kinds of “Americanized" Japanese food soon. 

Tanner: How do you see the MLL growing after the changes made to the salary cap, roster size, and more?

Kaisuke: I played in the MLL only a year and am not perfectly sure about the history, but I believe those changes are really huge for the players, league and future prospects. I really believe this is one big step to the bright future of lacrosse. I really hope other players from Japan and other countries will come try out for the MLL and make a roster, then bring their experience to their home country to grow the game in the future. As I said, ALL lacrosse guys are some of the nicest people I have ever met. I think because lacrosse is not one of the most popular sports yet, we all can be friends very easily and don’t have borders.