Meet the members, Ikumi Murai

Our chat with Ikumi Murai, who traveled to the UK to work as a groundsperson at Arsenal Football Club. Here’s what he has to say on the momnent he received his job offer, cultural adjustments when moving overseas, and his tips for others looking to follow in his footsteps.

Ikumi at the Emirates Stadium

What inspired you to pursue a career as a greenkeeper in the first place?

I want to play football on a great-quality pitch. There aren’t too many grass pitches in Japan. Then I thought that if I could manage my own lawn, this problem would be solved

Could you describe your journey and experiences as a greenkeeper in Japan before making the move to London?

I studied agriculture in university before becoming a groundsperson. I worked at the Nagoya Grampus training ground for four years. I still remember what my boss said to me when I first started working: we, the groundskeepers, were responsible for the injuries of the players on these pitches. I’ve been able to learn a lot in Japan. I’ve also experienced the role of Head Groundsperson.

How did you first hear about International Greenkeepers for Hire, and what motivated you to explore job opportunities overseas?

I was looking on the internet and social media to find out how to become a groundsperson in the UK, and I found IGFH. I wanted to work outside of Japan because I wanted to know how greenkeepers managed turf in a different environment. I knew that it rains a lot in England, so I was really interested. And the Premier League is now the best league in the world, which was another factor that made me want to work in such an environment.

What were some of the challenges you faced when considering a job abroad, and how did International Greenkeepers for Hire assist you in overcoming these challenges?

Finding a job was the hardest part, so being able to get that information was very helpful for me.

Can you share your initial thoughts and feelings when you discovered the job opportunity at Arsenal?

I was thinking of going to the first place that offered me an offer. And in the end, only Arsenal made me an offer. It was midnight in Japan when I received the email with the offer, but I was so happy, I was crying.

What was the application process like to move to the UK, and did you have any support in the transition?

First, I applied for a VISA in Japan, which was granted. This VISA is valid for two years. Support? The fact that I am now able to work for Arsenal is the best support I can feel. Everyone is nice and always willing to help me.

Ikumi at Arsenal's Training Ground

What do you enjoy most about your role at Arsenal as a member of the grounds team, and how does it compare to your previous experiences?

All of the things! Every day is a learning experience and I feel like I’m having fun every day, every time. Japan and the UK have different climates, so it’s fun to experience that too. Winters in the UK are cold and dark, so how to keep the turf in such an environment is one of my greatest interests.

Were there any cultural or environmental adjustments you had to make when moving to UK, and how did you adapt to your new surroundings?

I had the hardest time finding a home. Because I didn’t know much about land in the UK, and because of inflation, rents were higher than in Japan. When I was looking for a house, I asked a lot of people for advice, which helped me. Also, winters are cold. I was sent a very warm innerwear from Japan.

Did you know much English before moving to the UK, how have you learned?

I knew very little about it. I still feel I must keep learning. The methods are online or taught by flatmates. I also read textbooks and watch a drama called Top Boy.

What goals and aspirations do you have for your career as a greenkeeper in the long term, and how has this opportunity brought you closer to achieving them?

First, I want to increase my knowledge and experience. Then I want to help the club.
As for long-term goals, I would be happy if more people knew about lawns and about groundspersons. I saw an article before which said the number of groundspersons in the UK had decreased. And it is the same in Japan, where the role of a groundsperson is not popular and not well-known. I would be happy if I were interviewed and helped to make groundspersons become better known.

How has this international experience impacted your personal and professional growth?

It’s not common for Japanese groundspersons to work in many outside countries to my knowledge. I think it’s giving me so much confidence. And, of course, I’m increasing my knowledge.

What advice would you give to other greenkeepers who are considering a similar international career move?

Leaving one’s home country can be painful for some people. The important thing is that you have fun every day. I enjoy my life because I like the job itself and I like learning new things.
And, fortunately, I like living in this country and everyone is so kind to me, so no problem.

Finally, what message or insight would you like to share with others about the role of organizations like International Greenkeepers for Hire in connecting professionals with opportunities abroad?

I think it is important to put yourself in an environment where you can constantly develop. If that is not in your country, then you should use the information you can get from these organisations to find a job. I wish more people knew about it. I feel like being an ambassador.

Ikumi and Bradley of IGFH at SALTEX 2023

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