Hayden Parker cannot speak highly enough of Japan and its people.
But right now, there is no place he would rather be than on his family farm near Kurow.
The former Highlanders player has been plying his trade in the land of the rising sun for the past two years – for the Sunwolves in the Super Rugby competition, and for the Kobelco Steelers in the Japanese Top League.
The Japanese domestic rugby season was put on hold when the Covid-19 outbreak first presented itself, so Parker jumped on a flight home to New Zealand.
The season has since been cancelled.
“I’m bloody stoked to be home. At least on the farm I can do stuff,” Parker told the Oamaru Mail.
“Although, I’ve had a few stuff-ups – the old man might be happy to see me head back to Japan.”
The Kobelco Steelers’ season started well with the side winning its first six games.
Parker’s Kobelco Steelers team-mates include former All Blacks Dan Carter and Andy Ellis.
“It’s pretty tough to win titles, so to have a shot of winning one – it’s pretty disappointing not to have a decent crack,” Parker said.
“I feel the most for Andy Ellis and Dan Carter, who are [nearing the end of] their careers.
Playing and training alongside Carter was an “awesome” experience, Parker said.
“The guy [who] you look up to your whole career, you wonder how they do things.
“He is just the ultimate professional, he’s 38 and should be winding down but there is absolutely no signs of it – he trains harder than anyone else.
“You can see why he was the best in the world for so long.”
Parker said he had noticed a huge rise in interest in rugby in Japan since the Rugby World Cup was held there last year.
“We used to have crowds of 5000 to 6000, but the first game of [this] season the stadium was packed – there were 20,000 there.
“We used to have the same supporters all the time; now you can’t even go anywhere without being hounded.”
Parker was not surprised by Japan’s good performance at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, when it made the quarterfinals.
“They trained hard for the two years before the World Cup, because Jamie [Joseph] had full control of the Sunwolves; he had the players doing what he wanted.
“Whereas in New Zealand the Super Rugby dictates a wee bit what the players had to do.”
Because Parker will not be lacing up his boots for the Japanese season until next year, the question had to be asked would he be available to play for Kurow if the Citizens Shield competition went ahead this year?
“I would love to – if [the Kobelco Steelers] let me,” he said.