Money, convenience, and the allure of embracing “fresh challenges” are cited as the driving forces behind why Japan remains a sought-after destination for New Zealand’s premier rugby talents and mentors, as recounted by those who have ventured into its rugby scene.

Yet, the transition isn’t without its hurdles. The language barrier and adherence to stringent customs necessitate some adaptation. Nevertheless, the appeal of the country persists for New Zealand’s rugby community.

Following last year’s Rugby World Cup, a significant number of marquee All Blacks made their way to Japan, either for sabbaticals or to embark on a new phase in their post-test careers.

Nearly half of the starting lineup from the All Blacks’ last October’s Rugby World Cup final against the Springboks opted to play in Japan during the off-season. Players like Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, and Brodie Retallick are currently engaged in the Japanese professional season.

Reports have surfaced indicating that hooker Codie Taylor, while on a non-playing sabbatical, is exploring opportunities with the Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo representatives in Japan.

Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Scott Robertson recently visited Japan to observe the country’s rugby infrastructure, underscoring the mutually beneficial relationship between the two nations in rugby.

Robertson continues to advocate for keeping an “open mind” regarding the selection of players not currently based in New Zealand.

However, it’s not just the high-profile stars who are drawn to Japan. Many players outside the All Blacks sphere have opted to try their luck in Japan, enticed by the financial rewards and the prospect of immersing themselves in a new culture and environment.

Japan’s Rugby League One boasts nearly 100 New Zealand-born players across its three divisions.

Otere Black, a first-five who ventured to Japan in 2022 after spells with the Hurricanes and the Blues, spoke about his decision-making process three years ago. He highlighted the financial incentives and the allure of a fresh challenge as significant factors in his move.

Similarly, Tim Bateman, a former Crusaders and Hurricanes midfielder who intermittently played in Japan between 2010 and 2022, emphasized Japan’s appeal. He cited the playing style and proximity to home as key factors.

Grant Dearns, a former strength and conditioning coach for the Tokatsu Green Rockets, reflected positively on his time in Japan despite having to adjust to certain societal norms.

His son, Warner Dearns, has represented Japan in rugby, showcasing the country’s ability to nurture talent from abroad.

Craig Millar, another New Zealand-born player who found success in Japan, reflected on his unexpected journey to playing international rugby and participating in Rugby World Cups, describing it as an enriching experience.

Overall, Japan’s rugby landscape continues to attract New Zealand’s top talents, offering not only financial rewards but also the opportunity for personal and professional growth in a unique cultural setting.