Rugby World Cup 2019: What's it like to play rugby in Japan?

By Mike HensonBBC Sport
Nick Cummins
Nick Cummins has become a cult fugure in world rugby thanks to his candid views and curly hair
Rugby World Cup 2019
Hosts: Japan Dates: 20 September-2 November
Coverage: Live commentary on every game on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, with live text commentary on selected games on the BBC Sport website and app

For many of the world's best players, the Rugby World Cup will be their first time playing in Japan.

For others, it will be a return to an old stomping ground.

Former Australia wing Nick Cummins is one of a clutch of superstars who have played in the country's domestic competition.

Dubbed the Honey Badger in honour of his fierce defence, Cummins played 15 times for Australia and represented his country in sevens before playing for the Coca Cola Red Sparks in the southern city of Fukuoka between 2014 and 2016.

Since retirement, he has written books, starred on television and travelled the world.

Who better to guide us through the sporting, cultural, social and culinary challenges that await on rugby's big trip east?

Local lumberjack tackling

"In Japan, the players are not as big in the body, so the impacts were not as hard but they will chop your legs off.

"It doesn't matter how big you are they will dive straight into your knees and shake you up.

Cummins celebrates a victory with his Coca Cola Red Sparks team-mates
Cummins celebrates a victory with his Coca Cola Red Sparks team-mates

"They are really courageous and approach the game like warriors.

"And the standard is increasing all the time. Just from my first year to my second year, there was a big jump.

"They are fast and move the ball really quickly. Trying to keep up with them is quite tough. You have to control the game, slow it down and make it a more one-dimensional game. That way, you get the wheel on them.

"The conditions change loads across the year as well. In the summer it was really hot, but then it also snowed as well.

"It will be steamy and humid at the World Cup, but for the Aussies at least it will be nothing worse than back home."

A society of superstars

"Flying over Fukuoka for the first time [on moving to Japan in 2014], I thought, 'Oh no what have I done?'

"I was coming over some sort of industrial estate and thought that was the whole joint - but it was just a tiny section.

"It was awesome. I had a great time there.

"Everyone is so nice, accommodating and welcoming.

"At the game, there were plenty of people coming up to me for a chat and a photo but outside of the footy, there was less of that.

"There were heaps fewer selfies when you were out in public which was good for me because - without sounding like a jerk - I needed a break.

"Even if you don't know the language, and I only learned a very small amount of Japanese, you can still work your way round.

"It was very much a sign language and body language sort of thing. When you are desperate for a feed, they can see it in your eyes, they get it pretty quick."

Go hard at the bar

"The thing about Japan is that people don't muck around at the bar.

"By midnight they are cooked and done, and that is good because you can bond with them quick smart.

"Whoever you are, salary man, rugby player whatever, they like to have a few drinks together and see how you are, because that reveals a lot of truth about you.

"They pour the beer into themselves - and then there is sake, which is like rocket fuel.

"One day on my way home, there was this bloke passed out on the side of the road.

"It was snowing, he had clearly had a monster night.

"In that situation, you can wake up half-dead from the cold and that will ruin your whole day.

"I didn't want him to go through that. So I brought him back to my joint because that is the sort of people the Japanese are. I thought I would help out and do the right thing back.

"I think this guy was trying to impress the bosses and did himself a mischief. But we have all been there, so who am I to judge?"

Check your plate before you wreck your palette

"Geez, the Japanese know their tucker. It's awesome.

"You get the old yakiniku - where you get a little barbie built into your table and you sit around with a bunch a mates, order in the meat and cook it right in front of you.

"Yakitori are these great chicken skewers, and they know all about the Angus beef and all that carry-on.

Nick Cummins
Cummins, far right, scored six tries in 15 appearances for Australia

"You have to be careful though.

"We had a big team feed once. In Japan, they love to have about a thousand little cups, plates and bowls on the table.

"Being one of eight kids, I was used to jamming as much tucker onto the one plate and then just hurrying up and eating it.

"But there were so many different things, I got confused.

"One of the bowls had this big flower thing - a hibiscus - and I thought everything on the table was fair game and edible.

"So I am chewing away on this thing and the sap is burning my mouth and the Japanese fella who owned the place raced over shouting, 'No! No! No!'

"I panicked, thinking I was going to die of some poison, but it was all good."

Keep the ink under wraps

"It is just a case of getting in there and experiencing the culture.

"I loved seeing the sumo and those big units going toe to toe.

"We blagged our way into the media seats and one of them nearly pancaked us.

Nick Cummins
Cummins taking in the sumo

"They put up these big wads of cash and whoever wins takes home the glory and all of the loot, I reckon half of that would go on the food bill!

"My team-mates also took me to these onsen, a Japanese spa bath, where all the blokes are in one and all the sheilas are in another.

"You walk in and march around like you are the king. It is a whole different experience, but definitely worth doing if you are comfortable in your own skin.

"The Japanese are not big on tattoos though. There are some Japanese criminal gangs that associate themselves with having tattoos and they turn away from anything negative.

"So you know the tube grip? That skin-coloured, pinky sleeve thing you use if you have an injury? The boys would just put that over them or sometimes wear a shirt so that the public can't see their tattoos."

Spend, spend, spend, except on skincare

"There are some very strange fashion things going on over there but I recommend getting right in among it.

"Instead of looking at something and thinking it looks weird, buy it, wear it and get weird with them!

"They wear a lot of that Hello Kitty stuff with the little cat. Even the blokes in our team wore these Hello Kitty undies. They really buy into it.

"Going food shopping was interesting. You can't read the bag to know what's in it, never mind what the nutritional values are, so it is a case of going off feel.

"If you are buying some sort of face wash or moisturiser, you have to be mindful, though, because they can have a bit of bleach in there. You will lose your tan pretty quick."

Nov 2012: Cummins scores try in win over England at Twickenham

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