1 Oct 2019

Rugby World Cup: A Kiwi's life in Japan

From Checkpoint, 6:21 pm on 1 October 2019

They have a dog named "Beaudy", love Sevu Reece and watch every All Black game they can. There is a little part of All Black culture deep in Oita in southern Japan.

The Rugby World Cup in Japan is the trip of a lifetime for many New Zealanders, but the land of the rising sun is also home to many expat Kiwis.

Some came for love, others for work. Some came to visit and just never left.

Rotorua man Gareth Hay is one of those Kiwis and he and his Oita-based Japanese family are massive All Black fans.

He and his son Kendrick are going to all five games that their city is hosting. So how did he did he end up in Oita located on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu?

"I got a flatmate in. His partner went to work at a language school and she introduced me to a Japanese girl; she hooked me up with her as a language study partner.

"One thing led to another and we became partners. So I followed her back to this city, Oita, where we are now. Some 18 years and two kids later (he has a six-year-old daughter Rhiana) and I am still here."

Gareth says rugby has helped his family connect with their Kiwi culture.

"Rugby has been a big part of that. We watch a lot of rugby. The kids, my son especially, support New Zealand teams when it comes to rugby.

"If the All Blacks are on, we put down the projector screen, have mates around, have the barbecue working."

He says Japan loves rugby and his family has even named its dog after one of the All Black stars.

"A lot of Japanese support the All Blacks, even more than their own team. The All Blacks are just very well liked over here. Miyuki, my wife, loves the All Blacks. Our dog's name is Beaudy, and that was her choice."

Their 10-year-old son Kendrick is also an All Blacks supporter. He was at Oita Airport with sister Rhiana, when the All Blacks flew in, waving signs and collecting as many signatures as they could.

"I love the All Blacks. They are big, but they are fast," Kendrick said.

His favourite player? "Sevu Reece".

And by luck he has a chance to meet some of the players, like Sevu Reece, from Fiji.

"My wife entered him into a competition; each game two kids get selected to hold the captain's hand. So Kendrick got selected to hold the Fijian captain's hand for the Wales v Fiji game here in Oita.

"He will be walking out holding the Fiji captains hand onto the field."

Kendrick is rather chuffed.

"My favourite is Sevu Reece from Fiji, so I am happy."

Gareth loves Japan; he is unlikely to move the family back to New Zealand. He says the country is so safe that it makes it a great place to bring up children.

"It is just such an awesome country. You can leave your wallet in the train and get it back with all the money in it. You can actually drop your wallet in the drinking district and it will be at the police station waiting for you. I have had it happen to two friends."

But while people are friendly, the wildlife can be less so, Gareth said.

"I am the leader of the Wild Pig Association round here. We go and check the cages for feed. I have caught most of them behind my house here. I have caught eight pigs alone this year; the biggest was 80 kgs.

"We also have three or four varieties of snake. We have the mamushi, a pit viper up in the mountains behind here. There are two types around the house here - a big black one a kind of zebra-coloured one. Me and my son catch them. We have only just re-built the snake cage recently. The one we had previously they all escaped and the wife wasn't too happy."

Oita is hosting five matches including tomorrow's match between the All Blacks and Canada. It is something Gareth hay never thought would happen.

"Unbelievable. We are a city of 400,000 and we are at the bottom end of Kyushu. We have got five games here. That is more than Fukuoka and bigger cities than us.

"We have got tickets for every game because it is a once in a lifetime experience for us."

And who will win the All Blacks-Canada match? Kendrick has no doubt.

"All Blacks by 50 or 60," he says.