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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Parkinson blossoms in Japan
By Matt Majendie

A geisha walks past some cherry blossom in Japan
Cherry blossom epitomises the Japanese rugby team
When Reuben Parkinson joined the Japanese national rugby side, the New Zealand-born centre had hoped for a side with a more macho national image.

Recalling his Test debut, he told this website: "I thought the nickname for the team might have been something like the Samurai warriors."

Sadly for the 30-year-old, Japan are known as the cherry blossoms - the country's national flower.

"Being the Cherry Blossoms is quite funny in such a confrontational sport," he added. "It doesn't instil quite the same fear as Samurai warriors for example."

Regardless of his team's slightly camp nickname, Parkinson is relishing life in Japan with his family since moving from Otago four years.

Originally he moved to Sinxo to play his company rugby as a replacement for John Leslie, who gave up rugby in Japan in a bid to represent Scotland.

He said: "[Ex-All Black] Jamie Joseph used to play for Otago and, although I didn't ever play with him, he regularly came back.

The term for cherry blossom in Japanese is sakura
It is named after Princess Kono-han-sakuya-Hime who dropped from heaven onto a cherry tree according to legend
The trees do not bear edible fruit
They can be seen blossoming in Japan from January to May
The blossoms are turned into a drink called akurayu, which is served as a prayer for a happy marriage

"He was out in Japan and, when John Leslie decided to go to Scotland, he gave me a call and said 'do you want to come to Japan'. At that stage I really needed a challenge of another culture and language.

"There were a few sleepless nights thinking about it before I jumped at the chance."

Language proved a problem initially but two classes a week have seen his conversations drastically improve, helped in part by his team-mates teaching him "all the naughty words".

Parkinson, though, is not alone with four other foreigners playing for his company side which has proved a saving grace on the social side of things.

Japan's rugby culture differs hugely from that of their New Zealand or even English counterparts.

Suggestions of a "few beers" after a game are generally looked upon with confusion by many of the Japanese-born players.

"It's all about playing and going home," said Parkinson. "By the time you've changed most people have headed home and that's a disappointment.

"It's difficult to encourage people to go for a drink together, which really needs to change to build as a national side. It's all about the rugby and nothing else. And sometimes it really helps to take a break out."

The lack of social life is not the only problem, according to Parkinson.

He said: "They seem to have everything but bulky forwards. They have the skills and the pace but they still seem to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. When I first played for Japan, I was pulling my hair out.

"The other problem is their tradition. They have foreign coaches in to help but they feel their pride's at stake and just do their own thing. They can be pig-headed about karate but not about rugby. It's doing them no justice."

Among those on board are ex-Australian fly-half Mark Ella, who is employed to work with Parkinson and his fellow backs.

And such has been Ella's impact on Parkinson personally, he believes Japan can win at least two pool games - against the USA and Fiji or Scotland.

Parkinson concluded, tongue very firmly in cheek, "maybe we'll finally blossom this time".

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