Leo Mitsui, Ryunosuke Akiyama, Hironobu Kasuya, and Yutaro Takahashi, from Kanto Gakuin University, Tokyo, spent four week son campus, immersing themselves in sport as well as their studies.
More students from their university, it has recently been confirmed, will be out on the Lincoln playing fields next year.
Currently two students are part of the English language programme only. The visits are all part of Lincoln trying to expand its relationships with Japanese universities, to encourage their students to spend some time at Lincoln and learn more about New Zealand.
The rugby players found an unexpected freedom in their sport, surprised by how they were encouraged to express themselves through their rugby.
Leo started playing rugby when he was 10.
In Japan, he said, everyone waits to be instructed by the coaches. In New Zealand everyone thinks about what they should do and takes the initiative to play in a more creative way.
Ryunosuke said the players were surprisingly very free.
“Japanese rugby coaches are often angry, but in New Zealand rugby players are playing rugby as they want to play," Hironube added.
Yutaro said a key difference was that Japan had a long practice time, “and rugby coaches in Japan are less likely to praise their students”.
Their visit was a result of talks between Lincoln and Kanto Gakuin University about short-term English language programmes which started in 2015.
Rugby will be in the spotlight in Japan with the Rugby World Cup being held there next year. The Japanese government is also dedicated to doubling the number of outbound students by 2020 to increase the number of English speakers in Japan.
The four were aware of the standard of Canterbury rugby and were all keen to come back again. A favourite part of the trip was watching the Crusaders play at AMI Stadium, as well as playing for Lincoln University.
They had busy timetables, with English language tuition until 3pm, then rugby skills and training with the Lincoln University Rugby Club twice a week. All of this before playing a match on Saturday.
Fortunately, they had a strong, local connection. Dr Sohei Takamori, a sports medicine specialist on sabbatical leave at Lincoln University from the Yokohama Minami Kyousai Hospital/Sports Medicine Centre in Japan (where he was their team doctor), has been helping to support these players.
Patrick Yeung, Lincoln University International Operations Manager, said the trip provided something different for the quartet, combining their interest in rugby with a desire to improve their English.
“Where else would you come to learn about rugby but New Zealand, and it is a sport Lincoln is very strong in.”
Daryl Streat, Head of Programme University Studies and English Language Division said the players brought new perspectives to Lincoln’s English language classes.
“Their strong motivation to improve their English (to help them improve their rugby), made them a real pleasure to work with,” he said.