When Sir John Kirwan can travel to Japan once more, he'll be heading straight to the onsen with his mate Junny, having a feed with him and a couple of beers.
"I'm really missing travel and I'm really missing the freedom that Covid's taken away from me," says the ex-All Black, who is releasing a new travel documentary JK's Japan, due out tomorrow on Prime.
"I just absolutely fell in love with the place, and I miss not being able to go there. So going back and showing the rest of New Zealand how some of the other people live up there is really neat."
The show was filmed last year when Kirwan was in Japan during the Rugby World Cup. He'd previously spent 10 years there playing rugby and coaching the national side. Up until Covid halted international travel, he'd been regularly returning to the place that he says had a profound impact on his life and his wellbeing.
The show is an authentic and unpretentious showcase of life in Japan as Kirwan revisits the places he used to go, including his old rugby training ground, catches up with the friends he made, and finally gets to tick off a few bucket list experiences he never got to do when living there. "Sometimes Japanese documentaries can look at the bizarre, but I wanted it to be a reflection of how I lived up there, which I absolutely loved."
When the opportunity to first go to Japan arose in 1996 to play for the NEC Green Rockets rugby team, Kirwan almost didn't go, especially as he was still battling depression at the time.
"I was getting towards the end of my career and Japan wasn't at all on my radar," he says. "I'd spent two years at the Warriors and Japan is not like it was today; it hadn't really opened up yet so it wasn't this place that I knew a lot about." But it was following some advice with his father that helped him make the call - and he's never looked back.
"I made the decision to go up and I was just coming off antidepressants and I was managing that, and I was still not completely well. I remember one night I just cried all night by myself in my apartment in Tokyo. My wife was in New Zealand and it was a time I had to get through and had to deal with."
Those emotions all came back to him when he revisited the NEC Green Rockets Training Ground.
"I wasn't expecting it but a lot of emotions came flooding back. I was coming out of my depression, I spent many nights by myself really reflecting and feeling lonely, not alone, but lonely. And that was really good for me retrospectively. I think to this day I still enjoy my own company. And the battles, and the fun and the friendships."
One of the bucket-list experiences Kirwan got to finally tick off for JK's Japan was to participate in a sumo-wrestling match. He became a superfan of the sport while he was living there, watching it on television. While filming the documentary, he got to not only spend time watching the best of the best train, but also go head to head - literally - with one of them.
"I hit this guy and he just pushed me, but the scary thing for me was he put his head on to my head and started applying pressure. And it was this split-second thing where I thought, man this guy could break my neck. Then he just pushed me out of the dohyo and smiled."
"I hit those guys as hard as a 56-year-old man can - who's not that fit - I hit them as hard as I could and it was just like hitting rock, it was amazing."
Kirwan says he hopes the documentary showcases a different version of Japan to New Zealanders.
"Hopefully I have the ability to take them with me and let them experience what Japan was for me, and break down some of the stereotypes other travel shows have, the quirky, kooky stuff."
JK's Japan premieres Wednesday on Prime at 8.30pm