Japan treated Christian Covington as well as he could have hoped.
The Houston Texans defensive lineman took a private trip here along with a few friends, including former Rice University teammates, earlier this month.
All of them agreed they had a blast during their stay in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
One night before they traveled back to the United States, they shared one last Japanese meal, chanko-nabe (one-pot dish), commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers, near the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo venue in Tokyo.
Speaking to The Japan Times, Covington said coming to Japan had been “a dream of ours” since he and his friends met during their freshman football season at Rice.
“It’s been a country that we’ve always had an interest in,” said Covington, a Vancouver native who was selected by the Texans in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. “It’s a country I’ve always admired with just the significant culture and history, art forms . . . the many different art forms are something that’s always really appealed to me.”
During their trip, the 24-year-old and his friends had many unforgettable experiences, visiting some of the historical attractions in the three cities.
In Tokyo, they were awed by the size of Nakamise-dori, a long, store-lined street from the Kaminarimon gate all the way to Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa district.
In Osaka, they had their breath taken away by Osaka Castle, which solemnly and majestically sits in the middle of the western capital of Japan. They were also able to “catch the tail end” of the cherry blossoms, which came a little earlier this year because of warmer temperatures.
“That was gorgeous, especially at Osaka Castle,” Covington said. “That was tremendous to be able to see the beauty and it’s such a delicate flower.”
But what wound up being Covington’s favorite of the three cities was Kyoto. He said he was thrilled to see some of its historic and one-of-a-kind sites, such as the Thousand Gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Bamboo Forest Street.
“That is the city that really spoke to me,” Covington said of Kyoto, where he would like to spend more time next time he visits Japan. “I just really felt a connection with it.”
Actually, Covington already has a genetic connection to Asia and Japan. He said that he had recently taken a DNA test and found out he is partially Japanese.
“So I know I’m part Asian on my mother’s side,” said Covington, whose father Grover Covington was a star defensive end for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and is the all-time sack leader in the Canadian Football League. “My great-grandmother was born in Hong Kong. I’m assuming that the Japanese may have come from her side of the family. The DNA test showed me to be 5 percent Japanese and the remaining 21 percent of my Asian DNA to be comprised of Chinese and Vietnamese.”
Covington was also excited to set foot in urban areas, including the Shibuya scramble crossing in Tokyo. He got to know that now globally famous place through the action film “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
He said visiting the crossing is like “when you go to New York, you take a picture in front of Times Square.”
Covington, who is preparing for his fourth NFL season, cherished the opportunity to get away from the stress he is under in the extremely competitive NFL.
“This is actually the first personal vacation I’ve been able to take for myself in, I want to say about 10 years,” said Covington, who missed the latter half of last season due to a torn right biceps. “I never really took vacation in college, and this is my first vacation I’ve taken for myself since I’ve been a pro. So this has been such relaxing experience, such a relaxing vacation. A chance to unplug (and) get away from the United States to be able to venture out, be abroad, travel abroad, witness a new culture. . . . It’s truly a way to unwind, relax and just get away from anything that can distract you from simple things.”
But of course, once he gets back on the field, Covington will try to make something big happen for the Texans over the upcoming season.
Covington said that he is “loving” the Texans’ chances for the 2018 campaign. He’s hopeful the team can rebound from an injury-plagued 2017 season during which both starting quarterback DeShaun Watson and star defensive end J.J. Watt suffered season-ending injuries.
“I know a lot of us are hungry, really all of us are hungry,” said Covington, who has made seven starts and racked up four sacks in his pro career.
Covington called the Texans “a special team” for which “the sky is the limit.” He suggested that Houston is a Super Bowl-caliber club.
“I know every single person on this roster is going to try to fight for it,” he said.