Sport, earthquakes and language: New Zealand's relationship with Japan

Japan: it's the home of Sony, sushi and Toyota. But New Zealand's relationship with Japan goes much further than a love of Japanese tech, food and cars...

Here’s five things that link New Zealand and Japan. 

We’re geographically similar and even get mistaken for each other

The Russian news channel RT recently apologised after it accidentally labelled New Zealand as “Japan” in a televised news report.

To be fair, Japan and New Zealand have geographical similarities: we’re both island nations (although at opposite ends of the Pacific Ocean), and have a similar footprint. New Zealand is around 268,000 sq. km and Japan is almost 378,000 sq. km. But when it comes to population, there’s a big difference. Japan’s population is almost 127 million; New Zealand’s just under 5 million. In fact, Japan has more vending machines than New Zealand has people.

We’re connected through sport

Japan loves rugby and it appears, the All Blacks. When they touched down in Tokyo this month, a large group of Japanese schoolchildren welcomed them with a rousing haka.

However, this admiration isn’t all one-way. A number of former All Blacks love Japan and call it home including Tony Brown, the Sunwolves coach, and Jamie Joseph, who coaches Japan’s national team The Brave Blossoms. Current All Blacks captain Kieran Read is also set to move to Japan after the Rugby World Cup to play for the Toyota Verblitz. 

Looking ahead, the sporting connection continues in 2020 with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games. Both are already on the radar of New Zealand’s sporting talent as well as New Zealand sporting fans. 14 Japanese cities have already been registered as host towns for New Zealand during the games.

We’ve experienced major earthquakes together

New Zealand experienced the trauma of major earthquakes in Canterbury in September 2010 and February 2011. A month later in March, Japan experienced the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Urban search and rescue teams from New Zealand and Japan worked side by side in both countries, building close ties with locals. The strength of the relationship was marked by tributes in both countries. Researchers from Japan and New Zealand continue to work together to share knowledge, skills and experience on how to tackle the challenge of living in earthquake-prone countries.

We’re travellers

As New Zealanders land in Japan this month ahead of the Rugby World Cup, some Japanese tourists will be heading our way. Last year, 101,280 Japanese tourists came to New Zealand, making Japan our fourth-largest source of international tourists. Research shows they’re attracted to our scenery and the outdoors, looking for relaxing activities and the chance to try local food.    

We’re language learners

Each year over 10,000 Japanese school students come to New Zealand to study. Many come through English Language exchanges like ‘Game On’ English which combines sport and language learning.

New Zealanders also have a history of Japanese language learning through the JET programme which started in 1987. As a result, many New Zealanders headed over to Japan to teach English in schools and upskill in Japanese at the same time.

 - Asia Media Centre