NZ's relationship with Japan: 8 things to know

Bill English heads to Japan on 15 May for his first visit to Asia as Prime Minister. He’s travelling with Trade Minister Todd McClay and a delegation of senior business leaders. Here are some things to know about the New Zealand-Japan relationship.

Japan: It's home of the Nintendo, the largest Asian population that speaks fluent rugby, and New Zealand's favourite car.

But New Zealand's relationship with Japan goes much further than our steadfast love affair with the Toyota Corolla. Here are eight quick facts about the ties between both nations.

1. Kiwis feel warmly towards Japanese

In every year of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Perceptions of Asia survey from 2006 to 2016, New Zealanders have indicated they feel most warmly towards people from Japan.

2. And our leaders seem to feel the same

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last visited Aotearoa in 2014, when he met with then-Prime Minister John Key. Key returned the visit in March 2015, meeting Abe in Tokyo. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully also met with Abe ahead of a rugby match between New Zealand and Japan in November 2013. New Zealand supports the most number of local governmental international affiliations with Japan, including 44 cities and towns with active sister-city ties.

3. That may be because there have been many opportunities to get to know each other

According to the 2013 census, there are about 14,000 Japanese living in New Zealand. Japan is the third-largest source country for international tourist arrivals, with some 100,000 Japanese tourists visiting New Zealand in 2016, up 15 percent from 2015.

4. Or because we help each other out

After the Canterbury earthquake and the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, New Zealand and Japan came to each other’s assistance to provide financial and operational support. Researchers from the two countries have started working together, and we can learn a lot from how Japan deals with earthquakes.

5. Many New Zealanders have spent time learning Japanese

In the 1980s and 1990s, Japan was the most-studied foreign language in New Zealand. There were about 21,000 secondary students studying Japanese in 2003. In 2015, Japanese was the second most popular foreign language in secondary schools, with 11,888 students enrolled. In 1987, New Zealand became one of four original partner countries in the JET programme to teach English at schools in Japan.

6. We have a strong trading relationship

Our total trade in goods exceeds $6.4 billion. Top New Zealand exports include aluminium, cheese, kiwifruit, and beef. Vehicles and electronics are the largest imports from Japan. In 2014, more than 40,000 Japan-made vehicles were sold here. New Zealand has signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal of which Japan is a partner, and is also involved in the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

7. Japan has more vending machines than NZ has people

Japan is an archipelago made up of 6,852 islands with a land area of 378,000kmsq, compared with New Zealand’s 602 islands over 268,000kmsq. Japan also occupies a strategically significant position in the Asia-Pacific, in contrast to Aotearoa’s geographic isolation. Our populations are even farther apart, with 126 million people in Japan and just 4.8 million in New Zealand. In fact, Japan has more vending machines than New Zealand has people.

8. And of course, NZ still dominates the field

At the 2006 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks scored a record 145-17 win against Japan’s national team, the Brave Blossoms. However, Japan is gaining in strength, as evidenced by their victory over South Africa in the 2015 RWC and the recent inclusion of the Sunwolves in the Super Rugby tournament. The All Blacks can expect tougher competition if the two sides are to meet in Japan in 2019.

– Asia Media Centre