Kids get a kick out of Japanese culture at Olympic Fanzone

For the duration of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Cloud on Auckland’s waterfront came alive with the sound of excited sport fans of all ages cheering on New Zealand Olympians, trying their hands at some sporting activities and learning a little Japanese culture.

Get a taste of the Olympic Fanzone and the Foundation's Japan activation

Some 25,000 people passed through the Cloud during the 16 days of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, including 5000 students who bused in from schools around the Auckland region.

Due to Covid, for some of the schools it was the first school trip in 18 months and for many of the younger kids the trip to the Olympic Fanzone was their first ever visit to Auckland CBD.

At the Fanzone, the students got to practise popular Japanese sports such as karate and, Japan's most popular sport, baseball, on Sport New Zealand's digital simulators, compete for prizes with tests of skills and meet and ask questions of former Olympians. 

To leverage off the excitement surrounding the Games and provide extra Japanese culture to the Fanzone, the Foundation partnered with the New Zealand Olympic Committee to hold a Japan stand. The stand was a big hit with adults and students alike who could practise making origami, try their hand at writing their name in Japanese script (katakana) and learn a few Japanese phrases, thanks to the wonderful support of helpers from the Japanese Society of Auckland.

Stanhope School teacher Catherine Park, who is also a member of the Foundation’s Champions programme – a new initiative to create a cohort of Asia ‘champions’ among New Zealand educators – says her students were far more engaged in learning about Japan when they could connect it to the Olympics.

“…I can see the children’s excitement, engagement for their learning, and [by being here] we’re closer to the Olympic Games…”

“I think sports is always a good medium to engage children, and this is the real experience…”

The Foundation's director education Sean O’Connor says opportunities to showcase an Asian country through an event such as the Olympics doesn't come around often, so it seemed the perfect way to get students interested in Japan.

“We know just small encounters with other cultures at a young age can lead to a life-long engagement with that culture, be it through sport, language, art...

“Judging by their faces, all the kids who passed through the Cloud were interested in learning a little about Japan and Japanese culture, and we hope the experience will have piqued the interest of some of them to learn more.

"It was great to see some of our Champions at the Cloud making the most of this opportunity to expose their students to an Asian culture."

The kids from Nanasaw Kibou no Oka Primary School and Iiyama White Dragon Drumming Preservation Association teach some key Japanese phrases for the Olympics

The Foundation also partnered with the New Zealand Olympic Committee and Paralympics New Zealand to create Olympics and a Paralympics teaching resources (see the margin of this page for more info) and teamed up with the New Zealand Embassy in Japan to create short videos of Japanese students teaching some key phrases in Japanese, which was screened at the Foundation’s Fanzone stall.

All the students who visited the Cloud were tasked with finding answers to questions about the Olympics and Japan hidden among the various displays, with answers to three questions about Japanese culture found at the Foundation's stand.

"This was a fun way to get the kids excited about learning about Japan and really engaging with the cultural element of the Fanzone," O'Connor says.