NZ journalist reports on
Kiwis following their dreams in Japan

Seven Sharp journalist Gill Higgins travelled to Japan recently to cover stories on Kiwis trying something a little outside the box in Tokyo. Japan is one of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s priority countries for 2019 – and our media travel grants programme has been funding a range of news media projects to support New Zealanders’ understanding of the region. Higgins is among the journalists who have travelled to Japan in recent months to report on its ties to New Zealand.
A woman shows Gill Higgins photos on her camera

Gill Higgins: "If ever there was a country that made you feel you could do anything, or be anyone, I think Japan fits the bill."

If ever there was a country that made you feel you could do anything, or be anyone, I think Japan fits the bill. It is a country of such incredible contrasts, from the ancient history of its shrines and culture, to the ultra-modern, high-tech panoramas assaulting your senses in Shibuya, and not forgetting the crazy, free-spirited vibe of Harajuku, Japan has it all.

This made it the perfect place to tell the stories of several Kiwis who have changed their jobs and their lives as a result of their experiences in the land of the rising sun.

Our first story was on Jon Walsh, a Kiwi who began his life in Japan as a translator until the 2011 Tohoku earthquake set him thinking about sustainability in the event of a natural disaster. It inspired him to start growing vegetables, first in his tiny back section (no bigger than a kiwi front porch), and then in a community allotment.

We ambled through the suburban streets of Tokyo and saw how there is a lot of pride in beautiful displays of flowers, but no veggie patches to speak of. Jon wanted to change this and we told the story of how he has made it his life mission to turn Tokyo green! He has begun to teach vegetable growing in international schools, and is working with individuals, companies and hotels to get buy-in to this healthy pastime.

We then met with Jess Gerrity. From studying town planning in Auckland, she has transformed herself into a kimono model, TV personality and an ambassador for NZ tourism in her home area the prefecture of Saitama! As part of this shoot, we were both dressed in traditional kimono and had representatives of Saitama take us on a tour of the beautiful historic city of Kawagoe. It’s a place where kimono costume can be hired, to give you a feel for how things were done in times gone by. Great photo opportunities too. We also went with Jess to one of her TV studio jobs, which was a dive into the crazier personality of Japan!

Gill,a cameraman and kimono model Jess Gerrity in a studio

Jess Gerrity (right) studied town planning in Auckland and now models kimono in Tokyo.

Next up, we were honoured to visit the Nikko Toshogu shrine and be guests of the Chief Priest, Hisao Inaba. He is a lovely, welcoming man, who happens to be the guardian of the white horse, Komaru, gifted to Japan by New Zealand as a symbol of friendship.

This was our foray into the snow, it was obviously very cold, but it made for stunning shots of the shrine itself. Our story was about this little-known gift, and we got to see how Komaru is treated like royalty.

Our final story featured Dave Joll and his incredible passion for producing the first ever sake made in New Zealand. Dave fell in love with Japan when he first visited on a school trip back in the 1980s. He has lived there on and off, playing rugby, marrying a Japanese woman, doing various jobs. Then four years ago, he came up with the idea to make sake back home in Queenstown. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of Japanese brewers who were very generous with their time and knowledge, he’s done it, and made a great success of it.

We went with him to visit his new brewery partnership just outside Tokyo, and got to see the art of making sake first hand. And yes, we also got to try it, as fresh as it comes, straight from the vat. The brand is Zenkuro, and appropriately he has launched it in Japan just ahead of the Rugby World Cup as Zen means “all” and Kuro means “Black”. One of the bars already selling it over there is “Rangitoto Tokyo’, a classy joint run by Wayne Shennan, who used to manage Ebisu in Auckland.

As you can probably tell, we had an incredible experience in our whirlwind few days in Tokyo, and we’re indebted to Asia New Zealand Foundation for funding this trip so that we could share these stories on Seven Sharp.