Artistic swimmers immerse themselves in Japanese culture

Formerly known as synchronised swimming, artistic swimming was one of many water sports involved in the World Aquatics Championships, which was held in July in Fukuoka, the largest city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. In this article, the New Zealand team’s co-captain, Eden Worsley, describes the cultural activities the team got to experience thanks to an Asia New Zealand Foundation community sports grant.
eight synchronised swimmers in a pool with their hands raised in unison

Artistic swimming teams from around the world competed at the World Aquatics Championships, which was held in Fukuoka, Japan

Typically, on a trip overseas, teams like us would only really see the airport, inside of a taxi or bus, hotel grounds and the competition pool and not have the immersive cultural experience we got to experience.

Thanks to the support of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, this year we received funding that enabled us to see and understand a little of the culture and essence of Japan.

One of the most incredible adventures the team was lucky enough to experience was an overnight trip to Miyajima, a small island in Hiroshima Bay, and the beautiful forest home to many wild deer and ancient temples.

The girls in their Asia New Zealand Foundation t-shirts in front of Itsukushima Floating Tori Gate on Miyajima Island

The girls in their Asia New Zealand Foundation t-shirts in front of Itsukushima torii gate on Miyajima Island

Not only did the team completely fall in love with the environment, but we were also impressed by the beautiful Itsukushima Shrine and the Great Torii Gate – its sheer size and beautiful bright orange colour was enchanting in the early morning light.

We were so amazed by the Itsukushima shrine we visited twice, once late at night and once in the early hours of the following morning at sunrise just to get a bit closer to the magnificent spectacle.

That night we stayed at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn), which allowed us to understand more of the traditional lifestyle and customs of Japanese culture.

Sleeping on tatami mats and sitting on beautifully embossed pillows around a chabudai (short legged table) was such an educational and enlightening experience that the entire team have said they definitely hope to return to experience more of traditional Japanese life.

Two of the synchronised swimming team walking down a street wearing kimono

The team got to walk through the streets of Asakusa, Tokyo, wearing kimono

Another experience the team absolutely adored was trying on traditional kimono dresses, which saw each member undergo hair and clothing transformations, going from their regular kiwi clothes to the most beautiful traditional Japanese garments.

At each station talented ladies dressed the girls with undergarments, wraps, kimono gowns, belts, shoes and purses, while others styled the girls’ hair with plaits, ribbons, updos and flower arrangements.

The team were allowed to wear these garments out and around the streets of Asakusa, a district of Tokyo, and we visited the amazing Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple in our full traditional attire.

Not only were these scheduled cultural experiences a truly mesmerizing way of understanding the deeper beauty of Japan, simply walking down the streets and eating out at restaurants with traditional Yakitori cuisine was enough for the girls to truly appreciate the generosity, politeness, respect and admirable culture of Japan.

The team of 11 synchronised swimmers wearing kimono

The team was also very blessed to have Junco Tanaka as one of our coaches for this campaign. Growing up in Okayama, understanding the true culture, customs and language of Japan, Junco helped the team immensely.

During all of the experiences we had together, Junco made sure it was a smoothly run operation, keeping the team aware of the customs and manners of the different settings we encountered on our journey. This was as simple as taking your shoes off before entering certain areas, to diving in the deep end with pronouncing Japanese words and sentences correctly and appropriately.

Three of the synchronised swimmers wearing kimono in front of a shrine

Three of the girls in their kimono outside the Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple in Tokyo

Being able to take the time to have these experiences over five exciting days meant the world to our team. Thanks to the Foundation's generosity, the girls took in every minute of it, and will have lasting memories to reminisce on.

The team is so grateful for the opportunities The Asia New Zealand Foundation has opened up for us, and they are all so blessed and thankful to have had the cultural and traditional experiences that would not have been possible without the foundations support.

The Foundation's sports programme provides New Zealand sportspeople opportunities to grow more knowledgeable, connected and confident with Asia.

Our Community Sports Fund provides funding for community groups travelling to Asia to engage in cultural activities.