Girls shine on and off the field at Japan sevens tournament

With a proud rugby heritage, Manukura School girls sevens team had the highest of hopes when they travelled to Japan earlier this year to compete in the Sanix World Youth Rugby Tournament. While the team from Te Papa-i-Oea | Palmerston North were beaten in the final, the girls represented their school and New Zealand with pride, both on and off the field. This article was jointly written by team coach Kristina Sue and captain Jayda Maniapoto. The Foundation provided funding for the team to take part in a school exchange with Reitaku High School.
Japanese rugby players holding the New Zealand flags and welcome signs pose for a group photo on a field

Players from Reitaku High School welcome the Manukura team to their school

Sport can provide a medium for many valuable learnings beyond the rugby field.

Our first few days in Japan consisted of a cultural exchange with Reitaku High School, a school based in Tokyo. The team were welcomed with banners and flags and the Reitaku players even had t-shirts designed with both Manukura’s tohu/crest and Reitaku High School’s.

Gift giving is a significant custom in Japanese culture and Reitaku demonstrated their 'manaakitanga (hospitality) from the moment we arrived in Japan. We were greeted at Tokyo airport by Yazu, our interpreter, who travelled with the team during the school exchange.

Our girls stayed in the Reitaku dormitories and ate at the school food hall. Everything was new to them and as such opened their eyes to a culture they would otherwise know little about. 

The first morning consisted of a cultural exchange of dances, songs and team building with the Reikura coaches and rugby players.

We exchanged gifts and in the afternoon sponsors were invited to a traditional barbecue.

Girls in their school uniforms sitting at tables waiting for lunch

While at Reitaku High School, the girls got to experience a Japanese barbecue and practice their chopstick skills

Manukura were given sponsored t-shirts and in exchange, we provided gifts symbolic to Aotearoa and Māori culture. The girls then performed a bracket of waiata and a haka, and Reitaku also taught their traditional dance to our players.

All of the Reitaku players and staff were amazed at everything to do with Te Ao Māori. They asked lots of questions and they took away lots of learnings.

Manukura girls seven team performing a waiata on a field watched by a Japanese team

The Manukura girls performed waiata and haka for the Japanese teams

All of our girls enjoyed learning about their culture and a standout highlight was learning a traditional dance at Reitaku that our girls were able to perform to the other Japanese rugby teams at the tournament. It was a great way of learning and connecting with other teams.

On the second day in Japan, the girls spent the day in the classroom at Reitaku High School. They were immersed in a Japanese lesson and participated in a range of learning activities before doing a practical class of various traditional Japanese games.

The feedback from the Japanese students and staff after the exchange was that the Manukura girls were very strong and powerful, as well as competitive. No surprises there!

A classroom of students from Manukura School and Reitaku School

The girls experienced Japanese school life during their stay at Reitaku High School

Given we had travelled all that way from Aotearoa to Japan, it made sense to make the most of Our time and include a few leisure activities, such exploring (and shopping in) the famous and colourful suburb of Harajuku, visiting Tokyo Disneyland and trips to shrines.

They also learned to navigate Japanese public transport of trains and buses. Our girls were amazed at how disciplined and respectful the Japanese people are. Japanese tikanga/etiquette is to be quiet on all public transport and respectful of others.

The girls also noted how the way in which the Japanese take their shoes off before entering buildings is similar to the Māori tikanga of taking shoes off going into Marae or any whare as a sign of respect.

The Manukura team posing in front of a children's playgraound with a Japanese team

The tournament was a great opportunity for the players to connect with their Japanese counterparts and share their cultures

Days 5-9 were spent in Fukuoka, Japan where the Sanix World Youth Rugby Tournament was held. This consisted of eight girls-sevens and 12 boys XV teams. Manukura represented Aotearoa, New Zealand by being the winners of the National Condors Sevens title in December, 2022.

Kings College from Australia and Oxford High from England were the other two international teams and the remaining teams were the best provincial and school sides from all over Japan.

The Manukura girls did really well, making it to the final where they were, unfortunately, beaten by Kings College. But they were gracious in defeat and took so much away from the whole experience - both on and off the field.  

Quotes from the players

Nia Sutherland (Year 13)

Manukura player Nia Sutherland on the field about to pass the ball

Nia Sutherland

My experience in Japan was such an eye-opener. It gave me the opportunity to see what the world has to offer, and the opportunities that rugby has to offer.

I loved the culture over there and the way Japanese people operate. It’s a very peaceful and respectful culture and I loved that about Japan.

My highlight was everything! The different types of food (using chop sticks was mean!); the exchange within Reitaku High School, seeing how they do schooling over there; and the opportunity to play rugby internationally against some of the best teams from other countries. And I loved seeing the way they dress over there.

All the connections and memories me and the girls made. It's definitely on my bucket list to go back again. 

Te Maia Sweetman (Year11)

Manukura player Te Maia Sweetman running with the ball in the rain

Te Maia Sweetman

Experiences come and go, but it's not often you get the opportunity to do something you love in a country like Japan.

Representing our Kaupapa on a world stage and showcasing what Manukura has to offer was an opportunity I will never forget.

The highlight of my trip was meeting new people and learning about their culture.

Having experienced how proud the people of Japan are for their culture made me more grateful for what I have back at home.

The tournament taught me to be humble in victory and cheerful in defeat.

Even though we didn't get the result we wanted, we were grateful for the opportunity to be at the tournament and didn't take it for granted. The trip showed me how far the sport can take me in life.

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

Our Student Sports Fund provides opportunities for secondary and tertiary students to engage in cultural activities while travelling to Asia for sports-related activities.