Japan 101 for departing
womens sevens team

Saint Mary’s College Seven’s Rugby Team travelled to Fukuoka, Japan, on Wednesday to take part in the Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament. Before leaving, they tested out their chopstick skills, practised some useful Japanese phrases and learnt a little about Japanese culture at an Asia New Zealand Foundation pre-departure workshop for sports teams visiting Asia.

Watch this video to get a taste what the students' learnt

The team secured their place at the world tournament through an impressive performance at the national sevens championships late last year, which saw the Wellington team go through the tournament undefeated.

The workshop, which was held last Sunday, was facilitated by Wainuiomata High School teacher (sensei) Daiji Kataoka, who also teaches Japanese language through the Japan Embassy.

Saint Mary’s captain Cheyne Copeland, Year 12, said she was looking forward to the trip despite some lingering apprehension. She says the workshop opened her eyes to Japanese culture and has allayed some of her fears of doing something wrong, or culturally insensitive.

“This workshop has helped us build a lot of confidence to just show more respect about their [Japanese] culture and their ways.”

Kataoka taught the students about some of the dos: slurping soup, bowing, being punctual and respecting your elders; and the don'ts: blowing your nose in public, speaking loudly on public transport, wearing a towel into a communal bath and wearing outdoor shoes inside the house. They also learnt about some uniquely Japanese idiosyncrasies they may encounter, such as toilets that play music.

The Foundation’s director of culture, Jennifer King, says the workshops are designed to help young sports teams travel to Asia with a more sophisticated understanding of the culture they will be experiencing. 

“This will make them better ambassadors for New Zealand and more receptive to absorbing new ideas.”

She says it is easy for young people to feel embarrassed and awkward when they are unsure of local cultural norms. “So our workshops are designed to provide some basic tips on what to expect and how to behave appropriately and with confidence.

"We want the teams to learn as much as possible from their experience and form new friendships, as well as to do their best in their chosen sport.”

Member of the St Marys Sevens team learn about calligraphy

One of the highlights of the workshop was learning some calligraphy

The workshop was part of a new initiative to include sport as part of the Foundation’s culture programme and was just the second such workshop the Foundation has held. The first workshop was with the New Zealand Under 17 Floorball Team prior to their world cup tournament in Japan last year. 

The Foundation’s executive director, Simon Draper, says because sport is an integral part of New Zealand culture, it seems logical to use sport to help New Zealanders engage with other cultures.

“Sport is the lens through which many New Zealanders view the world, so it can be an important asset in helping Kiwis feel comfortable and confident interacting with Asia.”

The girls play their first qualifying round of the world tournament on Friday 28 April, when they take on Aranmore Catholic College from Australia.

Follow up:

Saint Mary's College won the tournament, beating Japan's Kokugakuin University Tochigi High School 26-22 in the final.

For more information about Pre-departure Cultural Competency Workshops, contact director of culture Jennifer King.