NZ Water Polo Team fascinated by Fukuoka

In Japan to compete at the world championships, the NZ Women's Water Polo Team found time between training and competing to get out and about on the streets of Fukuoka, visit the sights and get a taste of the local culture. The experience allowed them to better understand the Fukuoka community and develop as individuals and as a team, writes team manager Mandy Anderson.
A montage of photos including the water polo girls outside a shrine, a selfie of a player with a local

The team took the opportunity of being in Japan to get out and about and experience the local culture

From day one, Fukuoka was a city that overwhelmed the senses – sight, taste, smell and sounds.

At 5pm each day, the narrow streets and alleyways that weave through the city are transformed into restaurants as garage doors slide up and a whole other side to the city is revealed – a foodie’s dream.

The team relished any opportunity to experience the cuisine on offer, and over the course of their stay Fukuoka’s culinary scene showcased many delicacies like hakata ramen [a famous ramen soup from Fukuoka], motsunabe [offal stew] and yatai street food stalls.

The team embraced these local flavours, finding inspiration in the meticulous preparation and presentation of each dish.

Morning walks for caffeine became part of our ritual, and we enjoyed exploring the streets to find local gems - cafes where such genuine care was taken in making a hand-dripped coffee (iced variety due to the extremely warm temperatures and humidity).

A girl sitting in a bar/restaurant

"The team relished any opportunity to experience the cuisine on offer..."

Living and staying in the one location for the duration of the world championships allowed the team to engage with the local volunteers and community and gain insights into everyday life in Fukuoka.

The team's visit to Fukuoka coincided with the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, a colourful and lively event celebrating the spirit of community and cultural pride.

A procession of large, elaborately decorated floats weaved through the streets, accompanied by energetic performances and cheers from participants and spectators alike.

Each float represents a neighbourhood team and participants work together to carry and manoeuvre these massive structures through the city’s narrow streets.

The festive atmosphere, colourful decorations and enthusiastic displays of teamwork were captivating. It was a unique opportunity to witness Japanese tradition and experience the strong sense of community, collaboration and unity that defines this event.

The team related this to their own endeavours, understanding that while individual contributions are essential, the synergy of teamwork is what progresses them towards their goals.

The team posing behind a large Fukuoka sign

The Japan visit allowed the players to develop as individuals and come together as a team

Fukuoka is known as a city of shrines and during our stay the team visited historical landmarks, including the Shofukuji and Tochoji temples and the Kushida-jinja Shrine, the latter being one of the oldest shrines in Japan.

The team was impressed by the traditional Japanese architecture and the dedication and craftmanship that went into building them.

Amid the serene surroundings of the shrines, the team reflected on spiritual practices, our own personal goals and aspirations, as well as our collective goals for the world championships and beyond.

The whole team wearing white t-shirts and posing for a photo

"The experiences and insights gained during our time in Fukuoka will resonate with us long past our return to New Zealand."

The trip to Fukuoka was an experience that was about more than water polo.

Our glimpse into Japanese culture allowed the team to appreciate tradition, community and gain greater international cross-cultural understanding. It helped us develop as individuals and come together as a group.

The experiences and insights gained during our time in Fukuoka will resonate with us long past our return to New Zealand.

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

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