After the Second World War, political, economic and cultural exchanges were re-established. From the 1960s Japan became a principal trading partner. The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and New Zealand’s Expo 70 in Osaka fostered friendship. Touring exhibits of pottery, martial arts and ikebana (flower arrangement) prompted some New Zealanders to practise these aspects of Japanese culture.
Language courses started in schools and universities from the 1960s. During the next two decades an increasing number of Japanese businesses, cars, televisions and tourists appeared. Other connections were established, including 14 New Zealand–Japan societies, 32 sister cities, and numerous cultural and sporting exchanges.
Visitors numbered 66,404 in 1987; in 1997 this had almost tripled to 162,736, but has subsequently been either static or falling. The relationship which had developed rapidly over 20 years became more stable.
Some New Zealand servicemen stationed in Japan between 1946 and 1956 married Japanese women, who were initially denied residency. Numbering around 50, they faced disapproval from their families and difficulties in New Zealand, including a lack of local communities, and pressure to assimilate.
Immigration criteria changed after 1986, placing increased importance on job skills. It was common for employees of Japanese companies to work in Auckland for a few years. The bilateral working-holiday scheme of 1986 encouraged younger Japanese to visit, and at one time a number of young women came on an au pair programme.
Following the change in immigration policy there was a big surge in arrivals. By 1996 there were 7,461 Japanese living in New Zealand; 10 years later the number had reached 11,910, and by 2013 it was 14,118.
Immigrant families enjoyed the space and freedom that was lacking in Japan’s crowded cities. As one boy commented: ‘There is a lot of green grass and trees and room to play here. All around our place in Tokyo there was lots and lots of concrete’. 1
In 1965 Massey University became the first university to teach Japanese at degree level, and in 1987 the Centre for Japanese Studies was opened there. By this time, secondary schools were teaching Japanese to a growing number of students.
At a reception for New Zealand teachers in Yamaguchi City, Japan, in 1980, Kenji Inoue made this comment:
‘In my youth Japan was defeated. The United States’ Red Arrows were stationed here and they were active and outgoing. Some New Zealand soldiers were also stationed in Yamaguchi City. They were more shy and reserved; well-mannered and polite – like samurai.
So I said to myself, “New Zealand is a gentleman’s country.”’ 2
An influx of Asian students began in the 1990s. Japanese were the largest group (54%) attending language schools in 1998–99. Although this proportion dropped, by 2001 there were 11,634 fee-paying Japanese students at English-language schools.
Students were a familiar sight on campus and about town, especially in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Many lived with New Zealand families, making cross-cultural experiences more relaxed and personal.