The community today
There were 14,118 Japanese residents in New Zealand in 2013. Most came to work, to join relatives, to marry, or to receive an education. The Japanese community contributes job skills, financial investment and cultural activities, including popular ‘Japan days’. Martial arts clubs abound. Karaoke bars first appeared in the late 1980s, followed by a variety of outlets selling Japanese food and merchandise.
In 2013 the largest group lived in the Auckland region (6,720), which had a thriving network that included a businessmen’s association, a Christian church, a women’s choir, and a supplementary school. Many Japanese were relatively affluent and lived in the eastern suburbs. Short-term residents – often company representatives or those associated with tourism – tended to group together, retaining their customs and language. They faced the problems of a different language, food and habits, and the racism that is sometimes directed against Asian immigrants.
Atsuko Takada, a New Zealand resident and student counsellor, said in 2003 that some aspects of western and eastern cultures were no longer so different:
‘Even though Japan is in Asia, it’s got so many influences from the United States that the culture here isn’t that difficult to get used to.’ 1
Longer-term residents, mainly professionals, have integrated more actively. In many ways their outlook mirrors that of their American and European counterparts. But some also maintain cultural practices such as the tea ceremony. In the 2000s a typical family would shop for shiitake mushrooms, seaweed and other authentic ingredients, for a diet that was about half Japanese.
In 2013 there was a sizeable group in Canterbury (2,568), with 1,164 in Wellington. For many years Wellington’s Japan Seamen’s Hall, unique outside Japan, offered squid fishermen and sailors mah jong, traditional baths and sake (rice wine).