“It’s an opportunity for them to visit another part of the world and experience a different language and culture.”
The players, aged 15 to 17, will stay mainly with families from the high schools they are playing against. In Oita, they will stay in dorms at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU), a leading international university.
Six Japanese students at the school are giving the players Japanese language lessons every week to prepare them for the trip.
Wainuiomata’s close-knit community has also been rallying around the team, holding quizzes, raffles and other fundraising events to help send the players to Japan.
The 22-strong team includes Japanese international student Shoh Takahashi, 16, who joined Wainuiomata High School in April.
“I’ve become a better rugby player since I’ve been playing in New Zealand. Our First XV is a good team, and it will be a great experience to be able to play against other strong teams from Japanese schools,” says Shoh.
“I will be able to show my teammates the differences between rugby in New Zealand and in Japan. I’m also looking forward to showing them Japanese culture and food.”
Teams the Wainuiomata students will be playing against include two from its Japanese sister schools, Fukuoka’s Iizuka High School and Tokyo’s Oshukan Secondary School.
Wainuiomata High School previously sent groups of students studying Japanese to visit Japan, but now offers the trips to a wider group of students. Last year, its kapa haka (Māori performing arts) group toured Japan.
Daiji says, “My hope for our students is that they gain new perspectives on life and make friends with Japanese students. I want them to realise their potential and see how many possibilities are out there,” he says.
“Japanese people take great pride in hosting people from different nationalities, so I know our students will be welcomed very warmly.”