Four things New Zealand can learn from Japan

Konichi wa bitches,

My month in Japan has been eventful to say the least. I dodged a series of fatal earthquakes by a matter of hours, hiked a volcano three days prior to an eruption, and caught the fleeting cherry blossom season along with many other Gaijin.   


However it’s the culture that’s got me thinking. There are many aspects of Japanese life that I’d love to scoop up in a pick ‘n’ mix, and bring back to New Zealand. I’m not saying Japan is a better country, simply that if we combined a few things from both it would be an unstoppable combo. Much like Nonu and Smith, Baskin & Robins, and Fergie and Jesus.


Japan is easily the safest I’ve ever felt in a country, including New Zealand.

I’m aware of my bias because I’ve been in Japan a month, while I’ve lived in NZ my whole life; obviously over the years I’ve been exposed to more crime back home. Like that kid who we caught breaking into my flatmate’s car. That being said, you’d never leave your bikes unlocked in NZ while you take the train to work. That’s just not a thing.

Or leave your car running while you pop into 7/11 to grab some squid-balls. They do that too. In NZ, that car would be gone quicker than you can say 0800 10-7 INFO. Yes the odd theft does happen, but not enough for the masses to invest in bike locks… or in locking their doors.

You can do all the research you want into why this is. Could be the stigma that criminals have, the harsh jails, but whatever it is, it boils down to this:

“The vast majority of Japanese people are polite, respectful, and don’t want to inconvenience their fellow human.”

What a pack of crazies.


New Zealand’s public transport system is reminiscent of a failed SimCity 2000 level. Basic, laggy, and constantly under threat from those big UFO monster things.


Just as Shawnville was coming along so nicely…

Let’s do a quick comparison between Auckland’s train line, and Tokyo’s. Yes I am aware Tokyo (2,188 km²) is almost double Auckland (1086 km²) in size, and has well over eight times the population, but that’s not the point. Which I’ll make later.

Auckland’s train lines:

rail-network-map auckland

Sah cute.

Here’s Tokyo’s JapanRail lines, (the lines that go over ground)

JR english


And under all that, here’s Japan’s underground subway/metro map:


It’s amazing how Tokyo still stands with all the hollowed out ground underneath!

Should Auckland have a maze of lines like this? No. But should Auckland have a train line to the North Shore and the airport? Maybe even to central places like Ponsonby where parking is an absolute nightmare? What about suburbs like Mt Roskill and Lynfield? Won’t someone please think of Mt Roskill!

Don’t even get me started on the shinkansen, the bullet trains that connect the whole country from the mountainous south of Kyushu, to the ski resorts of Hokkaido. Imagine a two hour train from Auckland to Palmerston North that comes every half hour? (Roughly the same distance from Tokyo to Osaka.)      

Alas, my point. New Zealand chose cars, Japan chose trains. Japan is much easier to get around, and locals don’t need to spend a fortune on cars and petrol.


Getting on those trains is an experience in itself because of the level of politeness shown by all involved. When the doors open, everyone patiently moves to the side to let passengers out, before peacefully getting on in single file. Inside, seats are offered to the elderly and mothers with kids. Even getting to the platform, everyone stands in a line on the escalator.


Much like the no stealing, there is a massive sense of discipline in everyday Japanese life. No one is more or less important than anyone else. There is no need to hinder anyone else’s day even a tiny bit.

Where I drew the line was when I noticed how little jaywalking there in is Japan. Pedestrians would rather wait at an empty road for a minute then cross when the green man ain’t flashing. I couldn’t get on board with that because I’m a renegade who plays by my own rules.


Me crossing roads in Japan

How badly I want New Zealand’s level of discipline and politeness to increase just a little bit in this direction. I can only really speak for Auckland and not the rest of NZ where it may be much better, but I feel there is room for improvement. When the left-wing party of New Zealand attacks the government for trying to make us not so bloodthirsty on the road, there isn’t a lot of hope.

New Zealand is very hit and miss. You could get your parking paid for by someone who takes the time to leave their valid ticket by the machine, or you could get your window’s smashed by drunk d-bags. You could get a hand with your shopping bill if you are short, or you could get beaten up in broad daylight because you’re Asian.

The amount of not-beaten-up I got, as a foreigner in an Asian country was amazing. You can do your bit for NZ by not bashing people you see on the street, and refraining from stealing their shit. For more information, please copy and paste the following sentence into your favourite search engine:

“How to not be a violent racist dickhead”


To end on a slightly less intense note, holy sweet mother of god I have seen the light. Japan has their theme park game on lock.

I was lucky enough to get to the legendary Fuji-Q Highland Theme Park on a clear day, without waiting over an hour and a half for a ride. Two things you can’t rely on if you organize a day there.



Cloudy view of Mt Fuji from the ferris wheel

Two hours by train out of Tokyo, situated near the base of the legendary Mt Fuji lies this collection of world-class coasters and rides. Some of which did, and some of which still do hold world records like:

the world’s tallest roller-coaster
the world’s steepest drop on a roller-coaster
the world’s fastest accelerating roller-coaster
and the world’s only “Fucking-Fuck” roller-coaster.

(The last one may not be an official award, but it was named after my experience teaching locals some English words just before the big drops.)

My favourite was Fujiyama – “The King of Coasters.” It’s kind of a big deal round these parts. It was the world’s tallest coaster when it opened in 1996, and is still one of the best. You get a stunning view of Mt Fuji at the top, which takes a while to get to because it stands at an excessively tall 80 meters. Compared to the cute wee conveyor-belt at Rainbow’s End – a measly 27 meters high.


Couple of things to note in closing, I love New Zealand. I think of home often, and all the wonderful things that we offer that not only Japan, but all other countries can’t and won’t ever touch. You wanna snowboard, hit the beach, jump off a cliff, then see the Shire in one weekend? Good luck doing that anywhere else. I could also do an article about what Japan could learn from NZ, but my Japanese readership isn’t as high.

Also in regards to these amazing culture qualities like discipline and respect, they have their downsides. High suicide rates. A hesitancy to express oneself.  It feels like everyone is expected to behave in a certain way, the right way, and you are a complete weirdo if you do it any differently.

Lastly, there is a lot I don’t know about the culture. I could have it completely wrong. This is just what I’ve gathered after a month here as a tourist. I spoke with locals, with westerners who have lived here for years, and other travellers and we all noticed similar things.

Japan is a completely unique and diverse experience. From the mountains of Mt Aso, to the thousands that scramble across Shibuya crossing every minute, to the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom season that lasts two weeks of the year. Japan and NZ should join forces and make a baby nation, where hobbits, samurai, and maori’s live in harmony while politely waiting for trains, and eating Otago lamb sushi.



One thought on “Four things New Zealand can learn from Japan

  1. Pingback: Three reasons why London is same same but different to Auckland | Shawn Cleaver

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