Squid Game and K-pop are a gateway to Asia for young Kiwis

Whether or not the Squid Game or K-pop are your cup of chai, anything that gets our young people interested in Asia should be nurtured – we all benefit in the long run, says Simon Draper.


Whether or not the Squid Game or K-pop are your cup of chai, anything that gets our young people interested in Asia should be nurtured – we all benefit in the long run, says Simon Draper.

Simon Draper is the Executive Director of the Asia NZ Te Whītau Tūhono Foundation.

OPINION: Maybe it’s because we’re now in the middle of winter, or maybe I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but since my recent visit to Asia, where I spent several years as a young man I thought about how you can feel like a young Turk one day and seemingly like a grumpy old man the next.

It reminded me of the importance of keeping an ear and an open mind to the voices of younger generations, because the future depends more on them than on people like me.

This is particularly the case in Asia, where the key growth demographic is 800 million millennials, compared to 66 million in the US (and 60 million in the EU), according to investment bank Schroders. And 65% of millennials in emerging markets expect to be better off than their parents, compared to an equivalent percentage in developed countries who expect to be worse off. Millennials in Asia are quickly becoming the world’s most avid consumers, driven by optimism and ambition.

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The good news for New Zealand is that our millennials are also engaging with Asia in new and more relevant ways.

The latest report from the Asia New Zealand Foundation Perceptions of Asia and Asian peoples report reveals New Zealanders are increasingly interested in entertainment and cultural content produced in Asia (especially Japan and South Korea), with Netflix’s South Korean show squid game leading as the most consumed Asia-related entertainment in 2021.

We can, of course, look back and see that the West has steadily increased its consumption of Asian media and pop culture over the past few decades. The 80s brought us classic Japanese arcade games like Donkey Kong and Space Invaders.

The anime gained popularity, then Pokemon and Dragon Ball Z became household names in Aotearoa in the 90s. But things have accelerated in recent years as media of all kinds, and from all places, become more readily available.

All of these trendy Asian forms of entertainment have one thing in common: popularity is largely driven by young people. Young people here in New Zealand and around the world, as they so often do, are early adopters.

It is not at all surprising that Asia and Asian culture are perceived by young people as current, modern, exciting, fast-paced and avant-garde, whether in the film, fashion or gaming sectors. As food and travel continue to top the list of ways New Zealanders connect with Asia, there is a growing appetite for more.

Pokémon became popular in the 1990s.

Thimo Pedersen/Unsplash

Pokémon became popular in the 1990s.

Our Perceptions of Asia Research also showed us that nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders (65%) said they had consumed some form of Asian-related entertainment in 2021, up from 59% the previous year.

Could this trend be partly due to New Zealand’s growing Asian population, with the Asian diaspora acting as an amplifier for exciting new content?

Maybe. But we also know that while fewer New Zealanders remember consuming Asian-related news, pop culture has become a source of news for us.

Although pop culture may seem like frivolous entertainment, it allows young people to develop an awareness and appreciation of Asian cultures, which previous generations of New Zealanders were less inclined to do.

Our research shows that young people who develop an interest in an Asian culture – whether through music, movies, sports – often go on to learn an Asian language, learn more about one or more Asian cultures and may even spend a period living in the Region.

Through the Foundation’s leadership network, I know young New Zealanders who were first introduced to South Korea or Japan through J-pop or K-pop and then learned Korean or Japanese and developed skills that placed them well in New Zealand. the job market.

This should be embraced, as there are few skills that New Zealand companies demand more than knowledge of Asia.

The Foundation’s report examining the South Island’s ties to Asia, titled Te Waipounamu and Asiathat we published last year, found that language skills and market knowledge were seen by companies as more important challenges to succeeding in Asia than competition, logistics or trade barriers.

Whether or not anime or K-pop are your cup of chai, anything that gets our young people interested in Asia should be encouraged – we all benefit in the long run.

And as the data shows us, if our young people aren’t engaged in Asia, it’s a missed opportunity for them, and for old grumps like me who will rely on them more and more.

About Dawn Valle

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