Model, tourism promoter and mum of three, Aucklander Jessica Gerrity has called Japan home for the past 16 years.
1 NEWS NOW's Natalia Sutherland spent a day with her in Saitama, as the Rugby World Cup focuses Kiwi eyes on the country like never before.
Getting around a new city can be difficult, so it’s a great advantage to have that tourism ambassador to help you get around.
It's an even bigger bonus when that ambassador is from back home.
You might know her as "that lady from the Whittaker’s ad", but expat New Zealander Jessica Gerrity is better known through her role as the tourism ambassador for the Saitama Prefecture by those in her home city of Saitama, just north of Tokyo.
A Kiwi from Auckland living in Japan for the past 16 years, Jessica is a wealth of knowledge on Japanese culture and her local area, with its massive population of 7.3 million people.
“The region is massive – the prefecture is so huge,” Jessica tells me.
Proudly wearing her sash denoting her official promotional role, Jessica guides me through the streets of Saitama where she lives with her three children and husband.
“Along this pathway are cherry trees that blossom throughout spring,” she tells me as we walk through a tree-lined path on the way to her home.
From where to shop, catch public transport and buy Japanese cakes, you can see why my tour guide has been picked to promote Saitama to English-speaking tourists.
Living in a multi-story house where your neighbour’s window is only inches from your own and when you step out your front door onto the busy street, her life in Japan is a world away from where she grew up in Auckland.
FALLING IN LOVE
After completing a Masters of Planning at The University of Auckland, Jessica, like many young graduates, left New Zealand’s shores for an overseas adventure.
Falling in love with Japan following a trip with a friend a couple of years earlier, Jessica began teaching English.
Meeting and falling in love with her Japanese husband of now 11 years and three children later, Jessica is now happily ensconced in Japanese life.
“I love my life in Japan and wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Jessica has started to become a household name here in Japan.
Appearing on television in a game show as the “voice of everything New Zealand” as well as advertisements and the occasional modelling, Jessica is becoming a well-known public figure here.
“Life in Japan is really, really exiting. Really hectic. I have three children so looking after them and working on TV is exciting …a little bit tiring sometimes.”
That’s not all the mum of three does, also fitting in work for Tourism New Zealand and writing - and not to mention the blog and five Instagram accounts she runs.
In her down time, she also practises Kyudo, an archery martial art.
“I’ve been practising kyudo for about two years. It’s great for relaxation, it’s peaceful, there’s no kids running around, and all my stress disappears when I come here.”
Having passed one exam, she spends up to three hours a day practising for her impending second.
“Being a martial art, it has really deep traditions and deep roots, which at first honestly I found intimidating, however little by little I’m getting use to the bowing with the help of the teachers. It’s been really awesome.”
For Jessica, Japan is home and she has fully embraced the culture and has grown to appreciate the positive differences between New Zealand and Japan.
“They [Japanese] don’t sweat the small stuff, they focus on the positive things and they move forward to getting the job done.”
There have been some downsides of living in Japan as a foreigner, with difficulty renting property as a non-Japanese person.
Jessica also has seen the downside of inequality in Japanese culture and would like to see changes, especially when it comes to politics.
“I’m happy in Japan, but I would like to see more women in politics, and I love that our PM in New Zealand is such a stunning, strong, young, amazing woman, mother and leader.
“I’d love for Japan to have more women in higher business positions and in politics.”
Jacinda Ardern recently visited Japan for talks with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and attended the opening of the Rugby World Cup in Tokyo.
Promotion of rugby and New Zealand was not only on the cards for Ms Ardern but for Jessica too, starring in the Whittaker’s chocolate ad for a rugby promotion.
Jessica says she cried when she was asked to represent both places she calls home.
“Everybody is crazy about rugby, everybody is focused on the All Blacks, everybody is focused on New Zealand so that trickle-down effect – here’s me right down at the bottom – it affects me so positively, so I’m just excited that this whole event is happening, and New Zealand is being put on a platform in Japan.”
Jessica says for the foreseeable future she has no plans of moving back home to New Zealand, seeing Japan as the best place to raise her family.