A significant Māori exhibition officially opened in Japan this week, shining a spotlight on New Zealand ahead of the Rugby World Cup, and highlighting traditional and contemporary Māori art and performance, the promise of future generations and the connection between indigenous peoples around the globe.

Tuku Iho | Living Legacy will be hosted at Hokkaido Museum from April 27 to May 14, before moving to the acclaimed 21_21 Gallery in the Roppongi District of Tokyo in August.

Raukura kapa haka members head to Japan for Tuku Iho exhibition. Photo / File
Raukura kapa haka members head to Japan for Tuku Iho exhibition. Photo / File

The exhibition was developed and curated by the New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute, based at Te Puia in Rotorua, New Zealand.

To date it has exhibited in three different continents and in more than six countries, including the United States, China and Brazil.

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In Hokkaido, the scope of Tuku Iho will once again stretch beyond the walls of the museum, reaching into the community with events focused on education, economic trade and tourism, and a focus on forging relationships with the indigenous Ainu people of Hokkaido.

In particular, the Hokkaido outing is accompanied by an embroidery exhibition from contemporary Ainu artists – Handwork from the North.

Raukara kapa haka group performing in Japan. Photo / Supplied
Raukara kapa haka group performing in Japan. Photo / Supplied

Chairman Harry Burkhardt said the Hokkaido exhibition contained a unique youth element, featuring the award-winning kapa haka group Raukura, made up of students from Rotorua Girls' and Boys' High Schools.

"Having youth ambassadors travel with us is a wonderful expression of Tuku Iho. The philosophy behind Tuku Iho is one of cultural diplomacy – it is about building links and connections. Having some of Rotorua's youth involved this year is truly special," Burkhardt said.

Raukura kapa haka director, Jamus Webster said the group of 20 travelling for Tuku Iho were "incredibly excited" to be part of the event.

"An event like Tuku Iho gives students a real sense of pride in their culture, and shows the important place we have in the world.

"This is about nurturing the next generation, teaching them how to conduct themselves and act as ambassadors on the world stage. By including rangatahi, the relationships formed will last much longer."

Part of the Tuku Iho exhibition in Japan. Photo / Supplied
Part of the Tuku Iho exhibition in Japan. Photo / Supplied

Ainu leader and chair of the Aotearoa Ainumosir Exchange Programme Committee, Akemi Shimada, had been taking Ainu youth to New Zealand to learn from Māori initiatives since 2013.

"Certainly, Tuku Iho will greatly inspire our people, and I dream that we will some day be able to have our own exhibition, which will imbue us with confidence in being indigenous," Shimada said.

The director general of Hokkaido Museum, Shizo Ishimori, said the exhibitions provided an ideal and enjoyable opportunity to learn about both New Zealand and Japan's indigenous people, and their way of passing on and practicing traditional culture.

Wider exhibition activities include a Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand trade reception, while the official welcome will include curated exhibition tours, before guests move to the Historic Village of Hokkaido, to dine on New Zealand delicacies, including a traditional Māori hāngī.

Charge d'Affaires a.i. at the New Zealand Embassy in Tokyo, Peter Kell, said the embassy was pleased that Tuku Iho had now reached the shores of Japan.

"The exhibition's history of creating connections and strengthening relationships is remarkable, and the opportunity to share a special aspect of Aotearoa New Zealand with this part of the world is something we all look forward to," Kell said.