Morna Young's Japan Residency Blog: 1

News 15 Jan 2020

We are proud to be part of British Council Scotland and Creative Scotland's UK/Japan Season of Culture 2019-2020. As part of this, Morna Young and Andrew Thompson - two Scottish playwrights - will undertake residencies in Japan. Through their time in Japan they'll explore the intercultural similarities and differences between Scottish/Japanese language, culture and landscape, to inform the creation of new works for the stage.

A Playwrights' Studio Scotland New Playwright Award-winner, Morna Young is an actor and writer for stage and screen. Lost at Sea, her debut play, premiered at Perth Theatre in April this year before touring Scotland, and subsequently winning two Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) in June 2019.

In her first blog, we join Morna fresh off the plane in Japan and ready to begin her travels and journey of discovery...

[5 minute read]

Morna Young at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Japan is known for its distinctive culture and unique traditions. As an island nation with a long history of isolation, many aspects of the culture developed completely unaffected by outside influences. However, in recent times - and in stark contrast - Japan has embraced international influence and modern living to become a leading force in technological research and development. Think robotics, bullet trains and engineering feats. It’s an extraordinary merger of ancient traditions and cutting-edge technology and one that I can’t wait to explore.

After a sixteen hour journey, I arrive in Tokyo to begin my playwriting research trip as part of the Traverse’s UK/Japan Season of Culture 2019-2020 exchange project. For the next four weeks, I will work alongside independent Japanese producer, Kei Saito – who was part of the Traverse team during 2018/19 - to explore musical connections, folklore and education systems.

My first evening is full of blundering errors. I catch the wrong train, I soak the bathroom trying to figure out the toilet buttons and I accidentally eat Italian food in what looks like a traditional Japanese restaurant. I’m choosing to blame the heavy haze of jetlag…

The view over Kyoto from Kiyomizudera Temple

The next morning, I travel onto Kyoto - via the infamous bullet train - where I will be based for the next few weeks. After talking to Kei via Skype for many weeks, it’s wonderful to connect in person. The focus of these first two days is attending the Kyoto Producer’s Forum. Though the speeches are in Japanese, the venue are trialling a new translation programme that interprets the speaker’s voice. It doesn’t always work accurately - there’s a very funny glitch slide about ‘abusive Frappuccinos’ - but it means I can experience the dialogue in real-time. One of the keynote sessions is about Brexit and divisions within the UK. Though theatre specific (and considering economic divisions and class representation within the sector), this taps into wider politics and it’s fascinating to hear representatives from another country trying to make sense of it all. A stand out conclusion for me is that, in general, Japanese people don’t see Scotland as a separate entity to the UK, and I find it quite heart-breaking to understand how little our voice is projected to an international stage.

Over the weekend, I try to walk as much as possible to grasp the geography and I visit a number of temples and shrines. Walking from place to place highlights the extraordinary mix of traditional and contemporary and I feel a childlike wonder simmering with each corner I turn. Kyoto is unbelievably spectacular. Though I have seen many pictures of sakura (the cherry blossom which blooms throughout March and April), I didn’t realise that Autumn would bring such magical shades of red and yellow.

Kiyomizudera Temple

Moving forward from my Italian incident (*cringe), I realise that food is much more than substance here. From sushi to gyoza to ramen, it’s a food culture with worldwide recognition but I never quite understood the ritual. In Scotland, I have a habit of eating on the go, but this is pretty impossible with chopsticks. I’m learning I have to slow down.

In one of my research books, I read about a Japanese word Ukiyo ( 浮世 ), meaning ‘floating world’ and describing the feeling of being present. This is the word I need to bring forward with me. I tend to schedule quite tightly and I quickly realise it’s not going to work here. I need more room for error, for getting lost, for looking at what’s around me. I missed seeing Mount Fuji from the train because I was trying to connect to Wi-Fi. If there’s ever a moment worth reflecting on then it’s this one.

Moving onward, I will visit a rural school in Wakayama next week, see some traditional and contemporary theatre and meet folklorists, academics and musicians. Hopefully, I’ll remember to take my time and to keep looking up…

This residency is supported by the British Council Scotland and Creative Scotland partnership to take part in the British Council’s UK in Japan Season 2019-20. This project is additionally made possible through support from The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.