In her second week in Japan, Morna loses her voice. She reflects back on her time fruit picking with students from the Kinokuni Children’s Village and finding ways to communicate when you don't share a language.
[5 minute read]
I’ve managed to bluster my way around Europe over the years - a bit of Spanish or French can take you a long way. But, in Japan, both spoken and written words are entirely unfamiliar. The kanji alphabet looks beautiful but its meaningless to my eye.
Fortunately, most signage around train stations and tourist attractions are translated into English. I’ve also been working with translators so it’s really only when I’m out and about that I find myself grasping for words. But, it’s part of the experience and I’ve always loved finding ways of communicating when you don’t share a language.
This week, however, communicating suddenly became an awful lot harder… because I completely lost my voice. I didn’t even have a croak left. In unfortunate timing, this coincided with my visit to Kinokuni Children’s Village near Hashimoto. I’ve worked with students from this school for seven years in Scotland (we write and stage plays in English) so it felt really special to finally see their home base and all of my favourite teachers.
Cue not being able to talk…
Thankfully, the staff and students at Kinokuni are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met and they rushed to help. Then the following day, when my lost voice turned into full-on lurgy, I was brought teas, potions and powders. There’s nothing quite like being ill when you’re travelling solo and I was more than grateful to be among friends.
I was determined not to spend my whole visit bed-bound so I tried to stick to my original plans as much as possible. I’ve always been interested in alternative educational systems and, as part of my research, I’ve been considering the influence that our education has on our adult personalities.
There’s so much I want to say about Kinokuni because it’s such a refreshing and unique institution. In short, the school’s philosophy embraces learning through experience, offering individual freedom – so, each child is encouraged to take their own path. This means that, in addition to core subjects (so that students have recognisable qualifications), there is a greater focus on creative projects.
During my stay, I watched drama rehearsals, saw amazing carpentry, joined cooking, craft and music classes and went fruit picking with the students for kaki (persimmon) and mika (Japanese oranges). One morning, I observed a group of primary children, aged 6 and 7, sawing wooden panels to build a hut and I was astonished by their concentration. Moreover, any school that stages multiple plays – from a senior musical theatre group performing The Hunchback of Notre Dame to a younger class staging an adorable show about terrible burglars – wins bonus points from me.
Linking into another research aim, I also managed to whisper my way through a fascinating interview with my colleague who specialises in the history of music. Many Japanese songs have Scottish melodies layered with Japanese lyrics - the famous example being ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which plays when shops are closing (!) – and it was really helpful to understand that this musical amalgamation links back to Japan reopening its border in 1868.
My visit concluded with the teachers treating me to a big goodbye dinner that they brought their families along to. Though I could only croak my ‘thank you’, it was the perfect ending.
The adventure continues. Here’s hoping my voice comes back soon...
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.