Morna Young's Japan Residency Blog: 4

News 5 Feb 2020

Morna's last week in Japan is jam-packed. We join her as she takes on Tokyo, meets a folklore academic, the Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and visits a whisky distillery.

[5 minute read]

Meeting folklore academic Eri in Nagoya

For my final week, I bid farewell to Kyoto and travel onward to Tokyo. On route, I stop at Nagoya to meet folklore academic, Eri, who greets me with a goodie bag of sweet treats and gifts. Once more, I am heartened by the generosity of strangers. Over dinner, we swap stories about sea myths and folklore creatures and I know I have met a friend for life.

The Tokyo part of my schedule is packed and I am relieved to spend the first day at the National Theatre, handily close to my apartment, where I watch a Bunraku performance and two Kabuki shows including the historical drama “Omi Genji Senjin Yakata: Moritsuna Jin’ya” and an adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights “Kōmori no Yasusan” (who knew that Chaplin inspired Kabuki?).

After meeting my translator for the week, Nao, I’m introduced to the Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and we discuss collaborative possibilities for Japanese and Scottish artists. I later meet playwright Tomohiro Maekawa to talk about the landscapes that we work in and I am interested to learn that the word ‘playwright’ doesn’t exist in Japan. Rather, the role is most often combined with the director in an ‘auteur’ or ‘theatre-maker’ sense with one lead artistic vision. I also meet with the British Council (who have funded this trip) and the Japan Scotland Society where I learn about ongoing cultural connections.

Suntory Hakushu Distillery

My travels this week include Lake Kawaguicho to see stunning Mount Fuji at sunset, and the Suntory Hakushu Distillery in the Minami Alps. As a born and bred Moray quine, I was brought up surrounded by the Speyside distilleries and I’m surprised that Suntory evokes such an overwhelming sense of home. There’s something about the forest environment and the Angel’s Share aroma. The tour guide’s kilted outfit adds further to the illusion.

The sun setting over Mount Fuji

Though my time in Tokyo is short, explore a little of the city when I can including tourist hub Shinjuku, quirky Harajuku and hectic Shibuya. The latter contains what is thought to be the busiest intersection in the world (and definitely in Japan), sending people in all directions. I also attend TeamLab’s Borderless, the world’s first digital art museum, containing a magical mix of colour, light and sound, from a mesmerising crystal world to an extraordinary lantern filled room. In a further clash of contemporary and traditional, local and international, I travel to see the Celtic Choral Christmas Concert performing songs in Gaelic, English and Latin. The musicians, wearing sweeping green cloaks, play fiddle, harp and whistle and I am transported to Scotland once more.

For my final day, I am invited to join the Kodo drummer’s performance in Tokyo as part of their One Earth Tour. Based on Sado Island, the Kodo drummers are a key player in the decentralisation arts movement and they have popularised taiko drumming in Japan and abroad. I meet company representative, Chie, for lunch before the performance and she talks me through the fascinating history and evolution of the group. The name Kodo has a dual meaning; the first, "drum children", was based on feedback from mothers that their music lulled their children to sleep. The second meaning, "heartbeat" originated from comparing the sound of drums to a mother's heartbeat on her child in the womb. The performance itself is breath-taking and I am mesmerised throughout. I’ve never seen musicality so entwined with physical endurance. Every beat of the drum is an act of strength. Later, I meet some of the company and performers to interview them about their training and performance skills. Each drummer completes a two-year apprenticeship, removed from civilization, which includes a rigorous daily training schedule. They grow much of their own food, carve their chopsticks and drumsticks and are schooled in tea ceremonies. The discipline and commitment is extraordinary and I feel really privileged to spend time with the team.

The TeamLab's Borderless exhibition

As I travel to the airport to return home, I’m amazed by how quickly the time has flown. I am saddened to leave but my heart is full and the memories will last a lifetime. They say that people make a place and I am so grateful to the many academics, theatre practitioners and others who contributed to my journey. I have never experienced such open kindness. It has been an enthralling, magical adventure and I feel a renewed sense of wonder. Japan has a remarkable timeless quality where ancient traditions fuse with modern life and every destination has brought unexpected marvels. This, for me, is the absolute joy of travelling as an artist - the rekindling of inspiration, the awakening of sensation and the ability to expand, challenge and mature the lens in which I consider my work.

Thank you Traverse and British Council for a life-changing experience.

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.

Read the full set of Morna's Japan Residency blogs.