Performance, memory and cultural heritage in the UK and Japan

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of English


Japan and the UK have exceptionally strong and internationally-recognised traditions of sacred and secular premodern performance. Such performance practices both reflected and responded to contemporary cultural norms and values and helped to shape those for present and future generations. In the twenty-first century, certain of these premodern performance traditions, from the stage plays of Shakespeare and Marlowe to the classical musical drama of Noh and dance drama of Kabuki, continue to exert significant influence in both cultures. Yet more wide-ranging practices of performance, from street pageantry and festive events to religious play cycles, rituals and ceremony, were also deeply embedded within both premodern cultures and have a strong residual presence today. This project investigates the role these performing arts traditions played in developing a sense of distinct cultural identity in both countries, and how these practices and modes of performance were transmitted (as text, material culture and skills-based practices) into the present day. Drawing upon the rich religious and secular site-specific performance traditions at a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Canterbury and at Japan's most sacred Shinto shrine in Ise, the team of researchers will use performance-as-research workshops at site-specific locations, as well as other forms of experiential learning and discovery, to investigate how performance has impacted upon local and national communities.

This project builds upon and extends pre-existing research collaborations between researchers at the University of Kent and Kogakkan University to find answers to pressing questions about the role of performance in communities' sense of the past in contemporary multicultural societies. It sets up a much larger project, developing a method to analyse the role of heritage in cultural and national identity, and how cultural heritage transmission occurs within multicultural environments in a largely secular age. Furthermore, it considers how the performance of pre-modern material today relates to enduring and existing cultural and religious practices and how it is now perceived. We will compare how these practices have been valued historically, both culturally and economically, by whom, when, and where, and how pre-modern performance has been made meaningful to different audiences.

The team of investigators have identified four key themes-(1) transmission, (2) faith, (3) space, and (4) gender-that we wish to analyse through performance in this scoping project. The researchers involved seek to consider the role universities like Kent and Kogakkan, relatively embedded in culturally-significant and sacred sites, play in both the dissemination and analysis of cultural heritage.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this activity?
In this pilot phase of the project, we will work with non-academic audiences in the third sector, as well as with professionals working in creative arts in order to build links between communities, researchers, and artists in the two localities with which we are initially concerned. Beyond the academy, we identify three key areas of activity where the project will have greatest impact: (1) cultural heritage, (2) tourism, and the (3) creative arts. We will use our existing links with local cultural heritage bodies, creative artists, teacher-instructors, and local authorities in both the UK and Japan to reach professionals working in these areas, and those with whom they work (tourists, school children etc.). The collaborative research events will be advertised widely and circulated via university channels and we will invite students and interested members of the public to attend the performances that lie at their heart. In future phases of the larger project which this pilot facilitates, we aim to engage audiences with similar interests, but on a national and international scale.

How will they benefit from this activity?
The practice-as-research activities will be recorded, edited, and made available to the wider public. The recording is intended to be beneficial to our local audiences for whom this material will provide a new dimension to their sense of place, and to all interested in cross-cultural exchange. It will also be of interest to teacher-instructors (demonstrating the practice and value of experiential performance learning and site-specific discovery). Long term, future joint research arising out of these initial collaborative workshops is intended to lead to a wider and more structured program of engagement, such as touring performances, school workshops, and further opportunities to engage creatively with the research material. The project aims to raise public awareness of the wealth of knowledge and skills transmitted from generation to generation in terms of culture heritage and its continuing relevance. Furthermore, through collaboration with partners situated at UNESCO world heritage sites, it contributes to processes of commemoration and develops stimuli to tourism in both locations.

What will be done to ensure they benefit from this activity?
Preserving and facilitating access to our cultural heritage is crucial, especially in a post-Brexit world. One of the most important elements of this project is the communication of conclusions about our shared research to the communities it impacts. We intend to do this not only through performances, which will be recorded, curated, and made available publicly, but also through enabling students and representatives of the local groups we outline in the Pathways to Impact to participate in the performance activities themselves. Through the use of digital social media and virtual presentations at sites, we can reach an international community in both Ise and Kent. Researchers can post pictures, text, commentary, lectures, performance and share their views. The University of Kent will host a website and blog-page which will provide details about the project and its objectives, as well as regular blog entries from team members detailing the project's progress. Looking at long-term collaborations, it offers the opportunity to create digital libraries comprising texts, photos, and films in order to preserve these intangible performance collaborative ventures. The project will have a related social media account (Twitter) which will provide updates about the project and link the project to other research partners.


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