Kumiko Mendl and Kazuko Hohki present in association with Yellow Earth
No one knows how many Japanese women are living in the UK
No-one knows why they came
No one knows how long they have been here
No-one knows their stories
Tsunagu/Connect is a multi-phased, multi-year project that starts with the gathering of oral histories of Japanese women living in the UK since 1945. Commencing with oral history interviews in the spring of 2020, it culminates in a live immersive production, virtual reality installation and exhibition in 2021.
The are many stereotypes and misrepresentations of Japanese women in the West, such as the submissive, stay-at-home, model wife and mother. We aim for this project to go some way to redressing this imbalance by highlighting the many rich and varied voices and experiences of Japanese women living in the UK . With the help of volunteer interviewers, we will gather the true stories of these women who often risked family shame and security to travel halfway across the globe to settle in a country where they barely knew anyone and were not always welcome.
Based on these interviews, we will create an immersive performance piece that speaks of inner and outer lives, of personal and public and of the tensions that lie between. This groundbreaking production will use VR technology to provide an intimate glimpse into the women’s domestic worlds, with acclaimed performance maker Kazuko Hohki as our compere and guide.
Tsunagu/Connect is a project led by Yellow Earth Theatre and held in partnership with the Japan Society and the Museum of London. It is part of the Japan-UK Season of Culture 2019-2020.
In order to learn more about the lives of these women and to gather their stories, we are still looking for Japanese women living in the UK to be interviewed. Please email [email protected] to register your interest.
We have partnered with Chocolate Films to hold a programme of free online video workshops for up to 10 children or young people of Japanese heritage (age 8-16) to interview their mothers or grandmothers. Participants will learn about oral history interview techniques and how to record the interviews on their mobile phones. This programme will begin in late May, and will consist of five weekly one hour workshops to take place over Zoom. A short film will be created from the interviews, which will be part of the exhibition in 2021.
If you are interested in taking part, please email [email protected]
Kumiko was born in the UK to a Japanese Mother and refugee father from Nazi Germany. She trained at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris and has worked as an actor, teacher, storyteller and director over a thirty year career. She is Artistic Director of Yellow Earth, the award winning British East Asian theatre company. For the company she conceived and directed the most recent and highly successful touring shows, Dim Sum Nights, Yeh Shen and Why the Lion Danced (seen by a total of over 10,000 people), and co-directed with Maria Oshodi the recent critically acclaimed Flight Paths, and with Gary Merry on The Last Days of Limehouse (Limehouse Old Town Hall) and Rashomon (Riverside Studios). She helped set up the first BEA acting summer school: Yellow Earth Academy in 2010 to encourage more BEA’s into the industry. She is also co-founder and co-Artistic Director of Japanese children’s theatre A Thousand Cranes and Artistic Associate at artsdepot.
Kazuko is originally from Japan, and moved to London from Tokyo in 1978. She founded London based Japanese cult-alternative pop performance group Frank Chickens, which released 5 albums and toured worldwide. In 2010, Frank Chickens were awarded the Edinburgh Comedy God Award. Following more than two decades of success in music, film and TV, Kazuko has been making theatre since the late 1990s. Fusing idiosyncratic storytelling with multimedia, film, animation, interventions and original music, Kazuko has created numerous award winning performance works commissioned by UK venues, including Battersea Arts Centre, MAC, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Bluecoat Arts Centre, Chelsea Theatre, Jacksons Lane and Farnham Maltings. These works have been performed to critical acclaim here and abroad. Lately she is focusing on participatory projects, devising performances via community and school workshops . www.kazukohohki.com
Kay holds an MPhil and BA in Philosophy from UCL. She recently completed a traineeship at Eastside Community Heritage, a local heritage charity that runs oral history projects in East London. She has also delivered creative workshops for other heritage projects, including Activating Newham – a project exploring Newham’s history of anti-racist community activism. Kay is also an editor of daikon* zine, which explores issues of solidarity, community, and the experiences of East and Southeast Asian people of marginalised genders. This sparked an interest in the global material conditions that lead to different modes of East and Southeast Asian racialisation in the diaspora. As such, Kay is interested in learning more about the class character of Japan-UK migration, and the gendered experiences of post-war Japanese women migrants in the UK.
On Sunday 26 January 2-5pm, a launch event was held at the Museum of London. Over 60 people came to find out more about the project and how you can get involved. Alongside an introduction to the Tsunagu/Connect project by Kumiko Mendl, Artistic Director of Yellow Earth, there was a short illustrated talk by writer Keiko Itoh author of The Japanese Community in Pre-War Britain:From Integration to Disintegration. Attendees were then given an opportunity to participate in workshops on oral history practices, explore the museum’s Japanese collections and consult on plans for the new Museum of London (opening in 2024).
Oral history training session led by project manager Kay Stephens. 22 February 2020
Tsunagu/Connect is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund