Kumiko Mendl and Kazuko Hohki present in association with New Earth Theatre
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
So we asked them
We interviewed dozens of women who were born in Japan but have settled in the UK since 1945.
From Aberdeen to Huddersfield, Belfast to London, we have collected stories that amazed, shocked and delighted us, upending tired stereotypes of Japanese women.
Tsunagu/Connect is a multi-phased, multi-year project that explores the lives of Japanese women living in the UK since 1945. In the spring of 2020, we started gathering oral histories from dozens of women. Inspired and informed by these interviews, we are creating an immersive theatrical adventure that will be performed and exhibited in the spring of 2022.
Tsunagu:Connect poses the vital question:
“What price must we pay to create a third space, neither one nation nor the other, where we finally have room to be ourselves?”
Tsunagu/Connect Live is an immersive performance piece with an accompanying exhibition, set to debut at Shoreditch Town Hall in April 2022.
Four Japanese women will serve as your tour guides on a kaleidoscopic journey across continents and decades, from Shōwa era Japan to the bedsits of 80’s London, via the Empire Windrush’s final voyage and present-day immigration nightmares.
Part exhibition and part performace, Tsunagu/Connect Live will give audiences an exhilarating and unpredictable series of live scenes that pop up in and amongst the exhibits, which feature objects related to and charged with the interviewees memories, fears and aspirations.
In their attempts to bridge Britain and Japan, the women reveal the complex, multi-layered reality of migrants reconciling with rootlessness.
Tsunagu/Connect: The Exhibition will feature objects and photos gathered from the women we interviewed, a short film made from the Intergenerational Film Workshop and a book corner displaying books written by the women we interviewed. The exhibition will explore the themes of migration, identity and self discovery.
Tsunagu/Connect: The Exhibition will be artsdepot, North Finchley, 13-19 February 2022.
Earth 2 Air is New Earth Theatres brand new podcast, aiming to further amplify and champion stories of East and South East Asians in the UK. Our first series features some of the women involved with Tsunagu/Connect. They talk about what brought them to the UK, the reasons they have stayed and some of the challenges they have faced as immigrants in this country.
This 7-part series is hosted by Artistic Director Kumiko Mendl and theatre-maker Kazuko Hoki with new episodes out every fortnight from the 13th September. All episodes will be available on most podcast platforms: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Castbox and Breaker.
To listen to the podcasts, go here.
Have you ever wanted to learn more about your heritage? Are you interested in learning basic filmmaking techniques
New Earth Theatre is looking for up to 10 young people of Japanese heritage (age 8-16) to interview their mothers and/or grandmothers as part of Tsunagu/Connect. Participants will receive a free filmmaking and interview techniques workshop with director and filmmaker Fumi Gomez. This workshop will give you the skills you need to record an interview with your mother and/or grandmother on a mobile phone, tablet or DSLR camera. A short film will be created from the interviews and shown as part of the Tsunagu/Connect exhibition in 2022.
*Please note all participants under the age of 16 will need to attend with a parent,guardian or carer.
The Intergenerational Film Workshop will take place on Saturday 23 October 2021, 1:30-5:30pm at artsdepot, North Finchley. If you are interested in participating, please email [email protected].
Prior to the performance, a postcard will be sent to audiences in the post. On the front, the postcard will feature an illustration by Natsko Seki based on story from the women we interviewed. Contained within the image is a registration code that will trigger a 3D animation to pop up. There are five postcards in total.
If you are interested in learning more or would like to sign up to receive a postcard, please email [email protected].
Tsunagu/Connect is a project led by New 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.
Kumiko Mendl, Co-author
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 New Earth Theatre, 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 Hohki, Co-author
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
Stewart Melton, Dramaturg
Stewart is a writer, director and dramaturg. He scripted Islander, which was selected for the Made In Scotland 2019 showcase and won Musical Theatre Review’s Best Musical Award. His other scripts include Seesaw (Unicorn Theatre), Time Lapse (Southwark Playhouse), Phoenix and Turtle (Little Angel Theatre). He has worked as a dramaturg with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic, Hull Truck, Ovalhouse and Arcola.
TK Hay, Design
TK is a theatre designer from Singapore and won the Linbury Prize in 2019 for Vinay Patel’s An Adventure at the Bolton Octagon He is interested in the application of technology in theatre design practice and is currently pursuing an MA in Design for Performance (Virtual Reality).
Nao Nagai, Lighting Design
Nao is a London based lighting designer, technical collaborator and performer from Japan. Recent credits include Scenes with Girls (Royal Court), Yellowman (Young Vic) and Fake it Till You Make it (Bryony Kimmings). She is a tutor in Lighting Design at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Kay Stephens, Project Manager Oral History
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