In 2012, Shirotama Hitsujiya (performer, playwright, director) and Mikuni Yanaihara (choreographer, dancer, playwright, director) launched the Asian Women Performing Arts Collective, inspired by the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre created in the early 1990s by the late Koharu Kisaragi and the late Rio Kishida, both of whom were leading female playwrights and directors. The Asian Women Performing Arts Collective (or Ajokai) consists of artists, producers, translators, scholars, and film directors from various Asian countries. We gather together to understand women’s experiences in our different ethnicities, societies, languages, cultures, and histories. We hope to communicate these shared experiences through performances in various countries and languages.
Message from the Founding Members
It was spring of 2000 when the late Koharu Kisaragi approached me. “Are you interested in joining the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre? Asia, women, and theatre are all considered – don’t you think it interesting?,” she said. Koharu passed away that winter. Three years later, Rio Kishida, who took over the conference from Koharu, also passed away. Although I replied to Koharu, “Yes, I will join it,” I wasn’t able to fulfill my promise while she was alive. Now, after over ten years, I told Mikuni Yanaihara this story, and the two of us decided that we should take over.
And so, hello, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Women Performing Arts Collective, or Ajokai, a shorter version of the Japanese name.
The comment Koharu made, that Asia, women, and theatre are “all considered,” still holds even today. When people come together, we instinctively want to impose hierarchy. But I should also mention that such a hierarchy is often not fixed. In our long history, there have been periods during which Asia held the pinnacle of power and nobility, and in ancient Greece, there was a period in which theatre was regarded with the same significance as politics and religion. In Plato’s Symposium, Androgynous appears as a third sex, feared by the gods.
But, even though hierarchy is not stable, as long as it exists, there are always those who are considered. As one of such “second-rate” beings, I want to demonstrate our thoughts without fear. For one thing, we “the second-rate” people don’t like hierarchy, and therefore, although I’m a founding member of Ajokai, I will not be pulling the group in any direction as a strong leader. I know this is not a typical way that a group operates, so there is a chance that our group may collapse when confronted with whatever with “strong leadership.” Meanwhile, however, there may already be the beginnings of an alternative form of “working together”somewhere in the world. It may already be blooming nearby. I want to know what women performing artists from Asia, including Japan, think about this.
In order for us to talk about this and in order for us to make something out of it, and then to throw that out into the world and reflect on it, I’ve begun to meet with these women. I’ve started study groups to learn about “our” histories. What the 21st century needs is neither urban planning, economic strategies, nor massive production and consumption of cultures, arts, and foods. What we need is to examine past achievements and negative legacies, in order to turn them into treasures for the future. I believe that there is plenty of potential in Asia, women, and theatre to do this. I think that’s why Koharu said they were interesting.
I want to play. Using the body of Asia, omen, and performing arts.
There are quite a lot of people around me who say they’ve never experienced sexism. Even still, in Japan and in many parts of the world, society is male-centric. The idea that “girls should be like this!” still remains deeply ingrained in our society. Flat unity, cultural uniformity, and simplification of shared value systems continually spread around, as if these were our own choice. But I believe that what makes society interesting is diverse values. I hope that, by creating a collective with the women of Ajokai, we will pave the way for this.
Born in Hokkaido in 1967, Hitsujiya is Artistic Director of Yubiwa Hotel. She is also a playwright, director, and performer. In 2006, she was chosen as one of the “100 Japanese Women Acclaimed by the World” by Newsweek Japan. More recently, her work has jumped out of theater spaces into site specific environments such as oceans, trains, and tunnels, and has been presented in art festivals nationally and internationally. In 2014, she started an art project Tokyo Soup and Blanket Travel Diary, produced by the Tokyo Arts Council. www.yubiwahotel.com
Leader/choreographer of the dance company, Nibroll, Yanaihara has been invited to present her work at national and international festivals. Also as a playwright and director, she was honored with the 56th Kunio Kishida Drama Award. Under the group name off-Nibroll, she has created numerous art pieces that have been included in the Shanghai Biennale, Ohara Museum, and Mori Museum, among others. Her work crosses borders of dance, theatre, and visual arts. She is a recipient of the Japan Dance Forum Grand Prize, the National Advisory Panel Award at the International Choreographic Competition in Bagnolet, and the Yokohama Culture Arts Encouragement Award. She teaches in the Department of Performing Arts at Kindai University.http://www.nibroll.com
Members (in alphabetical order)
Lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, Anan received her PhD in Theater and Performance Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her primary areas of research include contemporary Japanese performance and visual arts through the lens of gender and sexuality theory. She has published articles in various edited collections and journals such as TDR, Theatre Research International, Journal of Popular Culture, among others. In her recent monograph, Contemporary Japanese Women’s Theatre and Visual Arts: Performing Girls’ Aesthetics (Palgrave 2016), she has explored ”girls’ aesthetics,” the rejection of material bodies of women, as a political tool. The monograph also outlines the history of Ajokai’s predecessor, the Conference for Asian Women and Theatre. She has been invited to present her research at the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the Barbican Centre, the Japan Society, and others.
An actor with ARICA, Ando is from Gifu Prefecture. From 1977 to 1988, she was a member of the Gekidan Tenkei theater company led by Shogo Ota, where she performed in all the productions written and directed by Ota. Most notable performances included The Water Station and ↑ with which she toured internationally. After the company disbanded, she continued to work with Ota, and participated in international projects as an actor in Europe and Asia. In 2001, with director Yasuki Fujita and poet Shino Kuraishi, she founded ARICA, a unique performance group with nine core members specializing in different areas such as visual arts, music, and design. For each production, they invite guest dancers, actors, and musicians, and create experimental new work annually. Ando has appeared in all the ARICA productions including KIOSK, Love Is Blind, and Happy Days, and has performed internationally with these works. She was awarded the Best Solo Performance Award for her appearance in Parachute Woman at the 2005 Cairo International Experimental Theatre Festival. In recent years, she has been collaborating with theatre artists in India.
Associate Professor of English Theatre and Cultural Studies at Kobe University of Foreign Studies. Her areas of research are on early modern and contemporary British drama, with particular emphasis on productions of Shakespeare in “Asian” contexts. Her academic publications include contributions to The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare (Routledge, 2008), Shakespeare Studies 49 (2011), Shakespeare 7.3 (2011), and A History of Japanese Theatre (Cambridge University Press, 2016). She is also actively involved in the creation of theatre as a dramaturg, translator and critic. Her recent translation works were commissioned by F/T, Kyoto Experiment, PARASOPHIA, and SPAC. She is a regular writer for English and Japanese language media including The Japan Times(www.japantimes.co.jp/author/int-mika_eglinton). She is one of the core members of the Asian Shakespeare Intercultural Archive (A|S|I|A) and co-researchers for Scene/Asia, Art Commons Tokyo.
A graduate of Tama Art University’s Department of Japanese Painting, Kato began participating in Daisan Erotica theatre company as a staff member while she was still a student. After spending eight years with the company, she launched her career as a freelance set designer. She studied under set designer Setsu Asakura. In 1999, she was awarded the Yomiuri Theatre Award for Emperor and Kiss and Tokyo Trial 1999, both productions by Rinkogun theater company, written and directed by Yoji Sakate. Her most prominent works include stage designs for Daisan Erotica’s The Man Named Macbeth (written and directed by Takeshi Kawamura), Rinkogun theatre company’s world tour of The Capital of the Kingdom of Gods (written and directed by Yoji Sakate), Noda Map’s Run Melos (written and directed by Hideki Noda), Shinobu Otake’s one-person show Tit for Tat (written and directed by Hideki Noda), Kabuki-za’s Tongue-Cut Sparrow (written and directed by Eri Watanabe), Korea Arts Hall performance of For Whom the Bell Tolls (written by Shu Kim and directed by Shin San Ok), the New National Theater’s A Man Named Otto (directed by Hitoshi Uyama), the 50th anniversary season of NHK’s program, With Mother, Theatre Company EXILE’s Red Cliff Battle, among others. Currently she is a member of Theatre Center Without Walls and the Asian Women Performing Arts Collective, continuing to work for the stage nationally and internationally.
Theatre critic and leader/director/choreographer of dance company Oyatsu Table, Maeda received her MA in theatre from Lancaster University. After working as an assistant for the Theatre Museum at Waseda University and for theatre directors, the late Shogo Ota and Yoji Sakate, she began writing about contemporary theatre and dance in magazines/journals such as Studio Voice, Eureka, Bijutsu Techo, and the web magazine, CINRA.
After completing the Agency for Cultural Affairs Program of Overseas Training for Upcoming Artists during which she worked for the Japan Society Performing Arts program in New York, she was the Head of Production at the Kyoto Performing Arts Center at Kyoto University of Art and Design. Following that position, she worked as a producer for Bird Theatre Company in Tottori, Children’s Future Network in Sakai Minato, Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre, and Kodo Cultural Foundation among other public theatres and non-profit arts organizations, creating performing arts projects that are connected to local communities. She has taken part in the development of work, research, symposia, conferences, international projects, and festivals. Currently she works freelance, nationally and internationally, as a producer of performing arts and various events . She joined the Asian Women Performing Arts Collective in April, 2015.
Born in Tokyo in 1977, Sugita is a film director and novelist. His full-length debut film One Song was screened at the 24th Tokyo International Film Festival and later toured nationally. He was the photographer on the collaborative project “Song Long Long Short Song Long” with singer Koichi Masuno. His novels include Lover of River and One Song. He has also created numerous video projects for live performance including The Half-Life of Kaneko (HiBye), Bath-Tub Ship (Fukai Produce Hagoromo), and Flood/ YUBIWA Hotel Documentary. Currently he is working on four films based on tanka poems, beginning with I Never Thought It Was the Reason Why Inverted Batteries Don’t Shine. When he was a student at Rikkyo University, he served as a staff member on a theatre workshop for middle and high school students led by Koharu Kisaragi; he has since led film workshops based on this experience. He teaches at Rikkyo University’s College of Contemporary Psychology Department of Body Expression and Cinematic Arts, Sagamihara Seiryo High School in Kanagawa, and Setagaya Art Museum Art University.
Playwright and director Hiroko Takai was born in Tokyo. After working with Seinendan theatre company, she founded her own company Tokyo Tambourine in 1995, for which she has written and directed all productions. Besides her activities with her theatre company, she has created new work in Hiroshima and Sapporo, and teaches at Enbu Seminar. She collaborated with film director Katsuyuki Motohiro to create the performance Fabrica Trilogy (2007-2008) for which she wrote the script. She has written scripts for the film Rinco’s Restaurant starring Ko Shibasaki and other TV dramas and radio.
Keiko Tsuneda graduated from the University of Tokyo, where she majored in Psychology. After working as an actor for Yumeno Yuminsha, Kiyama Jimusho, and NOISE, she worked as a producer for Parco Theater in Tokyo and later became a translator. The first of her translations to be produced was Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love directed by Amon Miyamoto at Parco Theatre in 1993. The plays she has translated for Japanese language productions include: Piaf, The History Boys, Time Stands Still, Sixteen Wounded, Morning’s at Seven, Glengarry Glen Ross, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Chicago, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Miracle Worker, Legends!, and Democracy. She has also translated Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays, Ridiculous! and The Power of the Playwright’s Vision, among others. In 2001 she was awarded the Yoshiko Yuasa Theater Translation Award for Best Translation.