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Wisdom of Japan through Kyogen drama

Kabuki and Noh are well known the world over as forms of Japanese drama but there is an equally interesting, less well-known form of drama called Kyogen which brings out the lighter side of the Japanese.


Akihiro Taino

Audiences in Sri Lanka will get a rare opportunity to catch an authentic Kyogen performance as part of a “Cool Japan: Wisdom of Japan” cultural extravaganza in Colombo and Kelaniya on February 19 and 20. This is the first time that a Kyogen performance is being held in Sri Lanka.

The events are coordinated by the Honganji Foundation, Kyoto, Embassy of Japan, Western Provincial Council, University of Kelaniya and the Japan Foundation. The event has received the fullest blessings of Most. Ven. Ohtani Chohjun, who leads the Honganji Foundation.

Kyogen, which hails from the historic city of Kyoto, is a traditional Japanese stage arts known to be one of the world's oldest and foremost comedy drama forms of the medieval period.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer, Akihiro Taino, General Manager of the Foreign Event and public relations Division of the Honganji Foundation, Kyoto, said the twin events will provide a rare opportunity for the Sri Lankan public, especially those interested in Japanese culture, to see and learn more about Kyogen performances and Japanese culture in general.

“It is a very pure art form that has stood the test of time. It is difficult to catch a Kyogen performance even in Japan, so this is a great chance for all those who love Japan to see this authentic performance by performers from the Nomura Art School,” Taino said.

While the Kyogen performance and symposium will be the centrepiece of Cool Japan exhibition, Taino said it will encapsulate the entire gamut of Japanese culture.

DVDs that showcase Japanese history and culture, with a special focus on Kyoto, will be screened and distributed. The DVD and an accompanying pictorial book will be distributed free of charge to Japanese language schools, Sri Lankan government officials, and representatives of Japanese societies in Sri Lanka and embassies of various countries.

The theme ‘Cool Japan’ portrays modern Japan as a dynamic nation that looks forward to the future whilst preserving its past traditions.


A scene from Kyogen drama

Symposium on Kyogen

Date: February 19 at 3 p.m.
Venue: Sri Lanka Foundation Institute Auditorium, Colombo

Izumi School Kyogen performance (company led by Mansaku Nomura), Showing of the “Cool Japan” DVD (“Wisdom of Japan”) and Symposium on “Cool Japan” (“Wisdom of Japan”).

List of panellists: Nobuhito Hobo (Ambassador of Japan to Sri Lanka), Dr. Ryu Murakami (Director, Fine Arts, Kyoto Museum), Yukio Ishida (Senior Artist, Nomura Art School of Kyogen), Prof. H.D. Karunaratne (Dean, Management Faculty, University of Colombo) and Dr. Sunil Wijesiriwardena (Visiting Lecturer, University of Colombo).

Kyogen Workshop
Date: February 20 at 3 p.m.
Venue: University of Kelaniya, Colombo

Program: Performances of Kyogen by the company led by Mansaku Nomura and by students at the University of Kelaniya. Kyogen classes to be taught by members of the Mansaku Nomura company.

“Sri Lanka and Japan have a centuries-old relationship that is based on and inspired by Buddhism. In fact, the common thread that runs between both countries is Buddhism. The cultures of both countries are based on Buddhism. Kyoto being the heart and soul of Buddhism in Japan, art forms from Kyoto represent the very essence of Japan. The people of Japan identify very easily with the people of Sri Lanka. It is a timeless bond.

We share many similarities than differences,” he said. “People in Sri Lanka and elsewhere voiced their interesting in learning more about the roots of Japan's spiritual culture, thought, and philosophy, as well as other manifestations of the Japanese heart and mind--particularly in terms of revealing “cool Japan” on a deeper level.”

He said the Cool Japan exhibition and the Kyogen performance would be especially important for students of Japanese culture and language in Sri Lanka. It would be an ideal fusion of the age-old wisdoms of Sri Lanka and Japan.

In fact, Kelaniya University students will perform two Kyogen dramas titled Suminuri (Crocodile Tears) and Busu (Poison) at the Dharmaloka Hall of the University of Kelaniya on February 20, which will reflect this infusion. Such initiatives will also promote peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, Taino said.

He said the Kyogen performances, workshop and exhibition will be an impetus for the Sri Lanka-Japan diplomatic ties which are now over 60 years old.

The Honganji Foundation received a certificate of appreciation from the Japanese Foreign Ministry in 2012 for outstanding achievements in the realm of international exchange.

“Japan is cool, Japan is modern, but we have never lost sight of values based on Buddhism. This event will help reinforce the friendship between our two nations and expose a cultural facet of Japan that only a few people have seen so far,” he said.

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