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Demythologising Japanese Cultural Symbols in Yudai Kamisato's Happy Prince Fish

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date22/06/2022
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventInternational Federation for Theatre Research World Congress: Shifting Centres: In the Middle of Nowhere - University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland
Duration: 20/06/202224/06/2022


ConferenceInternational Federation for Theatre Research World Congress
Abbreviated titleIFTR World Congress
Internet address


The discourse about Japanese identity, or nihonjiron/Japaneseness, has been popularised in Japan since the end of Second World War. Eiji Oguma (1995) argued that the Japanese self-images shifted whenever Japanese relationship with the outside world changed. At the heart of these shifts was always the central and/or peripheral role of the Emperor. Furthermore, the dominant discourses have dismissed the co-existence of multicultural (tabunka kyōsei) within Japan itself. Most recently the postponed 2021 Olympics opening ceremony was shrouded in controversies that highlighted the absence of otherness in Japanese society.

In this paper, I will examine the work of Peru-born Japanese theatre director and playwright Yudai Kamisato. He has been interrogating the notion of Japaneseness with performances inspired by the stories heard during his travels in South America and around Japan. As Tokyo prepared for the postponed Olympics, Kamisato travelled to Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake and one of the oldest in the world. Kamisato’s play Happy Prince Fish (premiered in late 2019) is loosely inspired by a noh play Chikubu-shima, set on an island in the middle of Lake Biwa. My performance analysis will explore Kamisato’s multi-faceted aesthetics. In the play Kamisato traces the origins of the Japanese cultural symbol, a musical instrument biwa from which the ancient lake derives its name. The prince in the title refers to the former Japanese emperor who introduced the invasive foreign fish into the lake before the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964.

My analysis will also explore how Kamisato’s work crosses borders through fusing of the Japanese traditional theatre techniques and postdramatic theatre strategies. I will also argue that the intertextuality, prevalent in his theatre works, demythologises Japanese cultural symbols. Kamisato’s oeuvre thereby occupies a liminal position between present and past issues of diversity in Japanese society.