Sunday, 3 February 2013

Ohayo gozaimasu おはようございます

A long time ago, in another life, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to learn Japanese. The company paid for this and, every week, an ever decreasing set of people would trundle in to a meeting room for an evening of linguistic torture. I chose the title because, right rightly the first phrase I learned as ohayo gozaimasu, good morning, a greeting, part of the delightful formal exchange I would come to love deeply. I loved the logic of the language too. As a software person I appreciated the clarity of overloading phrases in a consistent matter, for instance o genki desu ka, essentially "are you well?" would lose the question and become a confirmation, genki desu, "I am well".


I enjoyed the times I went to Japan after I was taught a little, it suddenly became a less terrifying place. It's not the people or the place that brings terror, it's the lack of understanding of signs, they tended to be written in a combination of kanji, hiragana or katakana. I could just about translate hiragana, via romaji into to english, things became clear. I began to understand and feel comfortable with this country of deeply civilised people.

Which brings me to the present.

400 years ago this year an English ship landed in Japan and our trading relations creaked in to being, though it was a little tortured at first. However, an englishman was already in Japan, one William Adams. He'd arrived, drifted in really, in 1600. An astonishing tale. Fortunately for Adams he was open minded, keen to learn, explore, challenge and, ultimately, integrate. He is the sort of man that would have been welcome at an Elizabethan Contrary Towers, forsooth.

So what's the connection?

Well, I received a text on Friday from my lovely friend @Feinics11 asking if I'd like attend a matinee performance of Anjin: The Shogun and The English Samurai, being shown at Sadler's Wells. Did I want to go? Duh! As it happened I was double booked, so I had to initially decline. Fortunately though (actually unfortunately as I was looking forward to a meandering day with a friend) I became free so skipped to the DLR and headed for the scary, dark, delights of Islington...

I took garlic, a wooden stake and a silver bullet just in case.

The play was simply astonishing. I haven't enjoyed one quite so much in ages. Not only was it beautifully produced, but it also provided the intellectual challenge of seeing how much Japanese I could actually remember as whilst the English parts were in English, the Japanese were in full on, idiomatic, Japanese. I was in heaven.

This was no Tokugawa Shogunate 'allo 'allo.

Don't get me wrong, if you don't speak or understand a word of Japanese you should still go, it was so well acted you knew exactly what was going on without having to refer to the subtitle screens (Japanese for English, English for Japanese). The story unfolded with a measured, unrelenting throb of culture, politics and unlikely friendships. True there were parts that made me feel deeply uncomfortable as, yes, I believed my European forebears could have been that ignorant and arrogant. It was also interesting to see how the Jesuits were portrayed as they worked to convert the Japanese people to a Papist vision of Catholicism. Fabulous stuff.

Sadly, the play is only on until the 9th of February. If you can get to it then go! You really won't be disappointed.

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