Sheffield hosts festival of Japanese culture

Mika Ninagawa film Helter Skelter
Mika Ninagawa film Helter Skelter

Leading figures in contemporary Japanese art and culture are coming to Sheffield over the next week as part of the first Japan Now North festival.

The week of activities celebrating art, culture, literature and film comes to the city which is home to one of Europe’s leading academic centres for research and teaching on Japan.

It is the Northern offshoot of the Japan Now event which has been running in London for the past three years.

The programme has been produced by Dr Kate Taylor-Jones and Dr Mark Pendleton from the university’s School of East Asian Studies

“Sheffield is the oldest Japanese school outside London and was therefore the logical location when the Japan Now organisation thought to bring things further north,” explains Dr Taylor-Jones..

“It has been going three years centred on the British Library and it has been more literary based. We decided we wanted to widen it to popular culture,” says the senior lecturer who has written books on Japanese film.

Adds Dr Mark Pendleton: “We have this long tradition of teaching Japanese over 50 years and this really connects with that work.”

That said, the aim is to reach out to the city as a whole with most of the events off campus.

It starts tonight, Thursday, February 21, with the opening of From Place to Place, an exhibition by Suzanne Mooney running at Bloc Projects until March 3. She is an award-winning visual artist and art academic based in Tokyo and on show will be photographic images of city-view observatories in Tokyo, and an ongoing series of self- portraits in different locations.

Mika Ninagawa, photographer and filmmaker, famous for her images of pop idols, flowers and goldfish all rendered in marvelous technicolour, will be giving a talk, Visualising Japanese Idols, in the Council Chamber at the Town Hall on Saturday preceded by a screening of her film, Helter Skelter, and an anime workshop.

“Mika Ninagawa is a big name and has a cult worldwide following, especially with fans of Japanese pop, photography and fashion design,” says Dr Taylor-Jones. “It will be the first time she has done anything outside London and Helter Skelter was never released in the UK.”

At the Showroom on Monday Megumi Sasaki, documentary filmmaker, will introduce the UK Premiere of her work, A Whale of a Tale,  examining the complex issue of Japan’s contemporary dolphin hunting

At the Showroom on Tuesday Kyoko Miyake will show and talks about her documentary Tokyo Idols, exploring the phemonemon of girl bands. 

Earlier on Tuesday there’s Life after Disaster, a conversation between two writers at the Graves Gallery. Richard Lloyd Parry, Tokyo-based Asia Editor of The Times, wrote Ghosts of the Tsunami and Mariko Nagai’s poetry collection, Irradiated Cities, traces Japan’s nuclear past.

Novelist Tomoyuki Hoshino whose latest work is ME: A Novel will be in conversation at Roco Creative Co-op on Wednesday with Deborah Smith, literary translator (including Korean novelist Hang Kang’s The Vegetarian, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize) who set up Tilted Axis publishing house in Sheffield

Dr Taylor-Jones concludes: “We hope to make it a regular event and in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to make people more interested in Japan.”