A Voyage through Words and Music

On June the 11th 1613 after a very long two year journey, the first official British envoy, the Clove, arrived in Japan. On board was commander John Saris, who’s mission it was to establish trading stations around Japan. And thus began the 400 year long Japan-UK relationship.

To celebrate this long-lasting friendship, on Tuesday June 11th Japan400 put on a show  which featured live music, both Western and Japanese, as well as readings and extracts from the ship’s log. The event was held in the very same church where lies John Saris, All Saints Church.

John Saris' Tomb
John Saris’ Tomb

The main performers were Okeanos, an innovative ensemble that mix both western and Japanese instruments. However, there was also a special guest appearance from shamisen player Hibiki Ichikawa. If you have been to a few Japanese events around London, I’m sure you would have seen at least one of his performances 😉

The event opened with a traditional sake barrel opening to kick things off.



After this, everyone got a chance to mingle before the show started. This was a really nice opportunity to speak to different people who all shared a same interest. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Ferrara and Mr. Kemp who spoke to me about their restaurant, Benihana of Tokyo, which I’m really looking forward to go to! So watch this space 😉

Mr. Ferrara and Mr. Kemp
Mr. Ferrara and Mr. Kemp

After all the mingling, it was time to sit down and begin the show. 400 people were at the event, which means I really should’ve been smarter and saved a seat with a better view beforehand, but unfortunately I did not (~_~;) So for about the first 10 minutes I tried to convince myself I don’t really need to see what’s happening, and that I just needed to listen and appreciate the music.

Now I’m really not an expert on music or anything, seeing as I dropped out of my piano lessons after about 3 months, and only lasted about a year in guitar (^^;; But I do appreciate good music. However, I’m more of a visual person, so I decided I’d spend the rest of the show stood up at the back to get a better view.

The first half focused on western style music, with a piano piece of L’isle Joyeuse by Débussy and some British sea shanties such as Drunken Sailor to illustrate the voyage of John Saris. In between songs we heard excerpts of the ship’s log.

The second half, was the arrival in Japan, so featured Japanese music. Actually, this section even opened up with a dance called tasuke haiya bushi, which is a dance performed by residents in the town of Tasuke, Hirado, the port where Saris’ ship arrived.

Click on the picture to see more!

Overall I felt the evening had a really nice atmosphere and was quite enjoyable. What I thought was really great about the event though, was that the performers themselves reflected the influences both countries have had on each other. With foreigners playing, dancing and singing in Japanese, and in turn Japanese performers singing in English…you honestly couldn’t celebrate 400 years of friendship any better way.


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