A Message from the Directors 2023


Kyoto Experiment 2023 explores ideas related to maze maze, a Japanese term pronounced “ma-ze ma-ze” and literally meaning “mix mix.” Maze maze forms the key to open doors behind which we find various kinds of questions. It is not a thematic label intended to cover everything in the festival, but rather something that we hope you will prove useful for obtaining a range of perspectives on the lineup.

Major prompts that led us to this framing of maze maze were the ideas about language (including body language), inheritance, and identity that we can see in several of the works included in the Shows program. We discussed how these concepts don’t pose singular questions about authenticity, but rather intermix different things. Conversely, the situation that we find ourselves in today at home and abroad seems increasingly divided in various ways and dominated by stark dichotomies. Maze maze is a framing for the festival that we hope can form a pivot in such circumstances for reflecting on mutability, fluidity, and plurality.

When thinking about identity and attributes, we tend to start with nationality, ethnicity, and language. Reflecting on those points of departure in terms of maze maze may allow us to interpret contemporary society in alternative ways.

The festival programs feature a lineup of works dealing with questions and subjects related to language as a second language, forms of body language like dance and gesture, and how these are passed down to others, and also concepts of cultural purity and how culture changes as it transmits and circulates. More broadly, perhaps we consider how cultural and social identities are constructed or deconstructed, and then the ways in which power structures and hierarchies impinge on this.

Rather than giving a commentary on the organization of the program or each of the works in the lineup, we would like to treat the rest of this text as a set of notes about the thoughts that maze maze has inspired for the three of us. We hope this helps audiences enjoy the festival’s programs (Kansai Studies, Shows, and Super Knowledge for the Future) while intermixing them with their own ideas.

Whither Authenticity and Standards? (Yoko Kawasaki)

I want to write about Kansai dialect, which is the most familiar example of maze maze for me.

During my childhood in Sapporo, I would use something close to standard Japanese outside the home (Sapporo has its own dialect but kids tend to speak in what is effectively standard Japanese) and Kansai dialect at home. My family was originally from Kyoto and Kansai dialect was our lingua franca. We moved many times and though I lived in Sapporo from infancy until junior high, I was actually born in Mie. As a result, answering the question of where I’m from requires a bit of clarification. Being asked about my hometown often feels like my interlocutor is checking what kind of regional or cultural identity I have, so I’m unsure which place I should say is my hometown in that sense. That aside, I thought I’d maintained a perfect division between how I spoke in and outside the home, but when I went to high school in Kyoto, where it felt fine to use the same vernacular in and out of the home, a classmate told me that my Kansai dialect was a bit strange. I then realized for the first time that my Kansai dialect was no longer as “authentic” as I had flattered myself. But this is hardly surprising considering that Mie has its own regional accent and vocabulary, and that standard Japanese was my language of choice for social interactions outside the home in Sapporo. Though I subsequently strove to mimic the way my classmates spoke, my Kansai dialect probably remained something of a hodgepodge. Much later, I found myself wondering just what is “standard” Japanese in the first place and learned it’s a concept that emerged during the process of modernization in Japan, and though it was initially a little daunting to understand that nothing stays “authentic,” that there’s no pre-defined “standard,” it now seems to have given me a degree of freedom.

Like a Virus! (Yuya Tsukahara)

The pandemic’s rampage across the planet and instant impact on our lifestyles was indicative in various ways. Though premised on physical interaction, the virus spread rapidly around the world, to such an extent that I even saw on the news that it reached the depths of the Amazon, astounding me that someone coughing can extend that far. Put the other way around, all manner of values and information zip around our planet today even faster than a virus. Even though there was once a time when information on stocks and shares spread to neighboring towns via carrier pigeon. Day by day, we see and hear such information, including even things we doubt we actually need. All of that information shapes who we are as individuals and our identity, determining (or guiding) what and how we feel, think, and disseminate. Around the time I was in junior high, people starting using the word kyra. I think it was an attempt by the kids around me to consolidate their identity and so establish their own status within a group; something fundamentally limited, akin to filtering the stuff they picked up from anime and so on. And this then influenced how people dressed and spoke. But wouldn’t a more physical kind of influence, something you can’t choose, ordinarily affect you more deeply? The place where you are born. The way you speak to the friends you meet on a daily basis (when I was at elementary school, for instance, a special way of talking became popular and no one was able to stop using it). The food your parents cook for you. The things you just happen to see. The impact these have on you are all added to the mix. Maybe these are ultimately things we can’t control ourselves. Or perhaps that’s “culture,” or day after day of maze maze.

Isn’t That Kind of Surreal? (Juliet Reiko Knapp)

In Japanese, katakana is used for foreign loanwords. For example, banana is バナナ (ba-na-na) and, of course, denotes the same yellow fruit as it does in English. Nouns often retain their exact meaning. However, when words that are used to describe something more conceptual get translated into katakana, I often feel that the meaning or connotations attached to that word changes. These outside words become part of the Japanese language through katakana and, by doing so, pass through different bodies and cultures. During this process, they are transformed and while some things fall away from the words, other things become attached.

I had a Japanese friend who would often use the word shu-ru in a kind of casual way to describe things, situations, clothes, or music. I considered this a useful new Japanese word and learned its meaning, perhaps over six months or so, from the context in which it was used. I also started to use it myself. One day I asked my friend how shu-ru was written in Japanese and to my surprise they responded that it was written in katakana (シュール). I wondered what the original foreign loanword was, thinking it might come from a language other than English, and immediately googled it. I was shocked to learn it came from the English “surreal.” At first, I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t understood that shu-ru meant “surreal” all this time, but simultaneously felt delighted in some way that I had been able to learn, understand, and then experience the concept of surreal without knowing that it was, in fact, “surreal.”

After thinking about this experience more carefully, however, I came to believe that there was a nuance to the Japanese shu-ru that seemed different than the English, and yet I still find it hard to describe what this is in words. If I was to try, I think the Japanese katakana shu-ru can be used in place of “unreal” or “weird” (in a good way), and in this sense has perhaps taken on a broader, more undefinable meaning than its English counterpart. I think this often happens with katakana words, much to the frustration of many Anglophone speakers of Japanese. Loanwords in katakana morph into other words, somehow taking on a life of their own and unable to retain the exact English meaning away from home. I have recently started to enjoy looking for and thinking about the malleability of language, the way in which languages, particularly English, are transformed by different cultures, and then considering how and why that happens in that particular way.

In closing, we would like to mention the KEX Supporters donations scheme, which was launched in 2023. The economic circumstances of the festival have reached a critical stage, prompting us to hold a crowdfunding campaign in 2022. This year, we established a new donor system as a more sustainable way for people to support the festival. If you are able, we hope you consider using the system to support us so that we can continue our efforts as an experimental platform for the arts.

Yoko Kawasaki Yuya Tsukahara Juliet Reiko Knapp
Co-directors, Kyoto Experiment

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