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In April 2016, Kumamoto prefecture, in southern Japan, was shaken by a huge earthquake which destroyed hundreds of houses and displaced thousands of people, many of whom are still living in temporary accommodation 7 months on. It was in the wake of this disaster that the British Embassy in Tokyo and RSA Japan Fellows’ Network teamed up to run workshops with 300 high school students in the areas that had been worst affected.

We wanted to do something that would connect the students with a global audience and we wanted it to be creative and fun. Our solution was to create movie messages that would allow the students to have a “conversation” with children in the UK. The first challenge was to find a school in the UK willing to take part. Having heard of the RSA Academies, I contacted Adanna Shallowe, Manager of RSA’s Global team. Within moments, the RSA networking machine was in action and it wasn’t long before I was skyping with Minh Nguyen, a fabulously energetic teacher at Whitley Academy in Coventry.

Luckily for me, Minh has a group of students called the School Reporters. These students grasp the concept immediately and produced a series of videos introducing themselves to the Kumamoto students, and asking questions, such as “What is your name?” and
“What do you like to do in your free time?” Most impressively, they were speaking in both English and Japanese.

Now it was our turn to design the movie messages we would make in return with our Japanese students from Sumiyoshi Junior High School. and Nishihara Junior High School. We were scheduled to run 4 workshops, each with up to 90 students, and lasting only 50 minutes. As a theatre director I am accustomed to working with short deadlines. But with less than an hour to create and perform a piece with a cast of 90 actors, anything was possible!

Luckily I had a technical and creative whizz on board -  a Yorkshire lad called Henry Morse who had worked with me on a recent theatre production. Henry and I met 4 or 5 times before the trip to Kumamoto, to discuss ideas, prototype them and rehearse with some willing assistants (the students of the Montessori School in Tokyo and a group of children from Japan Dance School in Kawasaki). With the help of these balls of energy we were able to produce designs for the four videos which met our criteria of being both fun to create and fun to watch. And so our team set off for Kumamoto: Jonathan Joo-Thomson and Ayaka Harayama of the British Embassy, our interpreter Noriko Tada FRSA, Henry and I.

One of the designs was a sort of human pinball machine involving Japanese taiko drums. This group was answering the question - asked by an 11 year old boy at Whitley Academy called Ellis - “What do you love?” The answer began with a single drum beat. This triggered a relay of runners between three different spots, followed by another student popping up in front of the camera and shouting “Japanese food/washoku!” Then two drum beats and another relay of runners, followed by two students popping up in front of the camera and shouting: “ my family/watashi no kazoku” and “football/sakka” and so on…

 The videos was shown during Assembly to the students of Whitley Academy. We are hoping they will in turn respond to the questions they receive, so that the conversation will continue.

 Here is some of the Feedback from the students at Whitley Academy:

I thought it was very fun learning Japanese and the culture in Japan. Also practising Japanese was hard at first but eventually I got the hang of it and I could say whole sentences without saying it wrong (I hope). Overall it was exciting to do and I learnt a lot from this experience. - Anas



I enjoyed experiencing the thrill of learning a new language and communicating with children in Japan who are the same age. I loved finding out about new cultures and ways of life. I spent lots of time in my bedroom to practise speaking my thoughts up in Japanese. - Holly



It was interesting learning the language Japanese, something that I wouldn’t normally do, which was a great. I really enjoyed learning the culture and communicating with people from Japan, students like us, but so very far away! It was such an amazing experience. It was nerve-racking to be filmed and spoke the language that’s not your mother-tongue. But you would feel amazing once you have done it. - Destiny


The project had two main aims. Firstly, it was about connection. We wanted to infect these young people with the joy of connecting with people of other lands and other languages. Secondly it was about creativity. We wanted to show that there are many ways to communicate, including words, voice, body, action and rhythm.  We hope that the students enjoyed it as much as we did. And we hope it will contribute to making our world more connected and more creative in future generations.

For more on the project, please see video below and contact Tania Coke at Tania Coke



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