Japan400 Plymouth – Gateways, Voyages, Stories, and Imagination
By Jonathan D. Mackintosh, with Shimako Tsuno and Charlotte Rockey

On 27 September 1614, John Saris, Captain of The Clove, returned to England, arriving first in Plymouth, to bring to a conclusion an epic voyage of exploration that saw the initiation of Anglo-Japanese trade relations. Four-hundred years later to the day, on 27 September 2014, Plymouth once again welcomed home The Clove. Unlike its original homecoming, The Clove and Saris were this time met by a taiko-drum fanfare and greetings from dignitaries including the Lord Lieutenant of Devon, the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Co-Director of Japan400 (London), and, coming specially from the Embassy of Japan in the UK, the Director of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre, Culture Minister Hideki Asari.

The Clove in Plymouth Sound (c) L. Russell

Homecoming of the Clove Dignitaries (c) S. Kato
Sutton Harbour was transformed into the South West’s Japan HQ, featuring Japanese music and martial arts, an uchiwa (fan) selfie-competition, sake sampling courtesy of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, an afternoon of Japanese cookery including Ishii Yoshinori of Umu London, an interactive senbazuru (group of 1000 origami cranes) corner by the Devon and Cornwall Scouts who also led a bon-odori (festival dance) specially reinterpreted for their 2015 World Scout Jamboree visit in Japan. These festivities marked the Homecoming of The Clove, the centrepiece event of Japan400 Plymouth.
Japan400 Plymouth was initiated out of the History Unit, Plymouth University. It featured five days of events to explore Anglo-Japanese relations from a range of perspectives, with a focus on how the South West is situated in this story. Inaugurating it all on 26 September was ‘Doing Business with Japan’.  Developed in partnership with Plymouth City Council, this meeting of business and enterprise leaders promoted inward investment and export opportunities for Japanese and South West businesses.  Recalling the purpose of Saris’s expedition four centuries ago to do business with Japan, Mr Makito Saito of the Economics section at the Embassy of Japan in the UK, highlighted the wealth of potential for Japanese business in the South West.

Doing Business with Japan (c) L. Russell
On 28 September, Plymouth Guildhall was transformed into what Devon resident, Shimako Tsuno described as, ‘Little Japan’.  The Global Japan Culture Showcase brought together Japanese and Japan-related cultural experts, practitioners, clubs, and small business from across the South West to display, demonstrate, workshop, and perform Japanese culture:  there was kendo and cosplay, iaido and a kitsuke (kimono-dressing) fashion show, haiku, calligraphy and kana-writing, sushi, study skills, sanshin, and an impromptu shakuhachi solo, not to mention Nihongo, o-nigiri (rice balls), and origami, anpan (bun filled with azuki bean paste) and noodles; there was the Embassy of Japan’s Manga Jiman retrospective exhibition that greeted visitors to the Guildhall, showcasing the best of British comic artistry, and which led the curious and aficionado alike to a an illustration workshop corner run by Plymouth University’s BA (Hons) Illustration students:  ‘make yourself manga’ portraiture, ‘cosplay life drawing’, and ‘my personal kaijū [monster]’.

Sutton Harbour Japan Fair (c) S. Kato

Global Japan Culture Showcase (c) S. Kato
The Global Japan Culture Showcase was co-ordinated by the Japan Students’ Club which worked closely with local clubs, businesses, and organisations across the South West and especially local Japanese expat residents. Nearly a year in the making, this event ‘helped shape the community’s idea of just how closely linked we are to Japan’ (Charlotte Rockey, Lead Co-ordinator of Global Japan Culture Showcase’. Indeed as Tsuno observed, ‘I had not imagined until then there were so many local people interested in Japan and its culture. [I] was impressed by the wealth of local British and Japanese people's talents. Japan400 Plymouth enabled our communities [to come] together and gave a chance [for us] to understand each other further.’

28 September also saw ‘Konnichiwa Kernow!’. This interactive performance taking place across West Hoe Park was developed, directed, and performed by the Play it Again Theatre Company.  This Cornwall-based organisation introduces the power of live theatre to young people, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In their interpretation of the story of John Saris, Play it Again, led by Claire Patrick, confirmed how powerful an inspiration Japan can be.  In learning about it, interpreting it, and then telling the tale of Saris, these young people made Japan meaningful to life here.  In the process, something profound was realised.  A main objective of Japan400 Plymouth was not simply to be a momentary platform for Japanese culture; rather, it was this:  in the act of communities coming together to share Japan, it was hoped that ‘Japan’ would be generated here and now, sparking the imagination, and in that process, new voyages of Anglo-Japanese discovery could/would then be inspired. From Japan to the UK, to Japan in the UK, and finally Japan of the UK.
Plymouth’s ocean heritage and setting provided the context for the International Maritime Synergies Symposium, co-hosted by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation and Plymouth University (History and Marine Institute). Three panels provoked reflection on the early twentieth-century Anglo-Japanese Alliance, transnational comparisons of the management of Japan’s and the UK’s ‘blue economies’, and passionate debate on the nature, purpose, and extent of future naval co-operation in global maritime security.

The Symposium was opened by Captain Keizo Kitagawa, the Embassy of Japan Defense Attache, and welcomed papers from an illustrious group of leading experts and academics.

International Maritime Synergies Symposium (c) L. Russell
29 September saw Tavistock College’s Mr Crispin Chambers, 2013 Pearson Teacher of the Year, lead Japanese language workshops. It also welcomed Professor Timon Screech (SOAS) who gave a master class in Early Modern Japanese history. And, finally, Professor Screech closed Japan400 Plymouth with his Keynote Lecture that evening, ‘Japan400 and Plymouth’. In recounting an age when tall ships left Plymouth, and when tall ships brought back to England dreams of Japan and the world, the lecture alerted us to why 1614 matters in 2014, namely, the story of two island nations on either side of the world coming together is far from over. As Japan400 Plymouth has sought to demonstrate, and as the following haiku composed by a local poet affirms, this story endures and promises to inspire:

Red sun, solar flare
Brightens, enlightens Plymouth
Japan four-hundred

(by Mr Alan Ramage)



Japan400 Plymouth would like to thank the Embassy of Japan in the UK for its partnership. In addition, thanks must go to many private and public sponsors, including key UK-based Japanese organisations: The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and The Japan Society.

For full details of Japan400 Plymouth, including full list of sponsors and legacy projects, please visit: www.plymouth.ac.uk/jp400.