An unforgettable Shakespearean experience
Hot on the heels of the “Japan Matsuri” festival at the end of September, I had a memorable theatrical experience involving the melding of British and Japanese cultures and artistic traditions. This was a performance of Macbeth by the Ninagawa Company at the Barbican Theatre on 5 October. It was a revival to pay tribute to the famous Japanese theatre director of international fame, the late Yukio Ninagawa. He set the play in mediaeval Japan, where it featured Samurai and the use of sakura (cherry blossoms) to show the enduring fragility of human sensibilities and demonstrated the universal appeal of Shakespeare’s works, which transcends borders and cultures. The very first overseas performance of Ninagawa’s interpretation of this intriguing Shakespeare tragedy had taken place at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1985 and the play was premiered at The Barbican in 1987. It is still fresh and impressive today, featuring the contrasting Eastern and Western theatrical styles in a truly vibrant and stunning production.
In mid-October I went back to Japan on business for a few days, and after my return my wife and I travelled to the West Midlands on 26 October. Our itinerary for what was an interesting and stimulating trip included Stoke-on-Trent, where we were able to learn about the history of British ceramics, for which the region is famous. We then went on to Keele University, where I had an opportunity to deliver a lecture as one of a series entitled “Keele World Affairs”. I shared my views on how Japan sees the world, referring to our foreign policy, overseas aid and the current situation in East Asia, while also addressing the important topic of Japan-UK relations. The series, now in its 37th year, involves a lecture every week during the academic year. On this occasion, I was gratified to note that, of the 400 seats in the auditorium, only three were still vacant. I was deeply impressed by the interest, knowledge and striking intellectual level of the audience, as illustrated by the quality of the questions put to me. My trip to Keele was indeed worthwhile. Moreover, while in the region I was able to meet Japanese business people based there and to learn about their experiences.
Business was very much the theme of a parliamentary networking event we held at Portcullis House in Westminster on 31 October, entitled “Japanese Businesses and the UK’s Future Economy”. Approximately 200 guests, including more than 50 MPs and Lords, as well as officials from the British Government and around 100 members of the Japanese and British business communities were able to explore new opportunities for expanding our economic partnership. This was the third time that we had organised an event at this prestigious parliamentary location and the enthusiastic turnout was testament to the high level of interest in the economic relationship between Japan and the UK. I appreciate in particular the generosity of The Rt Hon. Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, Mr Paul Drechsler, President of the Confederation of Business and Industry, and Mr Atsushi Kume, President of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in taking the time to join us as their presence helped to make the occasion extremely successful.
Well, now that the clocks have gone back, memories of summer are fading fast and the nights are closing in. However, diplomatic life goes on and I will doubtless have more news to impart before it is time for me to offer you my festive greetings. Stay tuned!