In spring 2016 the University of Birmingham signed a collaboration agreement with Waseda University in Tokyo, one of Japan’s leading research universities, to facilitate shared projects across a range of disciplines in both the sciences and the humanities.
In the arts, the collaboration focuses on Shakespeare, not least because Waseda was the home of the first major translator of Shakespeare into Japanese, Professor Shoyo (Frank) Tsubouchi (1859-1935), and houses the extraordinary Tsubouchi Theatre Museum. Designed to resemble a Jacobean playhouse (the Fortune), this building houses the polymathic Tsubouchi’s immense personal archive, and its collections relating to all forms of Japanese theatre and to the continuing translation and performance of Shakespeare in Asia have continued to grow. Understandably, Waseda has continued to cherish strong interests in Shakespeare and performance since Tsubouchi’s death, sending a number of MA and PhD students over the years to study at the Shakespeare Institute.
Activities within the collaboration have already included an exhibition at the Tsubouchi Museum charting the assimilation and adaptation of Shakespeare in Japan from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, ‘Shakespeare Renaissance – from Shoyo to Ninagawa’, featuring a preface by the Shakespeare Institute’s director, Michael Dobson. In November 2016 Professor Dobson formally inaugurated the collaboration with a public lecture at Waseda, ‘Shakespeare, Rome, and temporality, from Burbage to Ninagawa.’
In January 2017 the Institute and Waseda co-organized a conference, again at Waseda, on Shakespeare, Asia and the screen, ‘Shakespeare. Film. East. West,’ featuring keynote lectures by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto (on Kurosawa) and Russell Jackson (on post-war screen Hamlets).
It was Stratford’s turn next, and indeed London’s: on 5 October 2017 the Shakespeare Institute hosted a visit from Waseda faculty, and a lecture by Professor Kodama, and then on 6 October a major co-organized public event took place at the Japanese embassy in London: 'Yukio Ninagawa, Shakespearean director (1935-2016): a memorial symposium.' This featured contributions by Waseda and Shakespeare Institute faculty and research students, by the veteran Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington, by the theatre director Phillip Breen, and by members of the late Ninagawa’s theatre company, who performed their Macbeth that evening at the Barbican Theatre.
In November 2018, it was Waseda’s turn to host a major symposium, this time with the support of the Sasakawa Foundation. ‘Adapting Shakespeare for the Stage Today’ found Waseda faculty sharing the stage with the great kyogen actor Nomura Mansai, with the Royal Shakespeare Company associate director Angus Jackson, with the actress and artistic director of Flute Theatre, Kelly Hunter, and with Shakespeare Institute faculty Professors Tiffany Stern and Michael Dobson.
The event also featured the Shakespeare Institute PhD student Richard Keith and recent Shakespeare Institute PhD graduate Dr Rosie Fielding, who wrote much of her doctoral thesis on modern Japanese performances of Shakespeare as a guest research associate at Waseda, has worked as a translator for Ninagawa’s company Saitama Arts, and is currently working with Waseda colleague Professor Tetsu Motoyama on a bilingual English and Japanese edition of recent Japanese stage adaptations of Shakespeare, see: Re-imagining Shakespeare in Contemporary Japan. A Selection of Japanese Theatrical Adaptations of Shakespeare. One (bilingual) highlight of the event was a performance of the dialogue between the Macbeths just after the murder of Duncan, with Nomura Mansai playing Macbeth in Japanese and Kelly Hunter taking the role of Lady Macbeth in English.
In March 2020 it was Stratford’s turn to host once more, and Professors Nori Morita, Tetsu Motoyama and Rieko Suzuki came to the Shakespeare Institute for a symposium on novelizations of Shakespeare in the Anglophone world and in Japan, featuring contributions from the Institute’s Abigail Rokison-Woodall and Michael Dobson. The event highlighted the deep engagement with Hamlet visible in post-war Japanese culture, with fascinating discussions of prose adaptations designed for teenagers. The Waseda delegation and their hosts spent the evening at the Swan Theatre, watching the Royal Shakespeare Company performing King John.
Future projects include faculty and student exchanges; the development of a shared distance learning course on Shakespeare in Asia (in collaboration with a third major institution, the National University of Singapore); and a collaborative comparative study of the Shakespearean motifs featured in the opening ceremonies to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics (designed by Nomura Mansai) and those of London 2012.