Britain & Japan – 400 Years: A Voyage Through Words and Music

Tuesday 11 June 2013 – 7.30pm,  All Saints Church Fulham, Bishops Park,  London, SW6 3LA

Review by Sean Curtin

Britain & Japan – 400 Years was an absolutely brilliant evening of uplifting music, verse and spectacle to mark four centuries since the UK and Japan initiated official ties. When John Saris, commander of the Clove,  sailed the very first British vessel into Japanese waters on 11 June 1613, he could not have ever dreamt that four hundred years to the day we would be celebrating a vibrant relationship which has stood the test of time and greatly enriched both countries. Saris spent his final years living in a house just behind All Saints Church in Fulham, where he worshiped and also where he is buried. This special association made the magnificent old church the perfect location to celebrate this unique occasion.  The current vicar, the Reverend Canon Joe Hawes, commented ‘I think it most appropriate that the event marking this significant voyage is happening here.’

The Japan 400 organizers created a truly memorable evening of visionary content to mark this pivotal milestone and remind the two nations of the deep and long lasting nature of their friendship. The lyrical evening was divided into six well-crafted sections which together attempted to recreate different stages of Saris’ epic voyage. Each segment succeeded in capturing the essence of  a particular phase of the Clove’s long journey. Using a combination of inspiring music, moving verse, and singing interspersed with dancing and visual imagery the past was conjured back to life.  It was a magnificent show with high production values and a fantastic venue which allowed the audience to feel a sense of connection with Saris and his time. On occasions it was a moving experience which made one reflect on the immense dangers the crew of the Clove endured. The evening also succeeded in restoring John Saris and his accomplishments back into the mainstream of the historical narrative.

Many of the performances evoked a strong sense of the sea and maritime adventure, a key theme of the evening, reminding the audience of the immense uncertainties seafarers faced. Many who set sail with Saris never returned and it took a gruelling two years for the ship to make its way from England to Japan. The Clove departed on 18 April 1611 but did not return until 27 September 1614, arriving in Plymouth.

The evening was anchored by Japan 400 Co-Chairman, Nicolas Maclean with Keiichi Hayashi, Japan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, giving a thoughtful address  to launch proceedings. The first part of the music fest was entitled ‘Setting the Scene – Music of 1611–1613’ and gave the audience a taste of period tunes with some excellent performances.

As part of the effort to rekindle a link with Saris and take the audience back in time, the current Lord Salisbury, whose ancestor advised King James I on the voyage, outlined the Clove’s mission as part of the second section. Following this reading the tempo went up a gear as the third segment, entitled ‘The Mission,’ burst into life. Pianist Noriko Ogawa gave an impressive performance of Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeus. This was followed by a spirited reading of John Masefield’s Sea Fever by David Warren after which it seemed evening was on full throttle with a non-stop succession of impressive performances by various artists. The electrified audience were encouraged to join in a lively sea shanty section. As the atmospheric church resonated with glorious music and singing, it really did feel that one was participating in a very special event. After an intermission the fourth part, entitled “Arrival,”  sprang off the blocks with a lively music and dance routine which included local school children. It was a stunning visual scene which led into another series of dynamic musical performances and thought provoking readings carrying the audience into the final two segments of an incredible commemorative evening.

Every single performer and organiser deserves the upmost praise for what was a real tour-de-force. This fantastic concert is just one of the events Japan 400 has organized to highlight this important anniversary year. This evening and other events have made a significant contribution to bilateral ties by making us re-examine the genesis of our partnership with Japan and rediscover how things actually all began.

Musicians and Readers at Britain & Japan – 400 Years

Clive Bell, Anna Melita Beryl, Joe Browning, Yoshie Asano Campbell, Evan Davis, David Entwistle , Joe Hawes,  Meg-Rosaleen Hamilton, Oliver Hamilton, Yasuna Sebestyen Higuma , Susan Momoko Hingley , Melissa Holding , William Horsley, David Hughes, Hibiki Ichikawa, Jason James, Nicolas Maclean, Cecilia McDowall, Kyoko Murai, Peter Nicholson , Okeanos Ensemble, Noriko Ogawa, Joshua Richards, Lord Salisbury, Jinny Shaw, The SOAS Min’yo Group, Michael Spencer, Robin Thompson , Tamsin Waley-Cohen, David Warren  and Jonathan Wikeley

Event Organizers of Britain & Japan – 400 Years

Sam Bani, Meg Hamilton, Yasuna Higuma, William Horsley, Sue Hudson, David Hughes, Jason James, Setsuo Kato, Nicolas Maclean, Heidi Potter, Kara Robinson, Timon Screech, Michael Spencer, David Watts, Jenny White, Rie Yoshitake, The Staff of All Saints, Fulham, All Saints Primary School, David Fawcett, Cecilia McDowall and Remco Vrolijk

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