We arrived by air in the morning of the 12th in the Kansai International Airport. Our journey continued with a memorable train ride passing first the modern skyscrapers of Osaka, before a scenery change to green idyllic rice fields nestled snugly in valleys encased by beautiful mountains. We were on our way to Kinosaki, a small town with a population of 5,000, famed for its hot springs and baths. A central canal runs through this town, lined with sweeping weeping willows. This, along with the tatami mats we slept on in our hotel and the daily kimono and clogs for the public hot baths, provided a backdrop of a traditional charm that gave us an interesting context for the conference we were about to attend.
On 13 June, we each presented at the “Conference of Asian Women and Theatre”. Both of us, as an entry point for the audience, presented our work and also spoke about the state of the performing arts in Malaysia. This was followed by an hour discussion with the audience. The discussion was dominated by opinions whether a conference for Asian women in theatre is still relevant. We heard practitioners pointing out that their art is not defined by their gender. On the other spectrum, we heard how the need for representation is still relevant. Asian women may have made strides in theatre since the last conference was held (in 2005), however female representation in the direction and policies that shape theatre is still nowhere near the representation by men.
On 14 June we participated in the creativity workshop organized by Shirotama Hitsujiya, which involved going to the beach. The sea and the beach will always be beautiful for most of us. What struck us most about this workshop was how we were encouraged to be curious again. Our curiosity was piqued with edible seaweed, edible shore plants, nature hikes and the unique experience of cooking rice outside over a wooden fire. This workshop, in transporting us to our childhood, allowed us to engage again with the natural world and reminded us of a way of seeing that was perhaps overshadowed by our hectic and busy schedules in the city.
On 15 June, we both travelled back to Kuala Lumpur, refreshed. And not just from the delectable hot springs. We felt engaged with female practitioners on issues that still need to be addressed and how Asian women in theatre can still be a discussion point. Most of all, we felt renewed in meeting and keeping the lines of communication and exchange open with our Japanese peers.
Two Malaysian art practitioners, June Tan (Five Arts Centre) and Sharon Chin were invited by Shirotama Hitsujiya and Mikuni Yanaihara to the Japan Playwright Association’s Congress 2014 in Kinosaki city, in the northern Hyogo Prefecture from 12 to 15 June 2014.