This weekend Saitama Arts Centre was hosting a local round of the Japanese national youth theatre competition. Taking place over the two days, 10 schools each perform a One Act Play (about an hour in length), at the end of which a winner is chosen. I am pretty certain that the winning entry (which goes on to compete in the next round against the best plays selected from other areas across the country) is chosen via a select committee of judges, but there is every chance that the audience may be called upon to voice an opinion at the end of proceedings. If this happens I feel it best for me to abstain, for the very sensible reason that I understood about one word in every one thousand that was spoken, Japanese children’s conversational speed being the exception to the rule that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Thankfully I have become reasonably adept at following a story arc that I can’t comprehend (or at least at making one up in my head which seems to match the images), and so I was still able to draw quite a lot of enjoyment from the pieces. And whilst I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying, the young actors were obviously very talented, and the performances infinitely better than some of the ‘professional’ theatre that I have seen since arriving in Japan. As an interesting insight into youth culture in Japan, at least three of today’s plays mocked the way in which Gaijin speak Japanese, and also seemed to imply that English is used when young people wish to appear stupid, resulting in me casting nervous glances around in the dark. However, this slight discomfort was nothing compared to my audible wincing when one of the schools decided that it would be a good idea to use a ‘blacked-up’ actor for a play about baseball. It was like being in some bizarre Working Men’s club in the mid seventies, with a Japanese Bernard Manning.