The University of Oxford is a renowned centre in the world for the in-depth study and research of Japan. One of the major projects the University has been involved in during the last five years has been a huge research project into the language and linguistics of Nara period (eighth century) Japan.
On 13 June academics from the Research Centre for Japanese Language and Linguistics led by Professor Bjarke Frellesvig along with company members from the Creation Theatre visited Oxford Spires Academy, a local school and held a special session for 11 – 14 year olds to introduce them to ancient Japanese texts. For most of the school pupils this was their first exposure to any literature from Japan, and certainly their first experience of Japanese literature from the ancient period.
After a presentation about ancient Japan and its language by academics from the University, the pupils worked with the performers from the Creation Theatre to create their own dramatic performances of two famous Japanese stories. One text they brought to life was that of a well known folktale, Story of Fisherman Urashima, and another was a liturgy from the Shinto religion on how to drive away a vengeful deity.
The results were very impressive and sometimes humorous and the children later expressed their delight in learning about Japan’s history and language in such a creative and innovative way. One of the Oxford academics commented “I think it is safe to say that over 13 centuries of time, these texts have never before received such energetic and imaginative treatments! It gave me chills to see it.”
You can find out more about the workshop sessions on the Faculty of Oriental Studies website. The research team in Oxford are now working on another big project to develop an annotated digital corpus of Japanese from this period. This is just one example of the very many projects that our academics are working on in the field of Japanese Studies in the University of Oxford.