‘St Kilda Tapes’ in Tohoku

In July 2012 Japan Desk Scotland went to Japan, with David Allison, a guitarist and a journalist with Newsnight Scotland, to show his ‘St Kilda Tapes’ video and his ukulele performance in Tohoku (East Japan), the area affected by the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear plant accident in March 2011.  The following message in Italics was prepared prior to the tour.

St Kilda may be known in Japan as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but people used to live on this ‘Britain’s Loneliest Isle’ until 1930 when the islanders were forced to leave.  Using the evacuation of St Kilda as a starting point, and with a St Kilda evacuee Norman John Gillies acting as a ‘narrator’, ‘The St Kilda Tapes’ takes the audience on an emotional and thought provoking journey from the lonely Atlantic island to Glasgow, New York and Canada, before a triumphant and poignant return to St Kilda.  With two Scottish Screen Archive films made in the 1920s and the 1930s, as well as new specially created video and music, ‘The St Kilda Tapes’ explores the themes of home through the experience, thoughts and voice of Norman John Gillies and the music of David Allison. When you are forced or chose to leave your home, where does your journey stop?  How do you know when you arrived at your ultimate destination, and how do you balance what you have left behind with what you discover on your way?

We thought that the show could make people in Tohoku reflect on their recent experience in a new perspective, but we didn’t mention this explicitly in the above flyer because we were not sure whether this would be appropriate. However, the student who organised the event at Iwate University added ‘A year has passed after the disaster’ to our original text in making his own flyer.  He said: ‘Without this sentence, the event would have little meaning in Tohoku.’

At Fukushima University, students actively participated in a Q&A session immediately after the screening and in a workshop held on the following day, perhaps thanks to David’s down-to-earth approach. ‘I wanted to empower the students,’ he said afterwards.  Asked by him about the event, one of the students said: ‘Noman (the main character in St Kilda Tapes) has remembered St Kilda long after he left.  I would like to live from now on, remembering St Kilda and the very beautiful Fukushima before the disaster.’  Another student said: ‘Fukushima is not alone.’  One of the professors who organised the Fukushima event told us that she realised how hungry the students had been for something exciting coming form outside. There might be a role for strangers to play for people in Tohoku.

A visit was also made to Kunohe Village, Iwate, a mountainous village with two-thirds of the city of Glasgow in terms of areas but with a population of just over 6,000, with which Japan Desk Scotland and Japanese Matsuri for Glasgow have developed exchanges over the years.  When pictures drawn by P5 pupils from Broomhill Primary School, Glasgow, were shown to the village mayor, he was surprised to find that Broomhill children drew pictures similar to those drawn by Kunohe children.   He thanked us by saying: ‘You came to this village to comfort us.’   The performance attracted about 50 people, about one percent of the total population, including children and elderly people.  One of the elder villagers told us after the show: ‘St Kilda is similar to Kunohe.’

Our Tohoku tour was made into a 30-minute video ‘St Kilda Tapes in Japan‘ by David Allison, which was produced by Japan Desk Scotland, and  this was the beginning of JDS’s documentary films production.  The film was premiered on 12 October 2012 as part of Japan Matters public lecture held at St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.  Now the ‘St Kilda Tapes in Japan‘ is included in the new CD-DVD ‘St Kilda Tapes‘. ‘St Kilda Tapes in Japan‘ was shown on 12 October 2012 as part of the Japan Matters public lecture on Japan-UK relations.