Japan

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I’ve finally taken up time travelling and I don’t think it’s just the effect of the jet lag or the mesmerising shadow of the cherry blossom gently wavering outside my hotel bedroom window. I’m in Tokyo with colleagues from the UK arts and cultural sector, guest of the British Council, on a weeklong study tour: Arts for Ageing Society. Walk down any street in Japan and the chances are that one in four of the people you pass will be over 65years old. It’s the future that awaits us in the UK.

The visit is an exciting opportunity to meet up with Japanese practitioners who run programmes for older people; to share knowledge, working practices; to share visions and dreams.

So its Monday afternoon and we have just driven south along a rain swept expressway and are sitting in a meeting room in the Setagaya Public Theatre. An actor, who is also a carer, Naoki Sugawara is describing his practice working in a care home with older people who have dementia. He speaks about this hybrid role that he had created for himself: artist and care worker. The way he tells it they sit side by side in equal tension, his artist self supporting his care worker self and visa versa. It is as if he literally embodies many of the issues, tensions and possibilities that we will be exploring this week. What happens when you place (as the Brazilians would say) imagination at the service of the people?

Naoki tells the story of how he helped an older man who had been struggling to support his wife who had dementia. Their moment-to-moment interactions were a cause of mounting stress. Most of what the man’s wife said made no sense. Rationally he could have no relationship with her. As an actor, Naoki could share with the man the creative technique of listening and responding to his wife experiencing a reality totally separate from his own. It opened a chink, uncovering the possibility of new relationship in their last months together. Acting and being.

‘Acting’, said Naoki, ‘is where the actor and the audience are blessing the moment that they are living in.’

Perhaps ultimately, in all of our day to day moments, whoever we are, whoever we are with, that is all we can hope for.

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