“Mr. Fujita, can you leave a whole month open for us?”
About three years ago, an official from the Office for International Cultural Exchange at the Agency for Cultural Affairs asked me this in the midst of a casual conversation. I answered, “Maybe there will be a month when I can manage to do so,” without thinking much about what it might entail, and sure enough, my reply brought overwhelming consequences.
One day, I got a phone call telling me that it had been decided.
“What has been decided?”
“That you’re to be a Japan Cultural Envoy.”
This bizarre interaction began my mission as cultural envoy. They then asked me if I could make an effort to spend one month the following year serving as envoy. However, in the world of Noh, we fill our calendar with performances and events three years in advance. To cope with that, I use a three-year planner. I have regular engagements, and other events which fill all the time in between. Because of my age, I sometimes mark my calendar while murmuring to myself, “If I’m still alive.”
Eventually, I managed to take a whole month off and there began a study on how the Japan Cultural Envoy system works. There were things which could be included in the budget and things which could not, limits on how much I could spend on accommodations depending on where I went, and the fact that taxi fees could not be reimbursed. I also had to think about interpreters, venue fees, printing expenses, etc. The only thing I understood well was that it was almost impossible to budget each mission in advance!
I decided not to ask for support from embassies and consular offices in the countries I was visiting, and instead asked three personal contacts to make various arrangements: a London-based Japanese coordinator, a photographer in Paris, and a friend who had a strong network in Korea. My mission was to be there physically, carrying with me my experiences of being born into a family of Noh f lutists, starting my professional career at the age of five, receiving vocal training during my years at a music high school, and gaining experience in and knowledge of Western music as an teaching assistant after graduating from music college. I realized after I began serving as cultural envoy that my role was to give lectures not only on “what can be easily understood,” but also on “what cannot easily be conveyed” to people outside Japan, and to interact with them, while serving as a bridge between Eastern “Noh” and Western “classical music.’’
My initial plan was to play a DVD of a Noh play in which I performed, followed by a workshop with a live performance, but then I realized that there was a significant difference in feelings of affinity with nature between the perspectives of Shintoism or Buddhism and that of Christianity in the places I was to visit. I changed my plan, deciding how I should carry out my mission once I was in each country, and letting my senses lead in telling people about “the sound of the world without sound,” and sharing with my audiences the time and space of a flute performance using a variety of rhythms and tempos.
For interpreters, I was privileged to have a theater specialist in London, an expert in modern Japanese literature in Paris, and an expert in Japanese classical literature in Korea, all of whom I believe translated my words in a way that touched the audience’s hearts. In Korea, especially, I had the privilege of performing at the 5·18 Memorial Park in Gwangju, in tribute to those who died in the democratic uprising. Performing there was an extraordinary experience which re-taught me the power of the Noh flute to give repose to souls. It was a moment that I shall never forget. My 37-day mission as Japan Cultural Envoy, during which I engaged in 15 activities, became a precious gift for my 63-year lifetime which I would not trade for anything. I’d like to express my deep gratitude for being chosen for this honor.