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Workshops: Sights and Sounds

Experience different aspects of Japanese traditional culture as it is lived today! The workshops are free of charge, but booking is required.


(room 7; 1.15pm)

with Iitomi Hiroko


The kimono is a symbol of Japanese culture and aesthetic refinement. With designs and weaving techniques that have been transmitted over the centuries, it adopted its current style in the 16th century but traces its history back over 8,000 years. Today, there are not many opportunities in everyday life to wear a kimono, but it remains the garment of choice for rites-of-passage events, such as coming-of-age ceremonies and weddings.  It is also often worn by both men and women when they participate in the tea ceremony, visit traditional Japanese theatre, especially Noh, or when they wish to express traditional elegance, refinement and hospitality.

In this workshop, we will discuss various aspects of the kimono, including their use at weddings and the different styles worn by single and married people. There will also be a demonstration of how to put on a kimono. Please feel free to bring your own, if you have one, to get tips on how to don this garment.


NOH KOTSUZUMI (shoulder drum)

(room 8&9; 1.15 pm) 

with Akihiro Iitomi


Registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2001, nōgaku is a traditional performing art that developed in Japan between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries and has been transmitted almost unchanged to the present day. It consists of the more serious Noh plays and the humorous interludes known as Kyōgen. Noh is usually considered a theatre art, but it originates from musical performance. In this workshop, Akihiro Iitomi of the Ohkura School of Noh theatre, will explain about the history of Noh and some of its main elements. In particular, participants will learn about the role of music in Noh and will have the opportunity to try out the shoulder drum (kotsuzumi). Iitomi will also give a performance using the shoulder drum with vocal accompaniment.




YANAGAWA GOTENMARI (embroidered balls)

(room 7; 3pm)

with Iitomi Hiroko


Every year on March 3rd, the Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival or Girls’ Festival) is celebrated in Japan to wish for the good health and future happiness of all the girls in the family. Many households set up an elaborate tiered platform covered in red cloth to display ornamental dolls of the emperor and empress with their entourage in the traditional court dress of the Heian period. This custom of displaying dolls is more than a thousand years old and originated in China. It is popular all over Japan, but there are many local variations. In Yanagawa in Kyushu, for example, girls embroider balls with colourful threads, decorating them with patterns of seasonal flowers and cranes (a symbol of longevity). This art of making ‘Yanagawa gotenmari’ has been transmitted from mother to daughter over many generations.

Participants in the workshop will learn about the cultural background of the customs related to the Hinamatsuri and the gotenmari as well as the significance of the various patterns and colours. They will be invited to embroider their own gotenmari ball to take home. Places are limited and booking is essential.


RAKUGO Storytelling

(room 8&9; 3pm)

with Matthew Shores


Matthew Shores, a trained rakugo storyteller and Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge, will introduce rakugo, Japan’s traditional art of comic storytelling. He will relate some amusing anecdotes from his time as a ‘live-in apprentice’ (uchideshi) with the famous master of rakugo, Hayashiya Somemaru IV, and will present a workshop on how to perform rakugo, including how to slurp noodles from a folded fan and how to make money appear from an everyday hand towel! Finally, to send you laughing on your way, Matthew will perform a full rakugo story in English.