Hagio Prize 13th Year Winner: Matthew Turnbull
Matthew Turnbull is our 13th winner of the Hagio Prize. Here is Matthew's report.
The Hagio Prize was an important cultural experience for me. I’m very grateful to Reuters, SOAS and Mrs Hagio for cooperating to give relatively inexperienced students like me the chance to use our learning, from both inside and outside of the classroom, in the real world. In today’s economy where a large percentage of unemployed young people aren’t getting the experience they need to start careers (around 20% as of May 2013), these kinds of opportunities are essential for our life and society.
Although I had been to Japan on short trips before to practice my language skills, this was the first chance I had to stay there for a longer period and commit to a cultural project. I had been doing a Japanese poetry style called renku for some time before the opportunity arose, and when it came time to choose something to dedicate myself to while in Japan I was able to make some poetic connections and find a way I could contribute to helping Japanese-style poetry spread.
My artist connection was Kris Kondo, a poet, teacher and US ex-pat who has been living in Japan for over 40 years. While meeting and working with her I was able to help in her English classes and be shown around Japanese universities and a high school. As important as poetry is to me, seeing a part of how young Japanese people grow up was deeply meaningful. I’m 24 now but seeing people being educated, growing up and going through the most important stage of life in a different country was quite an experience for me, reminding me of our shared humanity.Over the 2 and a bit months I was there I met so many different interesting poets and artists, both Japanese and international, professional and amateur, of which each one had their own style and thoughts about how traditional Japanese art and culture should be escorted into the 21st Century. While there were both conservatives and progressives in the field, a universal feeling was that the form had to be shared and that sharing was an essential part.
Now I'm looking to go into a career writing, I feel like what was emphasised in my trip, and what I have the prize to thank for giving me, is the opportunity to see Japan as a place of individuals and ideas. As you learn Japanese and learn about the culture, there can be a sense of simplifying for the sake of understanding and passing a test. But actually going there and developing relationships with people will give you a more important skill, like it gave me. It will give you a more fuller sense of what it is to be human, despite location. The Japanese, perhaps more than almost any other nationality, are said to share one mind. But after developing a more sophisticated view in Japan, you'll see that, like many other things, this is largely for show, and the sparks of individuality and humanity are there to be shared.
If you are interested in Renku and would like to take part, please visit our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/SoasRenkuSociety