Half a century on: Australia now 2018 rekindles Japan’s passion for Indigenous art
Richard Court AC, Australia's Ambassador to Japan
Ever since the first Aboriginal art exhibition appeared in Tokyo in 1965, Japan has been fascinated with Australia's ancient yet modern Indigenous cultures. It's a fascination I've been proud to see grow this year as Australia's First Peoples have taken a starring role in the Australia now 2018 program. Performances by Yorta Yorta soprano Deborah Cheetham AO, actor Uncle Jack Charles and Ilbijerri Theatre, yidaki (didjeridu) master Djalu Gurruwiwi and Bangarra Dance Theatre have introduced a new generation of Japanese to previously unfamiliar aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Bangarra's connection with land and history resonates strongly in Japan, a country which prizes both connection to place and storytelling.
Over the past eight months, Australia now has shared many stories, connecting everyone from young rare cancer researchers and agri-tech entrepreneurs, to short film lovers and architecture fans from Australia and Japan.
We have been honoured to welcome over 200 Australians to Japan as part of the program, representing Australia's vibrant science, technology, agriculture, medical, financial, sporting, artistic, music and hospitality sectors.
In a year of highlights, it's hard to name but a few, but over 40,000 Japanese visitors would agree they saw something special at the first overseas premiere of Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia exhibition, presented by the South Australian Museum in partnership with the National Museum of Australia. As part of the exhibition, Djalu Gurruwiwi reconnected with his former student and Japanese Yidaki virtuoso GOMA, a reunion concert few present will forget.
In November, eighteen of Australia's leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers took to the stage in one of Japan's top contemporary dance venues to present their unique and soul-stirring work, forged from over 65,000 years of Australian history and storytelling. Bangarra Dance Theatre's first tour to Japan in over 10 years marks a remarkable return of Australian Indigenous dance to Tokyo, and a fitting finale to the Australia now 2018 program.
Australia now has featured 40 major programs and 220 separate events across 28 Japanese cities and prefectures. Over 420,000 Japanese had a direct experience of one of those events.
Australia and Japan already enjoy a strong relationship, based on common values and interests. Presenting Australia in new and positive ways deepens and expands perceptions of Australia and adds to the ever-richer tapestry of our connection.
I'm proud that Australia now 2018 has achieved this through a true Team Australia approach, bringing together program and corporate partners to present the depth, diversity and complexity of contemporary Australia and the modern Australia-Japan relationship.
The meetings between Australians and Japanese fostered through Australia now 2018 could be said, in Japanese, to be "Ichi-go, Ichi-e", meaning that their brief uniqueness is to be cherished forever.
But as Australia now moves to ASEAN next year, the collaborations fostered this year will have a lasting impact, especially as we continue to deepen our strategic and trade relationship with Japan.
And with Japan soon to host the G20, Rugby World Cup, Olympic and Paralympics, there are ever more reasons to believe our relationship will only continue to grow.