The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Artist Interview
Portraying the tough but humor-filled lives of an ethnic minority   An interview with the Japan-resident Korean writer Chong Wishing
Natsu no Shima, Haru no Uta
Natsu no Shima, Haru no Uta
Tsubakigumi Production
Natsu no Shima, Haru no Uta
(Islands of Summer, Song of Spring)

Written by Chong Wishing
Directed by Yuko Matsumoto
(Mar. 28 – Apr. 1 2007 at Shimokitazawa Geki-Shogekijo theatre)
Theater as Chesa – Shrine

In an essay you wrote some time ago, titled “On Wandering – A Humble Spirit-honoring Service (Chesa) for Souls That Have Been Wandering” (From the essay collection Logic Game, 1992, Hakusuisha publishers) you said that theater is like a chesa. A chesa (*) is a uniquely Korean service for welcoming the spirits of the deceased, am I right?
Yes. It is a unique Korean custom, a sort of religious [Confucian] rite. Today it isn’t usually done so late into the night, but when I was a child it would start at about midnight and we would repeat over and over the three kowtows to the spirits of our ancestors that return to the house on that night. For each repetition the positions of the chopsticks would be moved and rice would be set out for the spirits and then different dishes would be set out and finally tea is set out. It is all done as if the ancestors were actually there. The three kowtows would be repeated and then, after the spirits had left we could finally eat all the offerings that had been set out. For me, theater has a similarity with this chesa service.

You mean that in the sense that you spread out offerings and welcome wandering souls for short period of communal time? In other words, theater is an offering of enjoyment to the countless souls wandering through urban life like spirits without family to welcome them with the chesa?
Yes. It may be presumptuous of me, but that is how I think of it and that may be why I try so hard to make it a worthy offering.

You wrote that essay 15 years ago and it appears that your spirit hasn’t changed since then. I seems that you have continued to offer plays like chesa, bringing together the living and the departed souls to meet on the stage.
I think that as time goes on the presence of the dead has grown stronger [in my plays]. Partly it comes from the fact that I have gotten older myself, and more people around me have passed away. Also, the death of Kim Kumija was certainly a painful shock for me.
I turned 50 this year. But, my mental age hasn’t changed (laughs). People don’t change easily. When I was 15, I couldn’t wait to be 30, and I thought that when I reached the age I am now life would be all roses and all the promises of life would be fulfilled. But, it doesn’t happen that way. I’m 50 now and nothing has changed, and I have to apologize to the world for that fact (laughs).

But they say that for an artist, things really get interesting from their 50s.
Perhaps so. With meat and with fruit, the real flavor comes out when it starts to ferment a bit (laughs). And, now that maturity is coming on, I have the feeling that I’d like to do something a bit more frivolous for a change (laughs).

A uniquely Korean ritual [religious service] of Confucian origin. All the descendants of a family gather in the home of the eldest son to offer obeisance to the spirits of the family ancestors returning to the home on the their memorial day and offer the filial piety they had not been fully able to give when the ancestor was alive and pray for the peace of the deceased’s souls and the prosperity of the family. Special foods are prepared in large quantities for the chesa and after the services are over family partakes of the offerings, while sharing them with relatives and neighbors. In the past, it was a service that could only be attended by the males of the family.
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