Performing Englishness in Japan

A project using morris dancing to explore how ‘Englishness’ is understood and performed internationally, particularly in light of the 2016 Brexit vote.

Japanese people know many things about England, but morris dancing is mysterious…
—Maki Koizumi, Grand Hama Morris, 2018

Morris dancing is widely, if grudgingly, acknowledged as a performative symbol of English identity. It is perhaps less well known that morris dancing is also practiced worldwide, particularly in formerly colonized and early ‘Westernized’ nations, including Australia, Hong Kong and the US. This project explores contemporary global interpretations of the somewhat beleaguered national dance of an increasingly unpopular and isolationist country, using performance and ethnography.

In February 2018, with support from the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, I travelled to Japan to conduct research with members of two Japanese morris dancing groups, Grand Hama Morris from Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture and Sanuki Morris from Shogisho in Kagawa Prefecture, with the aim of making new work. The project sought to capture the experiences of non-English morris performers in Japan, in particular their ideas about Englishness—and Japaneseness—in the 21st century, while also investigating what it means to be a woman performing a historically male-identified, English dance in a non-English context. As one culmination of the project, in August 2018, Green Hama Morris—a trio formed with Tomo and Maki Koizumi—became the first Anglo-Japanese entry in the John Gasson Morris Jig Competition at Sidmouth Folk Week.

Performing Englishness in Japan was supported by Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation and Traditional Arts Development Agency / Living Tradition (2018).