Season Butler is an artist, dramaturg, and researcher. She has been studying Japanese culture for the last few years.

These have been two weeks of constant learning through experience

The call for the Ise City residency was the most compelling opportunity in a long time. I’ve been studying Japanese culture for the last few years, and I had found some near equivalences between certain concepts that are central to Shinto faith and practice and some of the philosophies that I'm more familiar with.

I had a certain degree of knowledge, but there are no direct English translations for many Shinto terms: for example, the Shinto deities are sometimes referred to as kami in English, too. There was a limit to what I could learn on the other side of the ocean. I wanted to actually visit Japan and carry out research in order to gain something beyond knowledge, which I couldn’t get from a book, so this residency was an irresistible opportunity. 

All my experiences during the two-week residency have been pretty overwhelming. The programme was very full, and we continued to return to some of the same places and concepts via different experiences. These experiences have included many concepts with no direct translations. For example, I was told “After you’ve experienced the ritual offering of the rice harvest, which takes place at night, I think you’ll understand what I’m trying to say.” It’s been two weeks of constant learning through experience. At the moment, I’m particularly interested in looking at ideas that are outside of certain typical binaries like the optimism-pessimism binary or utopia-dystopia binaries. I feel that opportunities like this residency, where I am able to encounter philosophical constructs that just sit slightly outside of the ways of thinking that I take for granted are really expansive.

We encountered various events and people at each of the places we visited. Meeting the writer Kiyomi Chigusa in the session with local creative practitioners was particularly interesting for me. Her notions of what utopia means, of renewal and continuity, and her current activities have a lot in common with the themes I’m working on, and so I want to keep in touch with her. I also found it stimulating to be together with this group of artists. Each of the participants came from a different background, so conversations with them really started to steer my project in some unexpected directions. 

During a time when we were individually exploring the city, there was this moment, when I happened upon an old pottery shop. The owners invited me all the way to the back of this 300 year-old building, and right at the back, there were some texts written in old characters on Japanese paper. They told me that scholars sometimes come to study them. Seeing these rare ancient texts, all the various profound experiences that I’d had up to then came to a sort of boiling point and so that was a real highlight for me.

I was also drawn to the scent of the Japanese hinoki cypress and cedar that are used in Ise Jingu. I never expected the sensation of hand-cut wood, the connection between smells and the memory of a place.

A woman touching a piece of wood

Ise City, British Council Photo by Hakubun Sakamoto

Profile: Season Butler

Writer, artist, dramaturg and lecturer. Her writing, research and performance practice explore the opportunities and traps of hindsight and hope, coming-of-age into unprecedented change and what it means to look forward to an increasingly wily future.

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