Alumni Interview: Dr. Kaho Aso, a former student of the Graduate School of Music (Hogaku Hayashi)


On November 19, a TUA alumna, Dr. Kaho Aso, who is currently based in London, came to the Experience Japan Exhibition 2016 to provide support for TUA’s participation in the event. The following is an interview conducted on that occasion, where she talked about her life in London as an actor and her future goals.

What brought you to London?

I am here in London on the Program of Overseas Study for Upcoming Artists by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, through which I am studying theatre for one year. At Tokyo University of the Arts, I studied Hogaku Hayashi (wind and percussion accompaniments to traditional Japanese music) at the Graduate School of Music and received my doctorate, but now I am here as an actor. My career as an actor started while I was still a student, and from 2008 to 2013 I was a member of the cast of Shun-kin, a play based on two texts by Junichiro Tanizaki, A Portrait of Shunkin and In Praise of Shadows. The production was directed by Simon McBurney, one of the founders of the UK-based theatre company Complicite, and it toured many parts of the world, including London, Paris, New York, Singapore, and Taipei.

Can you tell us a little more about your training?

My life as an artist consists of three pillars: Hogaku Hayashi, traditional Japanese dance, and acting. I am interested in a comprehensive form of art, and I would like to present art as a package, rather than separately interpret different fields of art, such as music, dance, drama, etc. In fact, I try to bring in many elements of art into the stages that I produce and perform on. For instance, I once asked an oil painting graduate to paint background scenery, and I performed with a backdrop that projected the image of the painting. I also had my costume painted by the artist. To give you another example, I once used Japanese incense to add scent to the stage. I do all these experiments in an attempt to produce art that can be enjoyed using all five senses, and that is what I am pursuing in London.

I have long been interested in producing collaborations between my work and fine arts. In the past, I have used the digital archive of the painting Jo-no-mai (Dance Performed in Noh Play) by Uemura Shōen from the collection of the Tokyo University of the Arts’ art museum in an attempt to produce a work that integrates a painting and my dance. But actually, the former TUA president Ryohei Miyata, who currently serves as Commissioner for Cultural Affairs of Japan, is the very person who inspired me to pursue a comprehensive art form. A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to perform at the exhibition “Harmony by Nine” that featured works by nine artists of different genres, including the former president, where I collaborated with them by performing music and dance to convey my expressions for the space represented by their art works. Collaboration among different genres is one of the things that I value in pursuing such a comprehensive form of art.

What were some of the good things about coming to London?

London is a very diverse city. I get to exchange ideas with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, which I often find stimulating and eye-opening. I have met people who have been affected by politics back home but are going on strongly here. I would never have come across those people in my life, had I not left Japan. I will never forget the things they told me – their words were so powerful.

How has your education at TUA helped you in your career?

If you want to succeed overseas, you have to be original. My years at TUA allowed me to explore, in depth, things Japanese, or Japanese art, to be more specific. That experience equipped me with the knowledge that is at the base of who I am today as a Japanese artist, and it is my strength. Another advantage of being a TUA student is that you get to work with people of different genres, learn different perspectives, stay in touch with one another, and collaborate in a project even after graduation.

What are your future goals?

The instrument I use was made in the Edo period, and I cherish my instrument. I feel the souls of the person who made it and of those who played it before me. It feels as if I can hear their voices every time I perform and as if they are helping me. I am convinced that it is my role to convey the spirits passed on to me to the next generation through traditional music and traditional dance, and to share their essence with the world while transforming them to fit the contemporary context. It is such a pleasure to be able to work with people who have common interests and passions. Recently, I have been collaborating with such people to explore artistic expressions of my own. For example, I have produced an on-stage “narrative scroll,” which combines fine art with a monologue where I perform music and dance. Thus, I have been presenting theatrical expressions that are based on my own sense of aesthetics both in Japan and overseas.

Arts, including music, can provide emotional anchors for people. I believe that it is an artist’s job to create a moment that provides an emotional support for someone when he or she is happy or sad, and it is the best part of being an artist. Nothing is more fulfilling than being able to create a moment that warms up someone’s heart, even for an instant. I hope to continue to play that role as an artist throughout my entire life. That is my ultimate goal.

Any message to current TUA students?

I encourage you all to challenge yourselves. It is OK to make mistakes when you are a student. A mistake is a step to another stage. Actually, you should dare to try something that you don’t think you are capable of doing. Trying itself is worth the effort, and there is no need to be afraid. Even if you fail at your first try, and you feel embarrassed, it is worth hundred times more than a success that is achieved easily, and that experience will give you confidence. The key to succeed, I believe, is to take on a challenge and take a step forward. It is also important that you know your strong point. It does not matter what it is. As long as you are good at something, people will show respect even when you get stuck along the way, and you will be able to keep going and compete.


Profile for Dr. Kaho Aso (in Japanese):