Name: Juliet Knapp
Nationality: British / Japanese
Occupation: Art management
Likes: Yorkshire tea, David Bowie
Dislikes: Cold Kyoto winters
1. You grew up in The New Forest, Hampshire in the U.K., what was that like? It’s a beautiful place with wild horses and donkeys, cows and pigs and things wandering around. In retrospect it was really nice and idyllic — at the time I thought it was too rural and isolated — all I wanted to do was get out!
2. Are there things you really miss about the U.K.? Definitely pubs. Also my brother. Neither are replicable in Japan.
3. Where does the name Knapp come from? I’m not actually sure. My grandma has tried researching this to no avail. Although it might be from the Old English word “cnoepp,” which means “hilltop.”
4. What first brought you to Japan?
I wanted to find the other half of myself. No, to be honest I graduated university and had no idea what I wanted to do after. I originally planned to come for a year and then move back to the U.K. When I started getting involved in theatre and performing arts I decided to stay.
5. You were an English teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET), what was that like? Overall, teaching is challenging but can be super rewarding. I had zero experience when I started, so I remember the first few weeks were horrendous. Most importantly, though, I learned how to make it through 45 minutes of kōri-oni (freeze tag) and dodgeball with no break.
6. How different did you find Japanese secondary schools compared with the school you went to in Britain? There are so many differences. One of the things that surprised me most when I started was that teachers in Japan are expected to hold so much more responsibility for their pupils than those in the U.K. This is considered more a parental role in the U.K. Sports days are more fun in Japan because everyone takes it seriously (even though there are races where you have to run around with bread in your mouth.) In the U.K., we were all very apathetic. Also school lunches in Japan are way, way better!
7. What was it like when you were working as a manager with the electronic composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda? I had to learn to be super organized and also work well remotely, as my boss (the studio director) was in Paris and Ikeda is constantly traveling.
8. You now work for Kyoto Experiment, which is one of Japan’s largest annual international performing arts festivals.
When did you first become involved in the performing arts? I went to a ballet class in a village hall in Yorkshire when I was maybe 3. I was also lucky growing up — my family would take me to see plays a lot and I had an amazing theater studies teacher at school. The first time in Japan was at Kyoto Art Center and SPAC (Shizuoka Performing Arts Center) in Shizuoka.
9. Can you name some theater work in Japan that you found inspiring? I saw Kinoshita Kabuki (which presents modern versions of classical Japanese theater) for the first time last year, which was a definite highlight. Takuya Murakawa (who showed a piece at last year’s Kyoto Experiment) also creates super interesting documentary theater work.
10. You also have a Japanese name, Reiko. Do you feel that’s a strong part of your identity? Reiko actually rarely gets used. I wish it was used more often!
11. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? “渋い” (“shibui” an aesthetic of subtlety and beauty), because it took a friend a few hours to explain all the different meanings without the help of a phone.
12. What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of Kyoto? The view from Mount Daimonji or looking north up Kamogawa River.
13. Do you know any “hidden gems” of Kyoto? Ume-yu sento (public bath), Togenkyo cafe and Kaz Bar are all gems.
14. Are there other areas of Japan you are fond of? I love the Izu Peninsula and the beaches there. I went to Wakayama Prefecture a couple of times last year and did some of the Kumano Kodo trails, which was so nice. Also my birth place, Fukuoka.
15. What do you do in your free time? I’m either in a ballet class or drinking with friends most of the time.
16. What song best describes your work ethic? Hmm, I have no idea! “Work to Do” by The Isley Brothers? I’m not sure. I just like The Isley Brothers to be honest.
17. What would you like to be doing five years from now? Curating/programming theater and performing arts events. Travelling more around Asia.
18. If you could, where would you go right now? The Philippines because it’s summer and I could eat sweet, sweet mangos. Or Nepal to go hiking.
19. Do you have a favorite Japanese food? Soba.
20. What would you take to a deserted island? My record collection and something to play them on.