Foreigners make up over 8 percent of the population of the central Japan city of Kani, making it one of the country's most multicultural cities, and this has inspired a local performance project that aims to bring people of various backgrounds closer and help them understand their differences.

Scripts for the plays performed in the Gifu Prefecture city are based on the participants' real-life experiences. The organizer, Kani City Arts Foundation, sees the project as "indispensable" for community building and hopes to promote mutual understanding and more meaningful cross-cultural relationships.

Supplied photo shows actors in a drama performance on Aug. 20, 2023, in Kani, Gifu Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of Kani City Arts Foundation)(Kyodo)

In one scene during the latest performances in August, a Japanese person argues with a foreign neighbor about rules for taking out the trash -- an oft-heard complaint by Japanese about foreigners who fail to understand the complicated and varying garbage disposal systems in the country.

"Why aren't you properly putting out the trash?" one actor says in Japanese. "Why are you so angry?" the other responds in Portuguese.

This year's theme for the drama was "border," in reference to national and other types of boundaries. Eleven residents of Kani and nearby municipalities took part, performing in Japanese, Portuguese and English. Translations of the dialogue were displayed in all three languages.

Many foreigners reside in Kani, home to several industrial parks. At an approximate total of 8,600, they make up 8.6 percent of the city's population of 100,400. The ratio far exceeds the nationwide average of 2.2 percent, as of 2020.

The organizer has worked on the theater project since 2008 to further promote exchanges and mutual understanding. Many foreigners in the city said they had little contact with their Japanese fellow residents due to everyone living busy lives. The Japanese residents also tended to have a limited understanding and interest in their neighbors' varying backgrounds and lives.

So far, people from the United States, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Iraq and Peru have taken part in the drama project, it said.

The pieces are produced in a documentary theater format where participants are interviewed and parts of their answers are transcribed and turned into dialogue for the play.

The drama performed in mid-August featured an episode showing the different experiences within the foreigner community between a person fluent in Japanese and someone who has difficulty communicating.

In one performance, Brazilian Luiz Masao Matsubara, 72, said he started to collect trash as a way to return the favor extended to him by friends and the local government while he had been ill. He said everyone wished him well and he was happy to do the same. "This is my way of living," Matsubara said.

Playwright Yuki Kanome, 47, who wrote and directed the latest performance said, "Boundaries such as between countries and people and languages are not something that cease to exist. That is why it is important to accept them and be aware of how to recognize them."

Photo taken in July 2023 shows actors rehearsing for a performance in Kani, Gifu Prefecture. (Kyodo)

In rehearsals held from June in the lead up to the mid-August performances, Kanome said the participants expressed their frank opinions about the expression to be used in the dialogue.

She said as they strive to make something together under a common goal, they have become tolerant to various opinions regardless of race, age or other aspects. "Drama has a lot of room for diversity," she said.

Filipino Mieko Nishiyama, 20, took part in the play for the third time.

She had struggled in Japan because she was unable to speak the language but said, "I took part in the project and realized that I am not alone. I feel that I have found some friends. I feel very good."

Yoshiro Kagohashi, 67, head of the city arts foundation, known as ala, said the multicultural theater project plays a big role in building community in Kani.

"I want to continue this project promoting (a spirit of) 'let's get along with each other,'" Kagohashi said.

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