Miek Zwamborn | Japan

Through Growing Global Networks, artist Miek Zwamborn was supported to work with international collaborators in Japan. During her trip, Miek journeyed to the Mekari Shrine in Kitakyushu City to witness Mekari Shinji, a ceremony of seaweed gathering and offering on the last day of the Japanese lunar year.


Journey to Fukuoka and Itoshima

‘From the moment I arrived at Fukuoka, I was surrounded by specialists in many different fields: academics, artists, performers, writers, and cooks, all of whom generously shared their expertise. I learned a lot about rituals connected to the ocean, ancient sea myths, sea deities and sea cults. Witnessing the seaweed ritual at the Mekari Shrine was deeply inspiring on both a creative and spiritual level, as was my visit to Butōh master Nobuo Harada in his self-built theatre/studio in the countryside. During a 3-hour-long workshop, he gave me a better understanding of both black Butōh (dance of darkness) and white Butōh. He answered most of my questions by making a specific movement. The workshop enabled ideas in my current practice to come together, and I began to understand how I could express the behaviour of seaweed through Butōh dance and how I can affect both time and space by moving in it.

With my collaborators, we brainstormed our collaborative performance work as a method of connecting with our communities; strongly influenced by Japanese meal rituals, we considered how collecting food, preparing and eating together could provide a process. We are now preparing the first iteration of this at the Iona Village Hall in July 2025.

On the Itoshima Peninsula, in westernmost Fukuoka, I hired a bike to explore the countryside and shoreline. I cycled along rice fields, through bamboo forests, between Mount Kaya, Mount Hiyama, and Mount Miyajidake, spring onions, and numerous cabbages from Chikuzen Maebaru to Futamigaura. I was very interested in seeing where the ingredients of all those delicate dishes grow and finally seeing the Japanese ocean. 

By moving through the rural landscape with the city in the distance, I could reflect on our peninsular places in Argyll and the dialogues of the days before and form ideas for my work. 

I went to see the Married Rocks, which are tied together by a giant straw garland known as a shimenawa, which acts as the division between the spiritual and earthly realms; this is replaced every year during the spring tide during a ceremony requiring many people, in late April or early May. Visitors to the Married Rocks told me that visiting it will bring luck. 

I found it very inspiring and also confronting to see how important places in nature are in Japanese culture; in turn, I questioned if I could find rocks, pools, or trees on the Argyll islands that serve in the same way now and in the past.

The journey has enabled me to connect to the academic world, which is supporting/enabling a lot of artistic research to happen (more than I expected). 

My encounters at Kyushu University reframed, re-contextualised, and repositioned my practice, stimulating many ideas about how I could further develop my visual and poetry work with scientific work. 

For example, my collaborator, composer Daryl Jamieson’s expertise in Japanese mythology of the sea and the works of playwright Komparu Zenchiku (1405-c. 1470), and academic and writer Britton Brooks, whose research centres upon medieval literary ecology. the relationship between humanity and the non-human world and Blue Humanities, the cultural primacy of sea and freshwater narratives, promoting disanthropocentric discourses about water ecologies. 

These sparked the further development of our collaborative performance in new ways. 

During the visit, I discussed the possibility of reciprocation by hosting at KNOCKvologan in Argyll, which I co-manage with Rutger Emmelkamp. In turn, I was reflecting about how our work there could facilitate the people I was meeting. In addition to the possibility of collaboration, this stimulated a process of evaluation of our work in multiple contexts.

Throughout all of this is the issue of language; as Daryl speaks Japanese, his interpretation meant that we could communicate stress-free as nothing was lost in translation, and more broadly, I am now increasing my efforts to learn about the Kanji characters, use of metaphors, poetry and language in order to increase my ability to more deeply understand and exchange.

Now, we are working towards developing our work for local and global audiences; my network is growing, and by having reached out to Asia this February, I feel something has shifted in my mindset in a logical direction. 

I also have more confidence now that it is possible to get my writing published, and my visual work exhibited on that side of the world.


Some of the insights I gained include 

- Certainty that everything is in the detail.

- The importance of care for everything I do.

- The power of interacting energies: seeing humans and more than humans entangled.

- The joy of seeing the endless possibilities of seaweed showcased (in food).

- Increased definition of the question of how to incorporate food in my practice.

- A larger awareness and appreciation for our natural environment.

- Awareness of the challenges involved in translating all these discoveries into creative work.


On this journey I became much more aware of how I should/could/will engage with the landscape around me at Knockvologan in Argyll; I realised that my practice is enabling me to collect and generate material and time-sensitive information and that these could/can contribute to deeper awareness and understanding of climate change. 


I also understood the importance of collaboration across the ocean and experienced how those different partners could benefit from each other, and how working internationally enables me (and others) to:

- Learn about related projects in rural situations,

- Connect with likeminded people beyond my immediate horizons

- Have a stronger and more diverse frame of reference through which to make sense of and evaluate my work,

- Gain awareness of my own locality.

- Find more routes to sell my work.

- Share my knowledge (and gain a sense of value while doing so).

- Promote cultural exchange as a worthwhile activity.

- Be challenged by opportunities that will strengthen and enrich my practice.’


The next steps are to:

-Define the format of our collaborative work.

-Confirm who-for and where, and why there.

-Develop our work (script, set, costumes etc).

-Find funding.

-Contact and confirm partner venues to present/tour (around Argyll, the Isles and beyond).

-Design and organise the first summer school at Knockvologan on Mull.’


Miek Zwamborn