Czech teenagers talk about their impressions of Hiroshima and Kyoto

Photo: Frank Gualtieri

The Disman Ensemble is a great Czech cultural institution. Founded by the teacher and broadcaster Miloslav Disman in 1935, it is celebrating its 70th birthday this year. The ensemble is attached to Czech Radio and all its members are children and teenagers. Every year it puts on plays, concerts and other performances, many of them for broadcast on Czech Radio. This summer six members of the ensemble were involved in a rather unusual exchange. They spent a week in the Japanese city of Kyoto - one of Prague's twin cities - on the invitation of a local radio station. Three teenagers from Kyoto also spent a week here in Prague. For the rest of today's edition of The Arts, I talk to the six ensemble members - Jiri Svorc, Lukas Prochazka, Jan Tyl, Jan Stepan, Jakub Gryc and Franta Med - who travelled to Kyoto about their impressions and experiences.

"It was a project called "Radio Bridge Prague-Kyoto" and the Disman Ensemble of Czech Radio cooperated with Sanjo Radio Café, a small radio station in Kyoto. We were supported by the Czech Embassy in Japan, we were supported by Czech Radio and the City Hall of Prague as well."

And what was the object of your trip?

"The theme was to explore and learn about Japan - the country and the people - and also to collect some radio material, which could then be broadcast. In September we are going to make a programme for Czech Radio from these sounds."

So you were out recording interviews with people and other sounds. What sort of things did you record?

"Well, we were basically recording interviews with tourists and with local people there as well."

And you were in Japan just at the time of the anniversary of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. I gather that you actually took part in the commemorations.

"We went there for the ceremony on Saturday 6th August, and we took part in the ceremony. Then we visited the Hiroshima Memorial and the museum."

What were your impressions on that day?

"I wanted to cry, because we interviewed a woman who survived the atomic bomb. So it was hard."

"It was quite moving."

"It was part of the project to learn more about the events of the Second World War. Fourteen days ago, when the Japanese girls came to Prague, they met a survivor of the Terezin concentration camp, and they learnt a lot about how we experienced the Second World War here. Then, only a week later, we interviewed a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. So it was really a bridge between those two experiences."

Did you find, when you were in Japan, that people knew something about the Czech Republic?

"When we went to one of the temples, we asked tourists and also Japanese people if they know the Czech Republic, if they've been there. Some did know, but others just didn't know where it was..."

Did some people have completely crazy ideas about the Czech Republic?

"[laughs] Yes. We interviewed one tourist. He was from Beverley Hills. He started talking about it and started saying, 'Yes, Yugoslavia - it's got very nice beaches.'"

The famous 'sea-coast of Bohemia'!

"But on the other hand I met some Japanese people who are really familiar with Czech culture. They know a lot about Dvorak and Smetana. I was amazed. Some of them have even read Karel Capek's novels."

So, Czech literature is known even in Japan. Tell me something about your biggest impressions or something that took you by surprise while you were there?

"I was surprised by all the historic monuments. In Japan they are made of wood, while in Europe they are made of stone. Also the electric wires are above the ground, while in Europe we have them under the ground."

So wherever you go you see electric wires...

"And they have that because they have big earthquakes, so that if they have an earthquake the electricity doesn't go off."

Were there any other strong impressions or surprises?

"I was impressed by Tokyo, because it's such a big city, with - I think - twelve million people, and it's a wonderful city."

We're sitting in a studio here in Prague. I gather that you had your own experience of being in a radio studio in Kyoto as well.

"They were interviewing us about the project 'Radio Bridge Prague Kyoto" and about our impressions of Japan."

This exchange with Japan is all part of a broader project to build bridges between the Czech Republic and Japan? Can you tell me a bit more about the project?

"Yes, it is part of a cooperation between Prague and Kyoto. The author of this project was Tetsuo Matsuura, and he just came up with the idea that even though Kyoto was a partner city to Prague, only high-placed delegations visited each others' cities. So he wanted people to be able to travel 10,000 km and to meet and to learn more about different cultures."

So it wouldn't just be politicians and bureaucrats who would take advantage of the exchange. What sort of inspiration has it given you - as members of a very famous ensemble here in the Czech Republic?

"Definitely I want to find out more about Japanese theatre. That's the message of this trip for me."

"I want to learn about Japan generally."

Did you manage to pick up a bit of Japanese while you were there?

"Yes, we can introduce ourselves. [All say in Japanese: 'We are a group from Czech Radio!']

We have listeners in Japan, so they'll be able to write back to us and confirm whether your pronunciation was loud and clear over the airwaves. Thank you very much for joining me here in the studio.

"Thank you."