The cultural encounter that took place in Shuriken was not simply a dramatic one. The Japenese Prisoner of War camp in Featherston actually existed and the events in fact occurred. There had never before been a prisoner of war camp for Japanese solider’s. The guards involved had no experience as guards and were called up to become guards for the prision camp. As Vincent O’Sullivan puts it in the introduction of the play
“Two groups of men were forced into the closest association, with neither really knowing what to expect of each other. There are few stories where there is such a dramatic meeting between East and West.”
It is in this Prision setting that several types of cultural encounters take place.
The cultural encounters that take place in Shuriken are unusual, because of the circumstances under which they occur. The setting, a prison camp is an unfamiliar and, unique one for all the characters involved. There is perhaps no two cultural groups more diverse than the Japanese and New Zealanders’. The meeting of the two cultures, during war time when the two countries were in combat with each other, also meant that the encounter was a war between cultures. A fight for supremecy of the two cultures. This struggle for supremecy is exemplified in the way that the New Zealnd guards attempted to force their own cultural ideals on the Japanese prisoners. An example of this is Ernie believing that the Japanese should learn about the teachings of Jesus Christ. “I’d like to see them know about Christ. I really would. I see them looking at me and I think, ‘Love even these, the least of your brethren’.” However the Japanese scoff at Christianity, and use it to their own advantage, against the New Zealand guards and Christianity making Jacko read a passage. Jako: “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, he sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. And I say unto you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you.”
Another example of this ‘cultural war’ type incident is when the Japanese are made to play rugby. Rugby being the national sport, and something considered intrinsic to New Zealand culture. As Jacko points out when he is teaching the Japanese to play “Because whether you like it or not we are going to civilise you.”
The Japanese prisoners take traditional Christmas songs and change the lyrics to Japanese ones, much to the indignation of the New Zealanders. The New Zealanders’ are offended by the Japanese taking ‘their’ songs, and don’t like the cultural implications that it implies.
A major factor in the way that the meeting of the two cultures occurred, was that the Japanese wer not given any insruction on how to deal with being in a prisoner of war camp. This complicated the way in which the two parties interacted with one another. The New Zealand guards also being in an unfamiliar circumstances only further complicated the situation. The Japanese prisoners’ found the guards confusing and could not understand their behaviour. The Japanese because of their own cultural norms, expected the New Zealanders’ to treat them more viciously and with more authority and less familriality than the did. The Japanese could not understand their behaviour in this respect. Unlike the Japanese however, the New Zealand guards were given guidelines on how to deal with Japanese prisoners, and what to expect from them. These guidelines however, gave the men pre-conceived and incorrect ideas about the Japanese. This, in turn, tainted the way that they dealt with and interacted with the Japanese prisoners. Tiny demonstrates this when he says “The Japs stand for one thing we stand for the opposite, Evil and good if you like…”
The cultural differences between the two groups changed the way in which the encounter was perceived by each group. A similarity, however, was that both groupps were distanced from authority. New Zealand’s centre of command was in Britain, and the Japanese Emperor was obviously removed from them.
The representation of New Zealand as a space of cultural encounters was reinforced in Shuriken by the stage positions of the actors themselves, and the way in which they move and are represented on stage. The Japanese are always seen as a group, and are constantly on stage. The stage is set on levels, representing the hierachical structure and dictating the way that the cultural encounter is conducted. The prisoners are on the lower level of the stage. Always being on stage gives the impression of the strained nature of the encounter. Their constant prescence also implies that the guards and the prisoners are constantley in each others faces. The Japanese prisoners are seen to move and talk as a group, this is all done in a very formulaic manner. Very few of the Japanese prisoners are named this reinforces the group mentality . The Commandant and the Adjudent ar on a higher level of the stage, which shows them as being distanced from what is really going on, and represents their elevated status. There is no seperation between the stage and the audience, this pulls the audience into the production. Dialouge is also directed towards the audience particularly by Tai and the Commandant. This helps to make the idea of a cultural encounter more accsessiable to the audience and confronts them to see themselves as reflecte in the situation, and challenge them to wonder how they would react in a similar situation.
The ways in which individual characters react to the meeting of the two cultures alters the ways in which the two groups interact. The character Tiny acts as an interpreter, and can be therefore seen as a bridge or link between the two cultures. However, Tiny’s misinterpretation of many of the Japenese prisoners speech shows how miscommunication can effect cultural encounters. An example of this is when Tiny is attempting to interpret what Adachi is saying, after the Japanese Prisoner Izuto has killed himself and his spirit is talking.
Spirit: “ I Shunnosuke Izuto dying honourably at this time as I did- that was no one’s descion but my own. To chose death is the final act of the warrior”.
Tiny: “ He’s simply repeating what he already said. The mans dead because he wanted to die.”