21st Scottish International Storytelling Festival kicks off

by Jamye Drohan

Scottish Storytelling Centre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile

The 21st Scottish International Storytelling Festival kicks off today on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

The Theme, ‘Eastern Routes: Authentic Voices’,  brings international storytellers and academics from countries including Norway, China and Japan to perform alongside Scottish wordsmiths.

A highlight of the festival is the arrival of the Ainu community from Japan. Lindsay Corr, marketing officer at the Scottish Storytelling Centre said: “The Ainu community are the oldest inhabitants of Japan, living in the northern islands. They are an ancient farming and forest dwelling culture and there’s one particular connection to Scotland.

“The Ainu say they were saved from extinction by a Scotsman called Dr. Munro who was the personal physician to the Emperor of Japan. Munro took up the cause of the persecuted and marginalised Ainu and campaigned on their behalf to the Emperor.”

The inclusion of Eastern culture may appear a world away from Scottish traditions, but Corr insists the two are comparable.

“In Scotland, there’s a strong hearthside tradition. It’s very intimate but alongside that is the bardic tradition, a far more performative style of storytelling and most cultures we have this year have that performance tradition.

“One thing that I found interesting is that I had always thought the traditional idea of a ceilidh was distinctly Scottish but the Japanese tea ceremony has incredible similarities where stories are told and everyone was equal.”

Earlier this year, fears over the future of the Centre were revealed after the owners, the Church of Scotland, were advised to consider closing it to relieve financial pressure. However, Corr has seen the profile of the festival and the Centre climb steadily since it opened its doors in 2006.

“There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the uniqueness of this Centre exisiting and also the active support of the Scottish Government’s festivals expo program which has been about promoting Scottish Culture through key Edinburgh festivals.

“Storytelling presents an opportunity to be able to do and express anything so the playing field for subject matter and themes is wide open.”