A major programme of contemporary and traditional Japanese arts and entertainment commences throughout the UK in May. Under the banner Japan 2001, the festival is intended to strengthen existing UK-Japan relationships and create new cultural links. The joint patrons of Japan 2001 are His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan.

Several of the artists involved will be visiting this country for the first time. With many events scheduled to occur outside London, the emphasis would appear to be firmly on encouraging nationwide participation. Visual arts, children's theatre, film, education, sport and architecture will all play a part, alongside numerous major works for the stage.

Among the scheduled theatrical highlights is a new theatre and dance production, based on Japanese mythology, which will receive its world premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 24-26 May. Entitled The Sun Goddess, the show will feature an all-star cast including the actress Masaya Kato, whose Hollywood credits include Golden Samurai and Godzilla.

Elsewhere, Colin Firth will play Hamlet in an Anglo-Japanese theatrical exchange venture at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. Scheduled to run throughout January and February 2002, production work will begin in September. The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon will also host experimental Japanese versions of Shakespeare in October 2001. Meanwhile, London's Globe Theatre presents The Comedy of Errors, utilising classical Japanese comedy theatre, from 18-22 July this year.

The festivities will begin in earnest over the weekend of 19-20 May, when London's Hyde Park will be inundated with Japanese lifestyle exhibitions. Entitled Matsuri - Japan In The Park, the two-day celebration will offer a spectacular Oriental carnival, whilst showcasing Japanese arts, food, sport and technology. Similar events are also planned to occur in Norwich, Derby, Surrey and Portsmouth during July and August.

- by Gareth Thompson