So…Rather than delay any further, I’ll post what I wrote the last week in Japan. Since about the last few days there, my computer and iphoto have been jammed up with not enough memory, and I’ve had difficulty sorting it out. So this post will be without very many photos (even though I have about 4000 from the entire trip), or very many appropriate to the story type of pics. Bare with me. I promise to post more photos when I can fix my tech problems…
I’m writing the first part of this summary on Tuesday morning at the café downstairs next to Otani Hall. Most participants have departed, but a few sensei and stragglers are still here, slowly waking up, bleary eyed, voices hoarse from talking and partying too much. Luckily, my voice is intact. Maybe I’ve learned from past laryngitis experiences to keep my voice healthy with lots of water and other tricks. The last two days of the festival were intensely wonderful. Early Sunday morning a long, all day concert began at Myoanji, the small Myoan sect shakuhachi temple we had visited and played at previously. I got there with Barbara at 8:30 and we had good seats, took lots of pics and videos, and in perfect Shakuhachi Festival fashion, I took a great nap slumped over my bags! Yes, these concerts and the pace of life and lack of sleep makes everyone exhausted. It’s normal to see people nodding off at concerts. Sometimes, even the performers begin to nod off, and that’s really funny. At the big Masters Concert finale Saturday night, there were maybe 80 people on stage, and many had long periods of seating seiza without playing. It was great fun to watch as one and then another nodding off and then wake with a start. I won’t mention names, but you know who you are!
Sunday’s Master Concert started at about 1 and went on until about 8. One could come and go, change seats, go out for food and breaks. So basically, you browsed the program and figured out your plan to see what you wanted to see and go out exploring and eating the rest of the time. The hall that day was close to the Imperial Palace grounds and park, so there was some sightseeing interspersed, a Japanese curry and beer lunch, a visit to a sweet little temple off to the side, and more shared taxis getting to and from everywhere. Still a bit bleary, hungover and sleepy from two nights in a row at the jazz club hearing and dancing to Brian Ritchie (of Violent Femmes), Pepe Danza (South American shaku and drummer), and Ty on tabla… we were all hitting up the vending machine iced coffees on our way around town over and over again!
On Monday, there was another enormously long concert, and over the course of the day, in between listening, I window shopped alone, strolled to a Starbucks and got a venti frappachino (heavenly!!!) Saw a very cool shop with tie dye clothing that had an origami look to it. Folded, sculptural blouses, scarves, jewelry even. Way over my budget, but they have a website…so maybe someday I’ll get something from them. A group of us went out for a late lunch/early dinner of Ramen, and I had a cold bowl, with ice cubes, noodles, vegis and pork. They didn’t have iced coffee or tea, so I had a Coke. Wow. That’s a hit of caffeine!!! Later on, after seeing more Master shakuhachi players blow some of the most beautiful music in the universe, some of us went to the used Kimono store just a block away. We’d been eyeing it for days and finally went in. Very inexpensive, beautiful things. I immediately spotted the most amazing purple Kimono, and then everyone helped pick out the appropriate obi (wide wrapped belt) and rope for tieing off the top. When we got back to the entry way of the hall, someone saw it peeking out of my bag and said, Try it on for us. Then, a participant said: I’m a student of kimono sewing! Let me dress you properly. Now I had a room full of people helping and watching. She made the beautiful bow tie in the back and I paraded about a little for the people waiting for the concert. Hahahaha. Many oohs and ahhs in Japanese, pic taking, and commentary on our color choices. Then I was given a lesson in folding the kimono, which of course I forgot right away! Really a lot of fun J
So many more fun things and events, hijinks and friendships. Sunday night a group of us went out to karaoke. So much fun….Huge tall building, many stories, you pay by the hour and get a private room, pay for drinks as you go. Surprisingly affordable and really crazy fun. We danced and sang and watched as people waiting for the bus below us waved and laughed at us singing and dancing around! LOL. Monday night I asked Tyler (who has been to Japan several times, speaks quite fluently and is oh so hip being a young cool hipster!)…I asked him, so…I’ve done everything, I think, on my list of cool and also ordinary things in Japan. I told him what I’ve done: made progress on shakuhachi, been able to speak enough to get around, went to karaoke, ate all kinds of food, saw all kinds of temples, went to public baths, river rafting, hiking, biking, all the major Tokyo stations and depahto, saw costumeplay and bought a sexy school girls outfit, took a lot of trains, taxis and one shinkansen, had Matcha tea, frequented conbinis and vending machines….What else haven’t I done that I need to do before I leave??? He thought for 5 seconds and blurted out: photo booth! Yup, so a group of us did the crazy thing and crammed into a photo booth, then decorated our pics electronically. We each got a teeny tiny printed version, and I hope Tyler got one on his cell phone that he can send to us. So silly, very fun. Now I’m writing this from Osaka/Itami airport, waiting for my plane….Most everyone left Tuesday. We were still at Otani Hall Tuesday morning and got to say good bye to the main senseis who had stayed communally at Otani the entire time: my sensei, Kakizakai, and his old friends Furuya and Matama. Bittersweet goodbyes, some tears, and lots of hugs. Contrary to some of the stereotypes about Japanese people never wanting to touch, hug, or show emotion, I have found that when you spend time with people and know them for awhile, the opposite is true. Or even if you’ve known them a short time but have had an intensive visit, the bond of friendship is strong, the shared experiences and funny stories are there, and hugging and emotion is a part of every day life. There was so much love and affection, respect and bonds between three of the master players who are the top students of Yokoyama sensei, and had just performed a beautiful memorial concert for him. Many people had moments of deep emotional release during this concert, and maybe the feeling of time passing, missing this loved teacher who has passed, and parting from good friends (new and old) added to the intensity of the experience.Barbara and I were staying one more night and had arranged a different room in another building to move to. It wasn’t great, there were smokers downstairs and we had to run up and down with wet towels over our noses and mouths to escape breathing it in! But the room was fine, the bathrooms OK, and really, we weren’t there long at all, since we spent the day traveling to and visiting, hiking the entire loop around Mt Kurama, the birthplace of Reiki, home to numerous shrines and temples, a gorgeous and rugged hiking path, and a fabulous view at the top of surrounding mountain ranges. At the main temple at the top I was moved to tears by the beauty, by the music I’d heard while here, by my whole Japan experience coming to a close. I nearly dropped to my knees with swooning, and took out my shakuhachi. I played it with my eyes closed, and time passed in that way where you don’t really know what happened, was that 5 minutes, seconds or hours? When I’d finished, a few people sitting or standing nearby just slowly left. I went into seiza on the ground and bowed low and long to the temple and went on my way. Later, at some kind of office annex building to the temple, the worker there came out and told me how much they enjoyed it. She’d heard me all the way in there? Had I played loud? I thought I’d been playing so softly… so reality had been twisted a bit and then we went on for the downhill part of our hiking journey. It was a great way to spend the last day in Japan.
Today was just: clean up, pack up, hang out at the train station, a search for food, and Barbara and I parted. We ended up being close traveling buddies. Thank you Barbara for putting up with my crying (and laughing fits!) She found the Shinkansen (I hope) to Tokyo and Narita airport beyond, and I found the bus to Itami airport. Both of us, and in fact, most participants, have long journeys home. Japan is not easy to get to, but it is worth it. And even saying that sounds so superficial. It’s an incredibly beautiful, special, amazing, interesting country. So small, and so big, with a wealth of history, tradition, culture, art, music, both very old, and really new and modern. It’s got a lot of serious spiritual and traditional customs, but also some very very cute, convenient and quirky things, from high tech toilets to girls in knee socks, monks at temples, and religious charms alongside Hello Kitty hanging from cell phones, high speed trains, and slow hiking paths populated with ancient people on pilgrimages. I’m going to miss it terribly, and am steeling myself for the inevitable culture shock to come.
And yes, here back at home I am suffering from jetlag, unable to sleep at night and really sleepy in the daytime. But worse than the time change is the withdrawal and culture shock. I dearly miss the simplest stupid little things, like vending machines, and heated toilet seats. I find myself thinking in Japanese, and English sounds so weird. I’m horrified by the trash on the ground here and the rudeness of the people. On the other hand, I am ecstatically devouring all the fruit and vegetables I can find because I felt so deprived of these rareties in Japan. And having just finished an Aikido training weekend here with good friends, and meeting up with my other best (American) friends, I feel surrounded by support and love from old buddies who missed me terribly while I was gone. So it’s a mixed bag returning home. Maybe gradually (だんだん) I will become accustomed to the life in the US again. But maybe, I don’t really want to get that used to it again. There are some things I want to stay sensitized to and not go back to my old American ways. I’m wondering if that’s at all possible. I’m just waiting to see where this next road leads.