Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Post Office Exchange

The Japanese language gods giveth and taketh away.  I wanted two things: to be able to buy international stamps, and to understand why I couldn't do that.  I was happy to part ways with neither if it was not to be.  But no matter the intensity and conviction with which the poor woman on the other side of the counter relayed the bad news and explanation, I simply could not understand.  She continued to raise her voice and I continued to try to bow out saying it was ok, it's fine, thank you.  But for some reason I was stuck there under her cascading, unintelligible words, silently and unknowingly making a scene with my ignorance.

This may have been the most uncomfortable situation thus far and it reminded me that there are challenges to living here.  The challenge of not being able to buy something I thought I could buy, the challenge of not understanding why and not knowing what I should do about it in the future.  The challenge of finding breath in the midst of another's frustration and my own.  Of letting go of the entitlement to understanding and the right to know.

I doubt the postal worker knew how much she had raised her voice.  She was distracted from the pure sound of it by the meaning of the words she conveyed.  How many times have I been guilty of the same thing?  There are so many parameters to communication and so many different ways of being disposed to experiencing it.  How often do we try to express something and find ourselves unheard, misunderstood?   It's frustrating.  She was frustrated.  And so was I.  But beyond my anticipated return to more diligent Japanese study, what more can I do in the future?  Perhaps I've started to get greedy with understanding, perhaps it would have been better to continue my dishonest streak and say that I understood, rather than saying that I didn't but it was ok.  She wanted me to understand.  I wanted to understand.  How can we do both: be honest and be accepting when honesty doesn't equal understanding?  Or how can I convey to others that this is ok for me?

Maybe it isn't possible.  Maybe it is.  But I'd like to keep trying.  I'd also like to figure out what happened to international postage stamps.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Afternoon in Kyoto

A few weeks ago I met some very friendly Japanese women at an Okonomiyaki party that they hosted. One of them was on the brink of moving to Kyoto and I told her that when I got back to Japan, it'd be great to visit her.  So today several of us enjoyed a really wonderful afternoon in her presence and the beauty and endless variety of Kyoto.  It never leaves me down, that city.  Always more to discover in the crevices of its streets, the beauty of its nature, and the way it hosts the passing of time.

Kitchen supply store–shape cutters for vegetables;
Japanese knives in the cases and on the walls

Lunch at Kuromame Cafe–the secret ingredient is Japanese black beans:
miso soup, rice, natto tempura, tofu, sake

Bride posing for her wedding pictures at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto

Flowering at Shisen-dō

Viewing room at the Shisen-dō–
Why look at a painting when nature is so beautiful?

Outside the viewing room, looking in


Matcha and the curiosity of an azuki mochi "pie"– verdict: it was good.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Japanese Economics

It's been an exciting day in the world of Japanese:  this last lesson endowed me with the ability to say that I think something and to ask others what they think.  I can feel the edges of my speech starting to soften like a stick of stale gum nurtured between my teeth.  Theory of mind guesswork can start to fade with this pinhole opening into the thoughts of others.  Granted, I will still have to tease out the return on my question output.  One step at a time.

The inaugural use of this came today as Kaneko-san asked me what I thought about prices in Japan.  I told him I didn't really think they were much more expensive than America.  And then I heard myself ask him what he thought about Shinzo Abe's plans for changing the economy in Japan.  "Ah muzukashi (that's difficult)," he said.  I think I'm learning that this may a euphemism for "I don't want to be pinned down on this topic,"  but still, he continued to explain that it would be good for exporting companies like the car makers, but bad for the importing companies like commodities.  He then drew graphs detailing the exact exchange rates for the dollar, yen, and euro in November versus now and also four years ago.

It's strange that after taking a long break from Japanese it seems to have gelled more.  Maybe my expectations have recalibrated; maybe Kaneko-san's grading of my essay was less critical, softened by our mutual gift exchanging; maybe the Japanese language missed me and decided to ease up and give me a break.  Who knows?  What perceptions can be trusted?

But still, it's often a lie when I say, "Hai wakarimashita,"–it isn't really true that I understand.  This was highlighted by today's exchange at the bike shop: "You still need to pay for the light replacement," I understand (walking away), man comes chasing after me and takes my bike back to the store, "89 yen," what? oh sorry.

But luckily, a lack of one type of understanding is often compensated by another.  I apologized and he understood that I simply didn't understand.  I'm trying and smiling in between.  Imports for exports, understanding for understanding, 89 yen for a new headlamp.  Sounds reasonable to me.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

HPAC Concert from the Other Side

Occasionally there are concerts at HPAC which do not require the full string section and this week was my first time sitting out.  It was therefore also my first time going to an HPAC concert, sitting in an audience of Japanese music lovers, waiting in line for the toilet with them, watching the musicians come onstage together, and doing my share to keep the long applauses going while knowing that everyone onstage is ready to hit the dressing room and grab a beer.

Waiting for the concert to begin, I flipped through the materials in the goody bag handed to me in exchange for my ticket.  Full color fliers of upcoming performances at HPAC, my program, and an additional booklet of fliers for even more upcoming performances.  Movie previews move over, Superbowl Sunday lookout–this was worth the cost of admission.

Wait, there's more?
I become immersed in pictures of musicians and orchestras, and the occasional dancer, sounding out the kana in my head, until it was time for a concert.  The stage doors opened, the applause began, and there were my friends onstage walking to their seats with their instruments like we've done a hundred times this year, that commonplace occurrence newly made magical for me.  Here we are together, to play a concert.  It is only happening once, right now, and then it's gone.

When I went to Osaka the other day, there was a woman who walked back and forth from one end of the train to the other.  She passed through my car two are three times, head hanging down, feet shuffling, mechanically opening the doors at the end of one car to pass into the next as though sleep walking.

Do we know that we know?  Do we know that we don't know?  How can we know?

Friday, April 26, 2013


Perhaps a place has a feeling independent of anything personal.  The hills of San Francisco reveal so many houses and hide so many others, the lakes of Madison open the skies, the odd-angled streets of Japan surprise the person around the corner.  But the people with whom one comes into close contact during that time in a space seem of equal importance.  And perhaps the way those people act somehow reflects the nature of the landscape–hills, open skies, close quarters–or perhaps their nature exists on its own.

Regardless, another way of re-acclimating to Japan is to be in touch with those people.  Tonight a few friends came over for nabe dinner.  This was my first time trying this at home and the feast enlisted the hot-plate of one, the nabe-pot of another, the knowledge, ingredients, good will and conversation of all.  We boiled cabbage, tofu, mushrooms, konnyaku, onions, and shrimp in a soy milk broth.  Before we had an appetizer of shrimp-tuna-kimchee fried rice and afterwards we enjoyed a dessert of profiteroles (with profitorial debates included) and Hershey chocolate sauce (thanks Costco).  Eating with friends in Japan.

Surrounding the nabe fixin's

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shared Train

There are many ways to re-acclimate to Japan so I thought I'd try one.  In the name of getting gifts and getting out of the apartment I chose to go to Shinsaibashi, Osaka's shopping district graced with women made giant by their colossal heels and hair.

To get there I had to take the densha which was filled with Japanese people as often happens in Japan.  Do groups of Japanese children exist without hats?  My personal guess is no, and today they wore yellow, with slightly different styles between the girls and boys.  I watched them take special care of one of their friends who appeared to have Down's Syndrome, holding her hand to step on and off the train, opening the window blind so she could look out the window.  And then I stared out the window with her gaze, watching the closely packed houses, the blue sky, the electrical wires and cars waiting for the passing train.  All the languages were foreign.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shift of Weight

Back in Japan, the trees outside my balcony are covered in budding leaves, no longer heavenly white clouds of blossoms.  Walking to the grocery today I noticed the bushes full of large dark pink and purple flowers.  One flower to another.  I think there is always another flower opening in Japan.  I think this might also be true of California.

What is a transition?  The change from one time zone to another, from today to tomorrow, shifting landscapes of flowers, American squirrels become Japanese stray cats, communication transforms into guessing, daily assumption becomes unquenchable curiosity.  How many steps between the transition from one place to another?  How many ways can one divide the time and space?

And where is the center of gravity?  It is said that should a bench dissolve under an aikido master, he would not fall.  He does not give himself entirely to it.  But I wonder if he does.  There is time between one state and another, they do not exist at once.  Might transition be the state of being in two places at once?  Of bench and no bench?   Does the aikido master see a transition?

One foot to another, shifts of weight.  An act of living.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Where am I?

This morning I had gentle prodding of the transition to come as I enjoyed my first American hotel buffet in a long while.  Around me were Japanese visitors, and in addition to the expected eggs, sausage, bananas and cereal on the counter, there was a cooker filled with steamed rice.  I keep asking myself where I am.

I read and slept on the plane, thinking about the economy and life in America.  The plane rolled out above San Francisco's spacious city streets and about 17 hours later I was hovering over Osaka, trying to decipher the details in the carpet of houses and buildings at dusk.  In these returning hours to Japan I once again find myself making comparisons and wondering if they are true.  What is the essence of the difference?  Is there any?  Is it in the way people move, or the way they focus, or how they eat?  Is it the price that one pays for things, or the speed at which one enjoys them?

I'm very tired, in that state of spinning pre-sleep jetlag where the world seems to make sense only because I'm crazy.  And with that, I'll leave two pictures from the Japanese airport today.  Where am I?

what is this saying?

Japanese bagels (shrimp, salmon....) and sandwiches (bottom row)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Another Night

Just kidding.  The American sequester of 2013 has sequestered me in a hotel near the San Francisco airport for one more night in America, one more sandwich on toasted wheat bread, one more parade of veterans carrying American flags through the airport baggage claims area.  I'm trying to turn this unfortunate delay into a vacation-like limbo in a huge hotel room, but teetering in the transition is not what I would have chosen.  Just like the LA traffic, I'm getting the full experience of being here, delayed by the furlough of air traffic control workers affected by Congressional budget problems.

But perhaps I have more to learn from this space between places, this time between times.  What more can I take in from America?  It's not easy to say goodbye and I feel myself wanting to move through it to the next point, to get into some frame of understanding, routine, relationship, for which I have some familiarity.  What a unique feeling to be somewhere and to be elsewhere at the same time.  To want and to have all at once.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Last Night in California

Tomorrow I leave for Japan and return to the universe the day that I took from it.  I came with a suitcase full of Japanese treats and novelties to share, thinking I would replace them with peanut butter and ceral but I feel so satiated I'm keeping the load light.  I'll be back in America again.  It's been wonderful to be here, to be with these people in the southern California sun, playing music, speaking in English, eating Grapenuts.  I will miss it.  How does one transition from one good thing to another;  how do you leave a note, what happens in the space before the coming sound?

In a Nutshell

People ask me, "So, how is Japan?"  Seems like a pretty fair question, but as much as I would like to relay some all-knowing novel observation about the national psyche, the culture, even the climate, I have a hard time coming up with any satisfactory response.   To the best of my ability it is impossible to relay the way that people move, the way that time and space exist, the smell, the taste, the sound and silence of it.  "There are a lot of Japanese people speaking Japanese."  And in America there are not so many Japanese people and they don't speak so much Japanese.  This is a difference about which I'm fairly sure and can communicate to a reasonable degree.  Sometimes people speak of the smiles of different cultures, the sincerity of them, their depth.  Sometimes they speak about their work-ethic, the time or the focus or the care with which they work.  But what is it that makes America different from Japan?  The people of both these countries seem capable of sincerity and confusion, hard work and leisure, smiles and affection of many varieties.  That I feel it more strongly at certain times and certain places, I wonder if it isn't a result of my own receiving, my own perception and expectation of what is being given and expressed.  What a world.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Return to San Diego

We drove down the beautiful Highway 1 yesterday and today, stopping to camp in Big Sur.  We stopped to see and hear the elephant seals and walk through the flowers of central and Southern California.  We even managed to enjoy the LA rush hour traffic at sunset, looking forward to some homemade cornbread, smoked Gouda and Parmesan grilled cheese, and gelato from a local creamery, served by a friend. It was a wonderful trip up and back down the coast.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Beautiful Day in California

San Francisco is a heavenly place.  A lot of that is related to food.  And also the buildings, and the murals, and the bay and the hills with never ending beautiful views, and flowers, and the people and the laid back way of living.   We got up early this morning to meet my uncle for an incredible breakfast of beignets, omlets and grits and proceeded up Telegraph Hill, the steep stairs and backyard gardens of beautiful homes, to Coit tower over looking the city and water.  And then down to the Mission to see the original mission and founding of San Francisco as well as many more murals.  My uncle is an  excellent tour guide, eager to share the knowledge that his native curiosity has already accrued and just as eager to learn more.  This afternoon and tomorrow we are driving down the coast along Highway 1 and hoping to camp along the way.  It's a breautiful day in California.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


What is it to have an experience?  Where do one stop and another begin?  How many experiences can one have in a life and by what measure?  Is it by events and situations, stories that we can construct?   Is it by the way in which we receive them, even if it is just the passing of time?  Is it by what we learn, or how much they shape or lives?


What is it to have an experience?  Where do one stop and another begin?  How many experiences can one have in a life and by what measure?  Is it by events and situations, stories that we can construct?   Is it by the way in which we receive them, even if it is just the passing of time?  Is it by what we learn, or how much they shape or lives?

Up to San Francisco

We travelled along the 101 from LA up to San Francisco, through green empty hills and dust-blown towns along the coast.  I find myself in a country that I don't really know full of questions.  What's in that truck, why is the pavement sparkly, why is there no development on the hills, how do the parking meters work and what do the signs mean?  My time in Japan has renewed that child in me that has this faith that there are answers to the things around us that perplex us.  But so often there just aren't any answers or there are but I don't have the key to them.  I must continue with simply not knowing.

In San Francisco we played a concert at Classical Revolution, at its birthplace, the Revolution Cafe.  The audience was packed, quiet, respectful, and very appreciative.  It was wonderful to be back in the setting, to be feet away from an attentive crowd, able to feel the change in their breath with the character changes in the piece.  And it was tiring to remember the work of hosting that sort of evening, juggling all the performers, organizing the readings, trying to balance how to make everyone happy enough and to at least just smile for those who can never be completely satisfied.  It's a different audience from Japan- is that really true?  They clap faster, they cheer, but they are both so friendly and open to enjoying the evening to whatever the performers have to offer.  And I think it is this openness on the part of the performers and the audience, this mutual act of receiving, that made the project so rewarding for so long.  As I've stepped away from it, I appreciate this opportunity to look at it from afar, with no expectations, hopes, or wishes, but to more objectively ask what I wish from and for it and how I might be able to get there.  Perhaps in Japan, perhaps when I find myself here again.  There is something about it that keeps me coming back.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Late Letters

We spent the afternoon driving up to L.A. from San Diego, enjoying the view of the city as we climbed the hills higher and higher to great Aunt Ruth's home.  She showed us her garden with avocado, apple, persimmon, and orange trees, and after another dinner of Japanese food, this time with a gentle, "arigato," instead of a harsh, "irasshaimase," Aunt Ruth remembered a visit from a Japanese man who worked with her husband during the 60s.  This opened memory inspired in her the idea to write the gentleman a card which she is giving me to send by mail once I return to Japan.  She brought to the kitchen table the gentleman's business card, unused for 30 or 40 years, and after dictating a thoughtful and poetic note to her daughter, I wrote the company address and the gentleman's name on the front of the envelope.  How quickly does Tokyo change?  I wonder if the company is still there, if he has any connection to it anymore, if the postal service will be able to do anything to bridge whatever gaps there are between these two people and their pasts.  I hope that her words and dragonfly stationary will make it to the hands of Seiichi Tanaka, a Japanese generation away from today's L.A.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Today a concert and many new faces.  So much is given to us, and so much is then asked of us in a way that makes us grow more and more.  Parents to their children, friends to friends, children to their parents.  So much giving, more and more.   Where does it start?  Where does it end?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sun and Flowers

Spent the day rehearsing and enjoying the company of friends and family in beautiful downtown San Diego.  Tomorrow we'll be sharing music and a reception with an even larger group of friends and family.  So much sun and beautiful flowers everywhere.  Beautiful like the sun and flowers in Japan and in my home Cincinnati's spring, but different.  So many ways, so many ways....

Food Here and There

Thousands of miles away, a sushi restaurant in San Diego sang the opening Japanese welcome as we walked through the door, "Irashaimase!"  It's followed me here, but left behind in Japan is the taste of real wasabi, something I hadn't even realized really only exists there.  That nasal burn of delight in the midst of delicious raw fish and vinegar rice.  I'm enjoying other American cuisine in many other regards. Breakfasts with Grape Nuts in my yogurt and peanut butter toast, texmex food, peanut butter M&Ms, alvacado milkshakes- most of these things are not too hard to replicate in Japan, just as sushi is accessible to Americans, but somehow these food have their places.  It's amazing how much the experience of food colors a place.  The amount of space and time that it occupies in living and consciouness, the quality of it.  The grocery stores here are so huge and orderly and open for so many hours.  They invite large purchases from bulk food containers and two for one specials.  One may imagine stocking up for several days, rather than make a small purchase for the evening's dinner.  Restaurants serve a single large plate rather than twelve little ones.  I'm enjoying the food again, and wondering if I should follow through on plans to bring any back.  Perhaps better to leave it where it belongs.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

San Diego

Clear skies, brilliant flowers, rocky hills, open oceans with setting suns.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Flight to America

I started missing Japan before I left this morning, or yesterday morning, or whenever it was.  I realized that on the other side of my journey, the cashiers wouldn't bow to me and the bus drivers wouldn't tell me to be careful everytime they stepped on the gas.  The change was gradual, with Tokyo's Narita airport serving as the first point of transition- a sign in the toilet had an "x" through one of the words in order to fix the poorly translated grammar; I realized this was the work of a foreigner. A Japanese person would have used two parallel lines, and they wouldn't have done it in the first place.  Have I ever seen a mysterious phone number or profanity grace the bathroom walls?

On the other side, in San Francisco, the customs officers barked and the woman took my passport, questioning my operations in Japan.  She asked if I had any food or tobacco and I remembered that in my hands I was carrying mochi. "Just the mochi," she vacantly echoed and handed me my papers, "Welcome home."  So strange to seen a gun on her waist during this perfunctory homecoming.

It's strange and wonderful to be back, to see all the different people, larger than life in stature and energy. To see facial expressions that don't seem to exist in the Japanese language.  Garbage cans everywhere.  Overly priced airport bagels that drive a prodigal expat to make extreme decisions in such a time of need.  Today has seemed like such a journey with so many jet lagged observations and musings. Looking forward to the next few days.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tomorrow to America

I can hardly believe it, but looking forward to whatever feelings and changes it will bring.  I'm sure I will learn something from it as I'm learning from Japan still.

I'll continue to write as I'm able.  And maybe share pictures of the cereal aisles in the grocery store.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Dinner at Japanese Home

This evening I went to an okonomiyaki party hosted by several Japanese girls living in a shared house.  This was my first time in a Japanese home, and though this wasn't a typical family situation, I still felt really lucky to be there.  One of the former core members of HPAC who still occasionally plays with the orchestra has a room there and her roommates wanted to meet some foreigners and practice some English.  It was a wonderful evening of new faces, mixing Japanese and English, eating lots and lots of incredible food, and sharing things from different cultures.  Made yakisoba and onigiri for the first time.  At one point an Electric Slide demonstration followed shortly thereafter by traditional Japanese Bon dancing.   A lovely evening indeed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

World PAC Map

A couple of months ago the HPAC office asked me to write a short piece about my hometown for their program.  There is a regular section of the program where an HPAC member introduces the members of the audience to their country.  April is my month, and while I can't read the final version, I can share my original (below).  It was an interesting exercise in reflecting on my hometown, what makes it unique and similar to where I'm now living.  In a few days I'll be going back to America, to California to play some concerts, and I've been thinking about what it will be like to be back there, even though it isn't Cincinnati.  I've grown used to so many things in Japan.....

HPAC program

■ Could you please tell us about your country or the area in USA. (weather, people, any characteristic of the area. Also, what's the charm of the area that you can brag about? (ex. Scenery, nature, architecture, history etc...)

America is a very large country and just like Japan, there is a lot of variety in the climate, food, people and culture from one area to another.  Every city and region has a unique personality.  I grew up in the region of the countrycalled the Midwest.  This is a fairly large area made up of several states to the south and west of the Great Lakes and my hometown is the beautiful city of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The climate and land in Cincinnati is actually much like the Kansai region.  It has green rolling hills and lies in the Ohio River Valley so there are beautiful bridges that cross the water.  The weather is also very similar though a few degrees colder throughout the whole year.  The summer is hot and humid, the winter is cold but fairly mild with little snow and the fall and spring are really beautiful.  

The city thrived in the mid-1800s when lots of settlers came from Germany.  They used the river for trading and built beautiful red brick  buildings in the downtown area that make it look a lot like Europe.  It was during this time that the first professional baseball team, The Cincinnati Redstockings (now the Cincinnati Reds) was founded.  

■ If your friend would visit the place for the first time, where would you take him/her for sightseeing? Could you recommend your favorite place, shop, restaurant, sightseeing spot?

I love the parks and the architecture of the city.  There are many big green parks on the hills with beautiful views of the city.  I love to go there to watch the sunset over the river and see the lights of the city turn on.  The downtown area (called "Over-the Rhine" because it looks so much like the Rhine River area in Germany) has beautiful buildings with more and more colorful murals on them every time I visit home. There are lots of delicious restaurants and interesting shops in this area and it is become more and more popular as a place to shop and dine.   

■ Please tell us famous local products or cuisine or tasty food in the area!

Probably the most famous food is Cincinnati chili.  It is a meat sauce with special spices that is served over spaghetti and topped with lots of cheddar cheese.  It might sound crazy but it is delicious!  Also, just over the river to the south of Cincinnati is the birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

■ Could you tell us if you have your favorite concert hall or theatre?

Music Hall is Cincinnati's beautiful red-brick concert hall in the neighborhood of Over-the Rhine built in 1878.  It is the third largest in the United States and is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  It seats 3,516 people and has beautiful chandeliers and gold trimmed decorations on the walls and stage.

■ Please tell us famous people in the area. (Musician or any famous people if there is.)

There are a lot of notable people that grew up in Cincinnati.  Some of the most famous are the movie director Steven Spielberg, the actor George Clooney, the conductor James Levine, the soul/funk musician James Brown, and the baseball player Pete Rose.

■ What is the significant difference between where you are from and Japan? 

It's hard to say what makes a place feel a certain way.  Maybe it's the  buildings, or the size of the roads, or the pace of life.  Maybe it's the food or the way people serve it.  There are so many little things that make Japan and my hometown different but somehow, despite these things, they seem very similar.  Both are beautiful places to live with wonderful people to know.  

Friday, April 5, 2013


Today's newspaper lunch hour featured an article about the projected inflation of the yen.  Now that there is a new head of the Bank of Japan, one that subscribes to the same economic principles as Shinzo Abe, the process will be moving along a little more quickly.  This seems to be great for Japan, but for an American making yen and sending it home, not so great.  I feel like inflated currency seems to be following me from country to country; maybe it's my attitude.

Regardless I felt a new sense of urgency to make haste to the bank and transfer my yen, something on my to-do list anyway.  Each time I do it, I get better at the process.  Whether or not to use block letters, to correct mistakes with a double line and an inkan stamp, to check the box saying that I'm not affiliated with Iran or North Korea.  I'm still not slick with the "purpose" for the transfer.  The purpose is to transfer.  It's a purpose within itself.  But that doesn't seem like the right answer, and unfortunately the workers at the bank have limited or no English, so short and simple is always best.  "To evade Shinzo /Abe's progressive eco/nomic policies," would be a chotto (bad idea).  I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity in the future to perfect my haiku explanation.  For now I'm pleased with my double line error fixing and solitary gaikokujin raid on the bank to transfer my money.  It isn't Cyprus, but all in all, it was a pretty exciting afternoon.


This evening after the concert we had yet another hanami, this time sponsored by Sado-san and the HPAC office.  We gathered in another spot in the same park as Monday and they offered us beer, Byerly's orange drink and lots of yummy snack foods.  Sado-san toasted all of us, saying that even though the HPAC season starts in September, for Japan, April is the start of the year.  Spring certainly feels like a true beginning.  Everything green is different in spring.

Christy, me, and Ani, blurry but happy

so many people, so many picnics, so many flowers

the flowers in the early evening between one light and another
On the way home I got severed from my biking companions and found myself riding solo.  The light on my bike is taking a yasumi (break) from working and this can be a tad dangerous as one approaches elderly bikers or walkers in the dark along the river.  (Everything green is the same color in the dark).  Without a light, one can couple anonymity with safety by singing a song to let them know you're there..."I'll be loving you, eternally..."  The blossoms are just now starting to blow away.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

April is Poetry Month

There is a children's choir in Carmina Burana and this means that in our evening rehearsals we've been privileged to enjoy not only cuteness but a round of new t-shirts.  It was while I stared at "FRESH" and "Departure Attractive," in rehearsal today that I started to think a little more deeply about the matter.  What if I could once again enjoy the pure beauty of a letter's shape, of a combination of letters, regardless of typeface, unhindered by their sound and meaning?   I am no longer so blissfully ignorant of English that I can imagine this ever happening again–I have left that garden forever.  The sound of "Fresh," will always have meaning in it;  I will never see "Departure Attractive" in such a pure way.  But there is another garden in which I might linger a little longer, and I started to think of what words I might put together from the Japanese language that I simply enjoy without thought, their sensory impression still much stronger than their semantic baggage.  Something like, "Genki denki hochikisu" comes to mind.  That would look like this 元気電気ホチキス (pretty cool, right?) and would mean "Healthy electricity stapler."  Not bad.  I think I may have found a new hobby, one even the beatniks can't beat.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hair Deposits and Withdrawals

I suppose it was just a matter of time before it happened.  I got AXT today.  This is the gaikokujin (foreigner) HPAC way of saying that one has had a haircut at the salon (by the name of AXT) across the street from the performance hall.  Most likely the tradition of the gaikokujin loyalty to this salon is its proximity, but not far behind (perhaps now in the front running) are the discounts given to HPAC members, the head massages, the end results, the friendly and beautiful staff, and the opportunity to practice Japanese.  Hard to lose.  On the final point, not realizing that the staff explicitly make an effort to help us practice, I was a bit confused by his initial question as he started to cut my hair, "What did you have for dinner?"  Wait, really?  Did you just ask me that?  Could you say that one more time, please?  "Breakfast, food, eat...." he tried to simplify to meet my lack of understanding.  And then I got that we were having a Japanese conversation, and we talked about the Japanese foods that I had eaten and that were delicious and about how I commuted to HPAC, how long I had been in Japan, where I live, etc.  It was engaging in a way that a hair salon conversation has never been before, not necessarily in its content, but certainly in its manner.  He continued to chat while blow-drying my hair and the white noise in my already scant comprehension increased dramatically.  Another question to let go.  Oh and I part my hair on the other side, on the left, I said.  He quickly switched it over, made a few snips, and escorted me to the register, holding the door for me on the way out amidst a chorus of arigatous.

Emboldened with this Japanese speaking practice, I went to retrieve my bow from getting a rehair (kind of like it's own little salon).  The woman there spoke no English but was incredibly friendly, especially so when I returned later that evening having misplaced a small chipped piece of the bow.  In my confusion over where this part of the bow had resettled itself in the universe, there was little that we could communicate to one another, other than her telling me (and me understanding!) that I should look again in the area where I had used the bow that afternoon.  Our personnel manager acted as translator over the phone to help us, but in the end we were alone with our goodwill in a room on the 23rd floor of a window-walled apartment building.  As I turned to go, she playfully put her hands on my shoulders and shook me a little.  It was such a friendly gesture.  I'll remember it with the beautiful view and the diminishing worry of not knowing where a small, inconsequential part of my bow might be.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Attentive Observer

Our very own Sado-san is leading us through Orff's Carmina Burana this week.  Despite its dramatic intensity, the work itself is technically quite accessible.  Regardless, we had sectionals today and played through every passage of sustained open strings, repeated pizzicato and even long sections of silence in want of our wind section and the singers.  Sado marked their parts under his breath.  His typical style of rehearsing is to run through large sections, and then run through them again.  Sometimes he stops and works on a detail, but compared to other conductors I would not categorize him as a detailed rehearser.  While generally rehearsals are times for working through details, I wonder if this isn't simply a different way of thinking about music.  He has an incredible primal energy in performances; at times it's terrifying.  It seems that for him, music is less something to rehearse than to experience.  It's almost like he isn't a musician, as though he is that passionate audience member who bypassed the routine and frustration of a practice room and went straight to being on top of the music world.

Regardless of the origin of his rehearsal and performance style, this morning we played a lot of music that was the wallpaper for other things.  In the slow pace, I couldn't help but notice and become a tad bit fixated on the man sitting behind a table at the front of the orchestra.  He was there the day before, as well, just sitting there with a notepad and a pen on the table in front of him, watching and listening.  Occasionally something would happen in the rehearsal that would cause him to write something.  Most of us who were playing had the surplus mental capacity to at least be reading a good book while this paint dried, but there he was, right with us, attention nowhere but with us.  

This is far from the first time that I have noticed this in rehearsal–some sort of aid to the conductor that isn't watching the clock or studying the score, but just watching, listening.  I live in a land of patience, of gentle observation, of conscientiousness.  One in which an aide would not deign to hoard the time by reading a novel.  And it changes the way I feel about rehearsal.  It's everywhere and it makes a difference.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Of course the flowers are beautiful on their own, but why not make it even more magical with a picnic?  After rehearsal today, a large group of us followed our Japanese matron, Akiko, to a river one stop away from HPAC and enjoyed picnic under a beautiful tree. About twenty of us gathered in Thanksgiving style under a white blossomed tree eating bentos, yakisoba, takoyaki, many different types of chips (wasabi, sour plum, pizza...), and cookies.  Along the path we watched children, families with dogs, couples, and schoolchildren, enjoy the beauty of the changing seasons.  And us, a mixed group of nihon- and gaikokujin, filling in our little space in beautiful Japan.