It is two days after the Tokyo Opera City concert – the last concert during our time here. Terry still has rehearsals as they will record four of the pieces from the concert tomorrow. We are all tired, but happy. The concert night was a great evening and one that will be counted as one of the best in the Austin Family history book. The students played their hearts out on that stage and it was beautiful to witness. It is difficult to describe the professionalism and teamwork of the Musashino students and I fear words fail me in accurately painting the picture for you. Musashino works very hard on stage deportment and discipline and it shows.
It is so hard to believe it has been almost 3 months. With concerts and Christmas and packing and last minute sightseeing, my blogging time is limited. There are still so many things I want to say and show you, but I fear time is not on my side. I will attempt to fit in the highlights from now until Christmas Day.
I will back up to Saturday, the 14th and tell you a bit about the Christmas party we attended. Ian and Nobuko had a party for his first year English students and they invited us to come. I think it’s something they do each year and the love they have for the students was so apparent. It was a wonderful evening (again, one of the best meals we’ve had!) of fun, food and fellowship. The McMickings are master party planners in that the schedule of the evening kept things rolling. Ian let us know that the boys must come with 200 yen in their pockets and I knew it was going to be something good. It turned out that the beginning of the party was a massive Rock, Paper, Scissors contest with the winners getting 100 yen from the losers. By the end, Josh was the big winner and took home 1400 yen! The other big contest was a massive Bingo game with each person putting 100 yen in a singing Christmas mug. Ian sweetened the deal with an extra 1,000 yen (remember to just move the decimal over 2, so that’s $10) in the cup. The McMickings had wrapped many presents as prizes as well as the money cup. Lo and behold, Seth won Bingo and chose the money! Each consecutive winner would choose a mystery present and at the end we all opened our gifts. They were all nice things from the McMickings travels, etc. and we Austins got a haul of good items. See the party pic below. Seth is particularly happy to be holding Paddington Bear. Nobuko not pictured in the group, so I grabbed a shot of this master chef!
Touring to Gunma last Sunday for the first concert. Rode these bright and early:
Look what we saw on the way there!
Working to get the stage ready …
The Gunma Concert Hall:
The flute section:
More on the Tokyo concert later. Just ran out of writing time – sorry! Must head to a special dinner!
Last night we hosted a dinner party and I made a new friend, Roger Bobo. We also enjoyed the company of fellow 3rd floor apartment dweller, who is now our good friend, Ian. Having guests over for dinner is somewhat of a challenge since we have minimal dishes and cutlery and we only have a table for four. That said, we made it work. Terry and the boys had met Roger Bobo, world famous tubist, at Tipness just a few days ago. We have always wanted to have Ian and Nobuko over, too, but unfortunately Nobuko couldn’t make it last night.
Roger with Terry (Note: Austin Tokyo apartment wall decor = Maps)
The Americans who work at Musashino (all two of them!) should really stick together, but Terry had never had the opportunity to meet Roger or any other faculty member except in passing due to everyone’s schedule being so different. Terry and I have missed entertaining and were really looking forward to having both Roger and Ian over for dinner. With only 2 burners and a fish broiler, your menu choices are somewhat limited.
Our stove the first day we got here and before I spring cleaned it … see why we ate Thanksgiving dinner out?
Spaghetti and salad did the trick and once again, thank the Lord for our Costco trip. We got the sauce from there (you know the 3 jar pack) and doctored it up with onions and meat. Salad is very easy here since we shop almost everyday and everything is super fresh. We even got bread from a bakery and ate like Americans. Ian is Australian, but he did just fine. He wanted a picture with the boys and by the way, this is our living room…
Love that picture! AND our 100 Yen Christmas tree with 100 Yen ornaments and homemade star …
I know what you’re thinking – Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but we are enjoying it. I thought I might use all of my earrings as ornaments, but haven’t done it yet. We had a wonderful time and wish we had more days to have another dinner party. Alas, our days are numbered here. Only 12 left. Two of them are concert days, one is Christmas Eve, 5 more rehearsals including recording sessions, one is our travel day, two dinner invites to other houses and one is the Emperor’s Birthday when I believe many, if not all, museums and things are closed. We still need to get to the Sumo Museum, but it’s only open M-F which has been impossible for Terry’s schedule. Monday, hopefully!
Yesterday, we went to the Nerima City Office building which has an observatory on the 20th floor. It was a beautiful, clear morning so we hurried downtown.
Everything, businesses and cities included, seems to have a mascot that is cute and cartoony. I’m assuming this is Nerima’s mascot.
Clear days and views of Mt. Fuji are hard to catch we hear. Seeing Mt. Fuji is what every tourist wants to do. Our clearest view was our day at Disneyland from the morning train. It was so big and clear we weren’t even sure what we were seeing! We just stood in awe and forgot to take a picture, but imagine a huge, snowcapped mountain with clear blue all behind it and that’s what we saw that day. Yesterday, we saw great sights, albeit not as clear, and here are several of our views:
Fuji with zoom!
More mountains in the background.
Have no idea what the tall white tower on the left is or the giant swing set looking thing bottom right …
Fuji without zoom.
Skytree just right of center. Reflection from the glass due to the sun’s position – sorry.
Another bad picture due to the sun, but isn’t it overwhelming to see the size of this metropolitan area? Skytree on left.
Nerima and beyond.
There is a restaurant on the 20th floor that looks pretty good and the view would be terrific, of course. Maybe next time … if there is a next time. I’ve told you of the plastic food displays for menu choices. Here is a typical one from the observatory restaurant:
I’m not going to lie. I’m going to miss these displays. They are just plain fun to look at everywhere we go.
Today, I got to attend a yoga class with my friend from church, Sachiko. I have never done a yoga class before and I got there earlier than she did. Eight people were lined up along the right side of the wall waiting. Since I didn’t know anyone, I went and leaned on the LEFT side of the wall away from the group and one of the waiting ladies would not have that. She motioned for me to stand on the right side beside her, so I moved. Each time a new person would come, they would add to the end of the line that eventually went down the steps. I kept popping my head around the corner to peer down the steps to see if the new person was Sachiko. Finally, she came and walked up to me and I quickly asked why we were in a line. She told me so many people took the class that they always line up in order to get the spot they want. I decided to go down to where she had to wait and by that time, people were lining both sides of the steps. Apparently once the line gets to a certain point, you start a new one on the left side. That’s why I was in the wrong at the beginning. The nice lady didn’t want me to have to wait so long for a good spot when I had gotten there so early. Having never done yoga before, my “good” spot was going to be in the back! However, those are the spots that filled in first. I did get a clear view of myself in the mirror, though. The class was wonderful. I LOVED it and I was almost the youngest person in the class. I didn’t understand a thing the teacher said, but I watched in the mirrors and did the class with ease. I might have to break my cardinal rule upon our return and join a gym. I know the boys want to since they have really enjoyed Tipness.
Our views of Mt. Fuji have been numerous this week. I will close this blog with a few from the front of our apartment. Enjoy!
With all of the fish market and sushi pictures yesterday, I failed to post a picture of our last sectional meal with the trumpets. They took us to a really hip, American-like, beach-themed restaurant called Peace. It had a spaghetti special and a sandwich special. Since spaghetti was the first one they mentioned, I thought they were suggesting it and said that’d be fine for my order. However, when all the orders came out I was the only one who had gotten it. There had been much discussion about what came with the spaghetti plate. Hands down the funniest translation issue thus far happened when they were telling me all that was included in the lunch special. They were at a loss in describing something to me (they got salad just fine) and used their translator app. When they showed it to me it said, “Obstinate bread” which we took to mean hard on the outside/soft on the inside Italian bread. Obstinate or not, it was really good! Below is our lunch pic with the trumpets. The lady leaning down on the left is Mana, one of the Head Inspectors of the wind ensemble. She’s the one who planned the welcome party and was the waitress at the Italian restaurant. In addition, Mana and 4 other band members successfully auditioned and won a place in the Army Band. Five new members in the Army Band in one year is HUGE! We are so proud of them.
This was a delightful time with all of the students trying their best to speak with us. We asked certain questions at each meal:
1. What part of Japan are you from originally? 2. Is anyone else in your family musical? 3. Do you have brothers or sisters? 4. What will you be doing next year or what do you want to do in the future? 5. Have you ever been to the U.S. and where have you traveled other than Japan? The answers are always interesting and as varied as they would be if Terry asked the same questions of his VCU students.
I mentioned in a an earlier blog that I would explain a bit about gift giving here. Because of this gift giving culture, it is customary for all guest conductors to bring a gift to anyone involved with the wind ensemble, including each of the 60 members, support staff and the upper administration of Musashino. In addition, we needed to bring gifts for people who might help us in any way or invite us to a meal during our stay. We even brought along a few small extras for unexpected situations, too. Therefore, we brought a multitude of gifts and had to store them in the apartment until the appropriate time of presentation. They were spread out over 8 different suitcases on the way here. I thought it would be fun to make a display in the music room’s (a.k.a. Josh’s bedroom) bookshelf.
It is customary to give gifts from your university or home state. We like to give Virginia peanuts anyway, so that was a perfect gift to bring people. We will not be returning with anything pictured in the above bookshelf which allows for room in our luggage. Hooray!
We have already received a few gifts ourselves and are currently enjoying the gift below. I didn’t snap the picture before Josh got a hold of the box. We were thrilled to get this gift!
You might wonder why we would be so excited about a box of apples that I would share a picture of it on this blog declaring it to be a wonderful gift. Let me tell you, it’s an AMAZING gift being that one apple of this size can cost up to $3.00 here! They are delicious, too, especially since we have not had many apples or fruit at all in 3 months. Fruit in general is VERY expensive and is a favorite to serve for dessert. A cantaloupe or honeydew melon is around $9.00 each, grapes are ridiculously expensive with the cheapest we’ve seen being around $5.00 for one bunch (I mean a stem) and you can see the price of strawberries below. One yen is basically the equivalent to a penny, so move the decimal over 2 and you have the U.S. price.
Blurry picture, but yes, that’s 15 strawberries for $9.80. Needless to say, we haven’t bought strawberries at all. There are SO many pictures I want to take in stores or at stands to share the sights with you, but it would be rude of me. We were just walking down the street and I caught this one on the fly and thus, the blurriness.
This will be a rather quiet week for us as Terry has rehearsals every day, the boys prep for exams and try to finish up school before the holidays. We must leave super early on Sunday for the first concert, so we are using this time to begin packing. Hard to believe we will be home 2 weeks!
We had the last of our sectional lunches this week – percussion on Tuesday and trumpets on Friday. The percussionists wanted to take us to a very Japanese meal. We let them decide what to order for us and they chose the special set meal which had miso soup, rice with Japanese vegetables (which was more Japanese, they said), sauté chicken and tofu. There was much discussion between them as to whether we should just get plain white rice instead. We insisted we would rather try it the Japanese way. When the meal came, it was white rice with the teeny tiniest bit of pickled daikon in one part of the bowl with the rice. About the size of a dime… or less. It is so cute they cared so much about such a tiny bit. The students revere their teachers here and since Terry comes as a package deal during these meals, we get the benefit of being lumped in with that sentiment. While I was sitting at lunch and looking around the restaurant, I noticed pictures on the wall of the man who was obviously the chef of the 20 seat restaurant. In the pictures, he was sitting at a piano and a lady, who was also in the restaurant in the cooking area, was holding a mic and singing. I then really looked around the place and saw that many of the items that were decorations were musically themed. Once we had all finished eating, we were communicating with the chef that it was a delicious meal and we noticed the piano from the pictures. It was situated so that I couldn’t really see it when I was at our table and there were 4 bar stools around it that I could see. I had thought it just a bar. I motioned with my hand for him to go to the piano. There weren’t any other customers to cook for, so he went to the piano and the lady came out from behind the cooking station, sat down on a stool and began to sing. First, though, she apologized and told us she was 87 years old! Her voice was still very much in shape and they performed 2 songs for us. Delightful.
Apparently other Musashino guest conductors have eaten at this restaurant because they had a concert poster from 2007 on the wall. We decided to deliver a current one and dropped off one of these:
We went shopping around the Musashino area after lunch just to see the little shops there and happened upon a tea shop. Below is a picture of the man who owns the shop who was roasting (I guess) his own tea. His eyes are closed, but see the machine? Terrible pic, I know.
Typical tea shop below.
On Thursday, we went back to the Asakasa/Senso-ji Temple area in order to catch a Sumida River boat cruise. It’s a 45 minute cruise that ended at the Hinode Pier area where we could see the Rainbow Bridge at dusk. It was difficult to get a clear shot of the bridge at the end of the cruise, but you can get the idea in the pics below. First, a different shot of one of the temple gates:
Just a regular shopping day in Asakasa:
The boat reminded us of Batteau Mouche, the cruise we used to take on our VAM tours in Paris:
On Saturday, we went to the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market. We could literally smell fish the second we got off the subway train while still under ground! It’s a massive market, one of the largest in the world, that handles 450 kinds of seafood with more than 2,000 tons daily. During the middle of the night, boats start arriving from the seas around Japan, Africa and as far away as the Americas. In particular, tuna gets unloaded around 3 a.m., laid on the ground and numbered with its world famous auction taking place between 4:40 – 6:30 a.m. The vegetable auctions begin at 6:30. Wholesalers get what they bought transferred to their own stalls at the market and begin selling to their regular customers, retail stores and restaurants. They only allow about 100 people to watch the tuna auction for a few minutes in two shifts of around 50 each. It would have been best for us to try to the do the auction right when we got here in October when we were still on east coast time. We weren’t too interested in getting up at the crack of dawn to do this, but they close the auction to visitors this time of year anyway. We did truly enjoy our time wandering around all the stalls at the market and had the most amazing sushi at a restaurant in the same block as the market. Enjoy the pics below. I’ll close with swords at the end!
See the tourists walking to stand in line at one of the many sushi places.
Yet another knife shop at the market:
A store specializing in peppers and hot sauce:
Taking a break and eating a delicious and beautiful snack:
Here are others we didn’t buy:
Inside of the gorgeous desserts made of red beans; outside is made of white beans. Takes a week:
Stuff like this everywhere and just sitting around waiting to go somewhere or be sold:
Lots of shoe places at the market sell these kinds of shoes:
Lots of carts like this zooming around with all kinds of stuff on them:
Many random buckets of fish:
We had heard the fresh sushi was amazing and had to give it a try. We waited:
And waited …
And waited …
And finally got to sit right in front of the chef!
This is where part of our order came from …
Just kidding, but it really was sitting right there behind the chef. Wonder how often he grabbed a few from there. Here’s what we got:
And this …
And this, too: (Forgot to take a pic before we dug in – sorry!)
As you can imagine, it was the best sushi meal we have ever eaten. After walking around a bit more to see more shops, we headed to Japan Sword. Museums and collectors buy from them from all over the world. Japan Sword has been in business since 1900 during the Meiji period. It is one of the best known sword shops in the world with an outstanding collection of Samurai art, reproductions and a restoration and sword polishing department. Our boys have been dreaming and scheming for a replica for many, many months and research was done as well as a few visits to the shop to make decisions. The workers there know us and we finally made our decisions! Checking them out:
Packing them up:
Used what was in our wallet and these faces = Priceless!
I’ve now caught up to Saturday – whew! Hope you are enjoying our adventures. More to tell later on!
Last Saturday, we went back to our favorite place, Asakusa. We just love looking in all the shops and Saturdays are always busy around there. We decided to get off the main touristy street and explore the smaller alleys. We happened upon an outer part of the Senso-ji Temple with the above statue. (This is the same temple where we took our picture in front of the 5 Story Pagoda in our first weeks here.) We have noticed all the statues now have what looks like bibs and hats. We guessed it was due to the colder weather and part of a ritual. I decided to do some research to know and here’s what I found: Jizo is the Buddhist deity for travelers, women and children and is one of the most popular deities in Japan as far as I can tell. Local women usually take care of jizo statues and make them hand-knitted hats and hand-sewn bibs. The practice of dressing them is related to accruing merit for the afterlife, a common theme in Buddhism. This particular jizo has lots of babies with him. According to folklore, he hides children under his robes to protect them from demons and safely shepherd their souls to salvation. I have seen it written both Jizo and jizo. I have no idea if any of that is accurate, but it’s what I found on the internet.
We wanted to look at the miniature shop one more time and were honored to meet the owner of Sukeroku, the toy shop that has been in business over 400 years. The current owner is 80 years old and his family has owned the business for 136 years. Longevity of family businesses is very common in Japan and something we think contributes to the excellent service of this country. Supposedly in the final years of the Edo period there were sumptuary laws that legislated even toys be as small as possible. Sukeroku is the only hand made miniatures toy shop left in Japan. I wish we had a picture, but only about two people can stand in the toy shop because it’s … well … miniature. It’s really a tiny little shop. I’ll try and snap a pic before we leave, but it’s also difficult to even see in the shop because it has a longer than usual noren hanging outside of the shop. A noren is a small entrance curtain that let’s people know instantly the line of business. It could be described as an old fashioned Japanese billboard or neon sign. Not sure why the toy store’s is so long.
Here are a few other statues. Not sure if they are jizo or not, but I am sure the quality of the pictures is pretty bad. Sorry, it was getting dark.
As darkness began to fall, we finally made the trek to the mother of all tourist attractions and local favorite – TOKYO SKYTREE. This is the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world as well as an observatory, shopping and restaurant area. We can actually see the tower from our apartment. Here are a few pics:
At the base:
And this gem!
Last Sunday we sang in the choir … (choir robe selfie)
Went to Yoyogi Park in search of an antique flea market and found these guys:
And these gals. What was actually happening and why, we don’t know, but I’m guessing it is a dance club.
We did find the antique flea market and found it so interesting how many American pieces were there. I saw my Raggedy Ann bank from elementary school days and an old Ronald McDonald doll.
On Tuesday, we went to a mall called Roppongi Hills with Danny and his girlfriend (seen below on the subway with the boys) to meet up with some of his friends from language school at a German Christmas Market. Danny works as an English conversation buddy at the language school and is a favorite among the students there.
Again with the peace sign in pictures. EVERYONE does it here. The German market had German food and our favorite Christmas store – Kathe Wolfhart! We had a terrific time and enjoyed the food, fellowship and decor. Seeing some of our Christmas ornaments hanging on display that we had purchased at Kathe Wolfhart on trips to Germany made me begin to feel a bit ready to come home. This is actually a good thing because we have loved it here so much I could move.
The above pic is the road next to Roppongi Hills and shows Tokyo Tower, a tower based on the Eiffel Tower but is higher. Since 1958, Tokyo Tower was the highest thing in Tokyo until Sky Tree came along.
I’ve only made it to last Tuesday with this blog. I must catch up somehow because I don’t want to forget all that we’ve done. Stay tuned!
The day after Thanksgiving, we had lunch with the horns, tubas, the string bass, piano and harpist. This was our third sectional meal. They decided to take us to an Italian restaurant just a minute’s walk away from Musashino which had an upper room that could seat a large party. To our surprise, the student leader of the band, Mana, was our waitress! She is the one who organized the Welcome Party. It was during this meal I fully realized the task Terry has had teaching here. I had thought our mostly silent meal with the flutes was a fluke due to their small number- silent meaning we ask questions, they struggle to answer in one word and then silence again. (Flutes was a fluke … THAT’S fun to say!) Not one student in this particular group last Friday truly understood English well… at all. The young man beside Terry in the pic below had his translator app, had more of a handle on the language than anyone else it seemed, was at least willing to try and therefore took on the role of chief English speaker. There were many, many times of mostly silence or a general state of confusion due to lack of understanding when he had reached his limit. I kept thinking in my head, “Awkward!” You know what I’m talking about where the inflection of that declaration is concerned. It truly was actually worse the other day with the flutes because there was only 4 of them and they were most hesitant to try and communicate. They weren’t unkind and didn’t have a bad attitude, just not wanting to feel embarrassed or simply did not understand. I totally get this since I can’t imagine being in the same position with my Japanese. Friday’s group was large in number, which tends to make a leader or two emerge. As an aside, I’m at a point where I’ve almost given up for this trip. I can communicate well enough with my few phrases, hand communication and others speaking English. If we ever get to come back, though, I will study and be as ready as I can be. What I CAN say the students tell me sounds pretty good. Thank you, Pimsleur Approach! When we’ve experienced some of the students who speak well, they say they really wanted to learn English and it shows. Several are equipped with that translator app and take it upon themselves to lead the group. Others just sit. It is wonderful when they bravely try and it inspires a few of the others to try as well sometimes. They are all so very precious to us, though, and we love them dearly.
As for Terry’s rehearsal, the students sit quietly and respectfully, but do not ask any questions in the middle of rehearsals…even if he asks them if they have questions. They watch like hawks, though, and try really hard. (Can we bottle and sell that in the U.S?) It is easy to believe they understand since they do not ask for more info when, in fact, many simply do not. Terry is doing a lot of singing to demonstrate what he wants and writes on the board, too. He is having sectionals and these students have sectionals before their scheduled sectional in order to be ready and sometimes one after the scheduled sectional to fix any problems – love this work ethic! They will ask questions before and after rehearsal, though, and sometimes use Danny when there’s an issue with communication. Many will bring Danny in tow after rehearsal with their question.
Terry only has 6 rehearsals left before the out of town concert on Sunday, the 15th in Gunma. We will leave Musashino at 7 a.m. and travel by bus. It’s just over 2 hours from Tokyo and the concert is at 2 p.m. Terry will have a rehearsal the day after on Monday and the final concert at Tokyo Opera City on Tuesday, the 17th. The recording session follows and will involve even more rehearsals! The program is difficult and when we ask the students which piece is their favorite we get all kinds of answers, which is a good sign. It means they like many of the pieces. In addition, we have also asked each student at the sectional meals which class is their favorite. The students in the pic below said the following: Private lessons (love this!), Orchestra (we are heading to that concert tonight at Tokyo Opera City… Beethoven’s 9th – can’t wait!), and Brass Band. Not one said Wind Ensemble and we got a bit worried. Not to fear!!! When we asked the clarinets yesterday at lunch (same Italian restaurant because they choose where they want to go plus it was a huge group) they ALL said Wind Ensemble except one who said, “Western Literature”. And she meant the book kind, not the music kind! Clarinets pictured below the brass/piano/bass/harp pic. I only had 2 pics of the brass group – one with 2 Austin eyes closed and one with 2 students’ eyes closed. Chose the pic with open Austin eyes! I will try my best to catch up and get back in the daily blog groove. Thanks for your patience and for following our adventures. The second pic is smaller for some reason and won’t allow me to edit the size. Lastly, from these meals, we have learned many of the students travel up to an hour and 45 minutes each way on trains to school and the majority of them also have jobs in the home prefectures. I keep writing about it, but their work ethic is indescribable.
French horns, tubas, piano, string bass and harp lunch:
Wow, another week has gone by and I have so much to share! First of all, I forgot to write about going to the Shinjuku Gyoen right after the volleyball game Saturday a week ago. It was nearby and we had heard about it being the former private estate of a fuedal lord and then the imperial family’s. It was one of the most important parks of the Meiji Era, so we had to check it out. There were French, English and Japanese portions. The French part has many kinds of roses and we were surprised to see so many still in bloom. In November! The Japanese part:
The open part for picnics, playing ball and relaxing:
Different types of roses have been added each year. Check out the year and the rose name:
And a little preview of where Terry’s band will perform, Tokyo Opera City: (At least we THINK that’s what this is, it was getting dark!)
On Monday, we were heading to a part of town we go to often and I thought it would be fun to see a different part of town by getting off at a different subway stop and walk from a different direction. Different! We happened upon a festival for the gingko trees.
While there we met the head of Word of Life Japan totally out of the blue!
The sectional meals have continued and we ate lunch with the flutes at an Indian restaurant on Tuesday. On the way there, we happened upon this gem:
Gotta love a Santa shot bar. Holiday decor is in full swing here and we’ve noticed that all light show/decorations will end Christmas Day. New Year’s is the biggest holiday of the year, so we are wondering why the lights won’t continue until then.
On Thanksgiving, which is NOT a holiday here remember, we spent the day at the Ueno Park area at the Tokyo National Museum. Here are a few shots of some of our favorites. Armor:
An example of art after Buddhism came to Japan:
The garden behind the Tokyo National Museum:
Special we ended up eating for Thanksgiving: (Went there for the turkey dinner, but decided against it.)
Afterwards, we headed to the closest thing Tokyo has to permanent flea market, the famous Ameyoko market located under the railway tracks near Ueno station and when I say “under the tracks” I mean they’ve built buildings directly under the tracks with the roof connecting to the elevated tracks it seems – can’t imagine what it’s like inside those buildings when the train rolls overhead. The Ueno station area had a booming black market after WWII, but back in old Edo times it was the area to buy candy or ame. Since the U.S. soldiers had a bit to do with the black market the name acquired a second meaning with the abbreviation for “American”. Ameyoko. I think yoko means alley, which is fitting for the narrow streets. Tokyo finally legalized the market during the Korean War and this is just one street to give you an idea of what the market is like today:
By the way, much of the Ueno area seems to have survived WWII. It did not have major bombing.
It was an amazing Thanksgiving and one we will never forget. It wasn’t the same as home for sure, but it is one that will forever be special to us. I still have so many things to share about this week, but will close with this … we only have 24 days left here and it has flown. All of the things we were so worried about before coming here have been non-issues. i.e. Where to find a pool for Josh to swim, where to find milk for lactose intolerant Seth, how to travel via the subway and trains or how to get school done in Japan! We are so thankful for this experience and since we are totally amazed and in love with this country, it is best if I spread my gushing out over the next 3 weeks on this blog. Hope you all had a great holiday and our thoughts were with our CWorks family as we missed A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Blessings!
Last Friday, November 22 was the start of the sectional meals. This is a tradition for all guest conductors and affords the opportunity to spend time with each group of students in a fun and relaxed way. Above you see the list Terry received from one of the leaders in the band who had the job of coordinating. Terry had to fill in his availability and once he did the schedule was set within one day. The saxophones were the first group to schedule with us and they decided we should go a traditional Japanese restaurant where you sit on pillows on the floor with low tables. We were very excited about this, but let’s just say the Austin frames and flexibility had some struggles staying comfortable throughout this dinner although we managed. Danny was with us since he’s a saxophonist and about halfway through the evening he politely said, “So, I should tell the other sections that restaurants with regular tables would be better when making restaurant choices, right?” I have to admit I felt a bit old right then and there knowing full well it wasn’t just Terry who had difficulty sitting like that, but I DO have long legs. Here’s our group and our wonderful meal:
This is called a set meal meaning you get a soup, entree and sides or sometimes a salad and dessert. I got ginger pork, rice, miso soup (those round things are bread like things – sort of Japanese croutons), the black and orange stuff is pickled daikon (huge white radish – my fav!) and they told me the bowl on the right was seaweed and the color is what makes Japanese have black hair. They were kidding. I think. The plan was to get ice cream at a convenience store nearby and that’s what we did. I should mention that stores like 7-11 are wonderful. They are clean and have very fresh food. In addition, they are everywhere. The big chains that we’ve seen are 7-11, Family Mart and Lawson 100. We look forward to 6 more meals with the students! By the way, the white banners hanging at the top of the group picture are menu items posted along the wall.
Saturday we were thrilled to be able to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to watch the U.S. Men’s Volleyball team play Iran. Many of you know that my friend/neighbor/boss, Brooke Priddy Abrahamsen, has a brother, Reid Priddy (#8) on the team. We’ve watched Reid play for years on TV, but boy was it amazing to watch in person. We were the lone Americans in our section and we attempted many “USA”s, but were continually drowned out by what I’m calling “super fans” of Iran. Here are a few pics:
Sunday was church at Nerima Baptist. The boys really love the youth group. There are about 6 kids in high school and that’s about it. We went to the English Sunday School class for the first time and loved it. Our friend, Masako, is in it as well as my choir friend who was in accounting. She wrote down all the names of the choir members to help me learn them. The class was led by Samuel, an Indian man studying at a Christian college here, and it was because of Samuel that Taka arranged for a group of us to eat at an Indian restaurant yesterday. There were a dozen of us and that was almost the entire restaurant. Many of the eating establishments are cozy with many tables crammed in a tiny space. It was a wonderful meal and fun fellowship. Sorry, no pics of that meal.
We keep trying to get people to come and visit us in Virginia, but haven’t had any luck yet. Give us another month and we’ll see how we do. On another note, I was asked to sing Silent Night on Christmas Eve. I’m getting sad about leaving this place and hope I can get through it.
It’s been days since my last post. I thought I’d give everyone a break, plus last weekend was so jammed packed I didn’t have time to blog! On Friday, I went by myself to the Tokyo Theater for Children’s performance of NUTCRACKER (NO TUTUS … BUT BEWARE OF THE NINJAS!). The production was at the Theatre Bonbon in Nakano, a 150 seat (when they put 36 child chairs on the floor in front) black box that is approximately 2/3 of the Steward black box for those of you who are CYT/CWORKS people. Several weeks ago I had contacted TTFC to let them know I’d be happy to volunteer for music or coaching if they needed anyone. At that point, they were so close to production I wasn’t needed for the show, but I did get to meet up with one of the actors who also volunteers for the organization – Carla from South Boston, VA. She was new to musicals and came to the apartment to get some help with harmony. I was thrilled to get to use our gorgeous grand piano that is in Joshua’s “bedroom” (actually a studio)! TTFC began 34 years ago to offer English speakers an outlet for theater and the opportunity to expose their children to a cultural event in English. It is the only English theater group of its kind in Japan. The cast was American, German, Japanese, Canadian and Scottish as far as I can tell. They incorporated people from a Ninja group and Tahitian dancers and did a nice job. Here’s the stage before the show began:
I was under the impression that this was a children’s theater group before I went, but I learned it was adults doing theater FOR children. Totally makes sense when the name has “FOR Children” in it. There was only one child in the show and the organization only gets to do one show a year. I feel blessed that I was able to see it. Theater is the same everywhere in that I could see how much fun they were having and that the cast had bonded like a family.
Saturday we headed to the Saitama prefecture on the train to go to Masako’s house for lunch. She is an 80 year old member of Nerima Baptist Church and invited us to lunch the very day she met us. Masako studied English for 5 years just because she wanted to learn to speak it and does very well. Her daughter Mika, the youth group teacher, and her husband, Taka, who translates and volunteers in so many ways at NBC, both showed up to visit. We had a wonderful lunch and conversation that lasted for hours. Here are a few pics:
Masako also made us traditional green tea and our dessert was “shoe cream” a delightful puff pastry kind of thing with rich cream in the middle. Taka wanted to drive us back to Nerima, just 30 minutes away, in order to help us find the English translation button on our TV. He had done that before with another guest conductor and had offered/really insisted on helping us. Once he was successful in teaching us how to work the TV, he asked if he could stay a few minutes more to finish watching sumo with us as that was the channel we chose. He taught us SO much about what we had been seeing but not understanding in terms of traditions, winnings and rules. We are hooked and love sumo! I snapped a few pics of the TV when the tournament began. Behold the pageantry:
Here’s the flip side:
I will blog more about sumo after we go to the sumo museum as promised, but I know what you’re thinking. They wear loincloths traditionally to show they are not carrying a weapon. More on sumo later …
Sunday was our second and last trip to Costco with Wataru. He also wanted to show us the Musashino Iruma campus museum which has almost 6,000 pieces in it we are told. Musashino began collecting instruments many years ago and what they have is impressive indeed. They have Clara Schumann’s piano! Here are a few sights from shopping, the campus and the museum:
I told you they had a parking deck.
Just outside the museum on the Iruma campus. Where we have flower beds, Japan has areas like this.
I believe this piano was Napoleon’s, if I recall correctly.
This was one of a few glass harmonicas owned by Musashino.
Terry and Wataru playing the largest contrabass in the world. Terry says they were attempting to play a third, but it was REALLY out of tune. The museum staff welcomed us to play certain instruments… precious items all within reach, not in cases, just laying out in the open many of them and all in terrific condition. That would never happen at home. Another example of how the Japanese operate as a culture. They revere and take care of priceless items; they do not steal, deface or vandalize.
Now that’s a drum!
I guess back in the day they used finger stretchers if you couldn’t reach a certain note? Ouch!
On the way back to Nerima, Wataru pointed out the tea crop:
And thus, the title of this blog. Hope you had the song in your head that inspired it! (Get it yet?)
We have had a very quiet week thus far as we recovered from the busy weekend and the boys did a bunch of school. We plan to take off most of next week since it’s Thanksgiving week – even though you can’t tell that around here. It IS an American holiday, but they have a national holiday called Labor Thanksgiving on Saturday, November 23. I don’t know anything about it yet, but will let you know. We hope to catch a U.S. Men’s Volleyball game this weekend at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium to see Reid (#8) play. More later!