Tokyo Adventures

It is currently Day 2 and Japan, and I finally feel like World Tour has started. Sydney and New Zealand were very similar to the United States, but Japan is, well, different. Yesterday, we sang a long concert yesterday in Fujisawa, a suburb of Tokyo. I am not kidding when I say it was long: the entire thing was over 5 hours with 3 intermissions! I think this demonstrates that there are some serious undercurrents of sadism in Japanese culture. I couldn’t imagine an American audience sitting through the whole thing.

It began with a big jazz band from Tokyo University performing what would have constituted an entire concert by American standards. Next was an Okinawa-style drum dance group. This was quite fun to watch, but, again, quite long. The dancers have varying sized drums, and stand in rows, doing very athletic dance moves and banging along to the music that is playing over the speakers. It reminded me of Bangra, except with drums. After that, there was a smaller jazz quartet, but we didn’t see them because we had to go get changed.

We came on last and sang the longest set I have ever performed in an a cappella concert. Our portion of the set lasted over an hour and a half, and we sang almost all the songs we know. Afterwords, there was a reception with lots of sushi, gyoza, buffalo wings and beer. They asked us to perform a few songs at the reception, and then we really did exhaust our entire repertoire–they heard literally every song we know except for Rachmaninov’s Ave Maria.

Here is a picture of us rehearsing before the concert:

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After the reception, we all parted ways and headed back to our home-stays. Each whiff had his own host because the houses are too small and no family has enough room for more than one guest. My home-stay family is very nice, although sometimes we have trouble communicating. The father is an urban planner, so we have some common interests. He spent his childhood from age two to age eight in Chicago, so he is very interesting to speak to. When he does know what to say, he says it in a Chicago accent. But his command of English has faded some over the years, and he sometimes thinks to himself in Japanese or asks his wife for help. So his speech alternates from what sounds like perfect fluency to the broken English that is more common. (Of course, knowing hardly any Japanese myself, I am extremely grateful that the entire country has taken the time to learn my language, even if it sometimes less than perfect).

Today was a free day with no concerts. I had intended on meeting with a group of Whiffs at a nearby train station, but the station was bigger than I realized, and for some reason, I was unable to find them. It would have been nice to meet up with a few other people, but I decided to make lemonade, and I started out on my own. I decided to make my way to the Imperial palace (why not?). The first step was to figure out where I was on the train network. I have had a lot of experience wrangling it on my own on the train networks of London, Bangkok, Paris, Rome, and New York. None of that prepared me for Tokyo. I knew that Japanese people liked trains (I had even taken a few in Kyoto when I went five years ago for my brother) but the Tokyo train network is truly colossal. There are more trips made in a single day here than in an entire year on Amtrak, and the map of all the lines cannot be contained in a single drawing.

This is a picture of the map in my guidebook. It looks like spaghetti, yet it does not even contain all the stations on the express lines, much less the local ones:

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I made my way to Shinjuku station, which I believe is the busiest in the world by traffic. After a few wrong turns, I managed to get onto the circular Yamanote Line and make my way to the Palace grounds. I was proud of myself, but still a little sad that I was all alone–many of the signs were in English, but I wished that there was someone to ask questions.

As I thought this, a group of four Tokyo University students approached me and asked if I spoke English. “Yes,” I replied. They were looking for someone to practice their english with, and they offered to show me around the Palace and the city. We spent the rest of the day seeing the sights and getting to know each other. We walked all around the Palace and the garden, explaining everything as we went, and then they took me to the Meiji shrine across town. At the end of the afternoon, we exchanged e-mails and parted ways.

Here is a picture of my new friends at the Palace gardens:

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At the Meiji shrine we came across a Japanese wedding procession:

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