May – July 2013 – random activities

Wow! I did many random activities during this time period. Enjoy!

May 19 – Some festival in Asakusa
So Asakusa is home to the most visited, touristy temple in all of Tokyo. Ai heard about this festival around the temple, so we went!

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Many people! You can see the mikoshi (festival float that a group of people carries around on their shoulders) in the background. Somehow, it’s able to make its way through the throngs!

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Mikoshi close up. There were several mikoshi going around that day. I’m actually really unsure about how the whole system works…

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Big gate across the courtyard from Asakusa temple! I didn’t get a picture of the actual temple, but this gate is pretty good, I think.

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Big lantern above the entrance to the temple.

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There’s a taiko group called Nihon Taiko Dojo, and their teacher is really famous, and lots of famous American taiko players have come to Japan and studied with him. However, this taiko dojo never does performances, except for once at year…at this festival! I didn’t even know they were playing when I came. I am lucky!

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After the taiko performance, there was a “short” Noh play. There are two famous traditional styles of Japanese theater: Noh and Kabuki. Noh is the older, less exciting, and more tedious of the two. This short play was actually about 45 minutes and consisted of about 30 seconds of story: old guy makes moonshine, moonshine attracts monster, old man flees, monster drinks moonshine, monster falls asleep, samurai comes, samurai fights monster, and…after this part Ai and I decided to take off, since we had been standing for about 40 minutes. I think it was almost over, and I assume the ending consisted of the samurai winning and everyone celebrating. There was also a female character, but she did nothing. She came out, sat down, and didn’t move for most of the play. At one exciting point, she scampers off the stage when the monster/samurai fight gets too exciting for her sit-and-do-nothing demeanor. You can actually see her blurrily running away in the above picture. Despite testing my patience, this WAS pretty cool to watch. The costumes were neat, and the music was so minimalistic and interesting. There were only three musicians: a shime-daiko player (a small, rope-tightened drum played with sticks), a noh-kan player (which is a kind of high pitched, transverse flute), and a tsuzumi player (which is a small, hour-glass shaped drum the player hits with their hand, often while wailing in a falsetto. This instrumentalist is sort of like the conductor of the group of Noh musicians in that he/she leads the music). It was impressive to see the variety of sounds and moods these three musicians could conjure, and that they were playing throughout the performance with no help from sheet music. Wish I had had a bit more patience to see it through to the end.

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Monks carrying a drum, beating it regularly to lead the way for the mikoshi.

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I believe this is a maiko, which is like an apprentice geisha.

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I think Ai mentioned this was the biggest, most important float. The float-carriers were going nuts, jumping up and down and shaking it. I saw a dad try putting his young son on the float, and he immediately turned bright red and started crying. Fun!

June 2 – Rose Garden
There’s a really famous rose garden near my apartment! Since roses bloom twice per year, it’s open for about three weeks in the spring and fall. I went with Ai and we glowered at the flowers! (by glower, I mean smile happily).

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June 24 – Kamakura
Wow! I loved this place! I’m going to post a bunch of pictures. This is a nice town in Kanagawa prefecture that’s west of Yokohama and next to the ocean. There’s a famous hollow bronze buddha here that was built in 1252, but whose surrounding temple got destroyed several times in the following centuries because of tsunamis and taiphoons, so eventually the good folk of Kamakura decided that their enormous bronze creation didn’t need to be sheltered, and its been sitting out in the sun since 1495. I visited this statue, went for a hike, and checked out a big ol’ shrine called Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. Pictures!

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Inside buddha! Looking up at his head.

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Enjoying ourselves in Buddha’s womb!

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I came across a cave that had been turned into a shrine of some sort.

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I think I like it here.

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Really pretty temple!

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Really pretty bell!

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Looking along the path leading to the enormous shrine.

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At the bottom of the stairs….

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At the top of the stairs!

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Cool old tree that just wishes it could fall over and be done with it all.

June 30 – Sankeien garden
This nice garden in Yokohama was owned by some wealthy guy about a century ago, who was so wealthy and insane that he bought buildings, and had them brought to his garden. So now you can see all sorts of old, traditional Japanese homes and buildings here as you stroll around.

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July 8 – Amaterasu
As you may know, I love the taiko group Kodo. This taiko group recently chose Kabuki extraordinaire Tamasaburo Bando as their artistic director. Bando has a flair for flamboyance that I have been reserved about accepting. Besides the florescent and sparkly clothes he likes to adorn the Kodo players with, his artistic choices have not, in my humble opinion, been made with keen sensitivity towards the musical aspect of Kodo. The shows are good and dramatic, but I can’t help but feel there is a lot more Kodo could do that would be more musically pleasing if maybe Bando would hand over more control of the musical decisions to others. It seems to me the pieces he puts his hands on are fine, but they often leave me cold. This was especially true of their DVD “Dadan”. However, I went to a Kodo performance that Bando directed last December, called “Legend”, and actually really enjoyed it. Looking at the program, he only wrote one of the pieces, and helped write another piece, and the show as a whole turned out really well. I could tell he pulled in the reigns on his tendency to be flamboyant, and the more traditional outfits and overall feeling of the show was quite satisfying. I almost appreciated his flair.

SO, come this past July, and a production called Amaterasu is playing all month in Tokyo. I’m not sure what to call it, because it’s part play, part concert. It’s the retelling of the Japanese legend of the goddess Amaterasu, with Bando playing the leading role of Amaterasu, and various Kodo members filling in other parts. As backing music, Bando uses Kodo on stage in an exciting sort of interaction between musicians and the players.

Before I realized that this cool thing was happening, ALL the shows I could attend were sold out. Luckily, they had a handful of same day, standing tickets available for each performance that were only about half the price of the cheapest seated tickets. So I made my way to Akasaka in Tokyo (not to be confused with Asakusa, which is the place with the famous temple I went to before) and got in line nice and early to get tickets!

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To make a long story long, I was able to acquire a ticket and get into the theater and stand at the very back along with 11 other cheapo-s. They had a handrail against the back of the last row of seats, and they partitioned off person-sized sections with tape along the handrail, and gave each section a number. I was number 5, I believe, which was pretty good.

So the show features Kodo playing all the instruments. For the first number, they had drums on the left side of the stage, and melodic instruments on the right side of the stage. Everyone would also sing at times, too. The Kodo players aren’t world-class at non-drum instruments, and it kind of showed, but at the same time it was cool knowing that all the music was managed by this one group. It definitely felt like they were all a single unit. But I was kind of happy to see that after the first number, there was a definite focus on them playing the drums.

While Kodo is playing this first number, Bando wafts onto the stage and makes some meaningful movements, and we’re introduced to the main characters in this first half. The first half’s plot line is basically there’s Amaterasu, and then there’s also this bad guy who’s dressed in indigo, and they have a fight. Amaterasu loses, and his opponent seems to go crazy at the end, I’m not sure. But gee golly, it was so cool! They had these enormous, colored sheets of cloth that Kodo members would grab and manipulate to emphasize the movements and power of these two characters. In one particularly dramatic part, Amaterasu and the bad guy are face face, and the center of their respectively colored clothes are put across their chests, and the ends brought out and back under their armpits and spread out, and the kodo members are holding the pieces of cloth out and shaking them to get a quick, rippling effect, and as the two characters are spinning around, the members holding the cloth overtake the other color and make their side bigger or smaller to show their struggle. Coolest cloth battle ever!

The beginning of the second half starts in a sort of cave or something, and there’s a kind of loose story of these sort of spirits coming together and playing taiko, and it’s basically a Kodo concert for the first half hour as they play a bunch of their standard pieces. Then a new character comes out, a LADY lady, as opposed to a MAN lady (*Bando*), and she dances sexily and sinfully. But Amaterasu comes out and helps her out somehow, and if I remember right, the ending has Amaterasu and the reformed LADY lady standing on the stage, looking around meaningfully as the lights on stage become bright in contrast to the cave setting from before, while Kodo plays their piece Ibuki, which is really pretty and flute-y. With the music, the ending is really powerful and satisfying.

I feel like this is the sort production that Bando really excels at. This was so, so good and gripping when the focus isn’t on the music, but on the theater piece as a whole, which is what Bando’s background lends itself to. I really trust him in this setting in a way I never trusted him with a Kodo concert.

Anyway, after the concert, I walked around the neighborhood and took some pictures!

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Ultraman! He is the most ultra of men.

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