Theatre – Miyako Odori

I fear that you, my gentle readers, are going to feel that I cannot write without the use of superlatives. But it’s that sort of trip; the experiences that we’re having can only be appropriately described by superlatives.

Today we travelled by shinkansen, the bullet train, to Kyoto. It’s a train. It’s very fast. It’s very smooth. No, it no longer deserves superlatives, even though it travels at well over 150 mph, and we haven’t built anything that fast yet in the UK.

The countryside through which we travelled is interesting, but not particularly noteworthy. Think of the foreground being Holland and the background being Switzerland and you’ve about got it.

We ate a really pleasant okonomiyaki this evening, washed down with beer. Superlatives unnecessary.

But this afternoon. This afternoon we went to the Miyako Odori. This is a traditional theatrical art form performed by geisha. It has elements of straight theatre, opera, and ballet; and the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

Kyoto Miyako Odori 170405

I expected to see beauty. I expected to see grace. I expected to be moved emotionally. What I didn’t expect was drama of such intensity that the tears were running down my cheeks. It was a simple story of loss set in the context of the continuity of human life, and performed with a hypnotic focus and skill that was shattering.

Kyoto Miyako Odori 002 170405

It’s invidious to pick out individuals because it was the effect of every contribution together that made the performance so memorable – but I’m going to do it anyway!

The principal singer was superb. An astonishing voice, and such amazing projection of emotion. The flute soloist accomplished remarkable effects and her intonation was wonderfully precise even when using microtones. The little details were perfect, like the snowflakes in the winter grieving scene, which were small paper discs. When illuminated by warm light in the finale, they were revealed as pink cherry blossom underfoot.

So I have yet another memory that I shall cherish until the end of my life. And if I have time on my deathbed to think of this, I shall remember the cherry blossom and die with a tranquil spirit.

Shinjuko Gyoen and a hearty meal

This morning we braved the Tokyo public transport on our own to visit the Sankyo flute atelier. The journey was not difficult, but it took us some time to locate the right building. In the end we asked a local – who referred to her mobile phone and directed us. The flutes we were shown were wonderfully crafted – you would desire one for its appearance even if you couldn’t play it. And the sound Daphne produced playing it was amazing, with tremendous dynamic range and control.

Tokyo cherry blossom vista 170331

In the afternoon, we visited Shinjuku Gyoen, the National Garden. This is a beautiful park, with a mixture of open spaces and trees and lakes with wooden bridges over them. Despite the cold rain, Japanese tourists were out in force, smiling and being positively British about the weather.

Tokyo Kabuki-cho 170331

However, don’t let me give you the impression that Tokyo is all culture and tranquil parks. In the evening, our tour guides took us to one of the areas for entertainment, where there are pachinko parlours, hostess (and host!) bars, cinemas, karaoke bars and, of course, a vast diversity of eateries.

Tokyo okonomiyaki 170331

We were taken to a restaurant where you cook your own okonomiyaki at the table. What could be better after a cold, wet afternoon, than a hearty serving of pork, cabbage, prawns and other stuff in a matrix of egg, everything being liberally drenched in soy-based sauce and mayonnaise? And seaweed. And dried flakes of bonita tuna. All washed down with beer.