Kawasaki (and Asakusa) Japan – Sunday Jan. 11, 2009

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It is Sunday night and I am writing this as I sit in front of the TV in my hotel room watching some great sumo-wrestling matches.  Since my previous blog entry I have been able to take a leave from the school and my hotel room.  Last night I visited my good friend Seichiro Sadanari, the semi-retired timpanist of the Tokyo City Symphony, and once a student of Cloyd Duff.  He and his wife, Tokiko (also a percussionist), invited me to a dinner party at his home in Setagaya.


Professors Kazunori and Yashio Meguro (another husband-and-wife percussion team) drove me to the Sadanari home after a full teaching day (6 private lessons at Showa).   A Sadanari dinner party has become a regular ritual aspect of my Showa residencies.  Also at the party were Yoji Sadanari (brother of Seichiro and also a percussionist – a former student of John Wyre at the University of Toronto back in the early 1970s), and Kungo Sadanari (percussionist son of Seicihiro) along with his wife and 3-year-old son.  Kungo had been my translator at Showa on two previous visits and we have developed a wonderful friendship.


These get-togethers are always great fun, with all of us taking full advantage of the unlimited Seichiro sense of humor, not to mention his (oishi!) cooking and saki.  It is with no small amount of humility that I accept the gracious English-speaking skills of my hosts and their guests, because my Japanese is, regretfully, very limited.  The evening was, as always, full of reminiscing, orchestra stories, jokes, and talking shop.


This morning, my only free day on this visit, was sunny and crystal clear – a perfect day to do some shopping.  So, after a late wake-up (8:30 AM) and some tidying up of my hotel room and business paperwork, I set out for the Asakusa district in Tokyo.  The Shin-Yurigaoka Station on the Odakyu Line is literally a few steps from my hotel.


It is fairly easy to get around by train and subway in Japan; if you have been there you can skip this and the next paragraph. All of the station signs are in Kanji (Japanese characters) and Anglicized-alphabet words.  The ticket vending machines all have English operating options.  Only one ticket is needed to get just about anywhere in the Tokyo region.  Over each track in every station are electric signs indicating the next three trains and their times of arrival in Kanji and alphabet.  On the train, over every door is a fixed map of all stops along with an electronic video screen indicating the current and next few stations along with public address announcements in Japanese and English.  There are even machines at the exits for correcting the fares if by chance, you have changed destinations and so have not paid the correct fare.


So, my shopping trip started like this:


1) Shin-Yurigaoka Station to Yoyoji-Uehara Station on the Odakyu Line (30-minutes)

At the Yoyogi-Uehara platform the trains are timed so that when one arrives on one side of the platform, a connecting train arrives on the other side.  Upon arrival, the train doors open and there is a mad dash between trains to avoid missing the connection.  Waiting on the other side of the platform precisely at my arrival was the Chiyoda Line train, which I promptly boarded.


2) Yoyogi-Urhara Station to Omote-Sando Station on the Chiyoda Line (15-minutes)

At Omote-Sando Station after ascending the steps from the platform, there is a short 60-meter walk to the Ginza Line entrance and then down a long flight of steps to the platform.


3) Omote-Sando Station to Asakusa Station on the Ginza Line (40-minutes)


Since today is Sunday, I expected that the trains would not be crowded and I was correct, so it came as a complete surprise to me that, upon my leaving the Asakusa Station the streets were very, very densely packed with humanity.  In all of my previous visits to Asakusa (or anywhere else, for that matter!) I have never seen such crowds.  I suppose Sunday is just the family day out, especially on such a beautiful sunny day.  The sidewalks were so full that it was impossible to walk; I had to shuffle a few steps at a time for several blocks until I came to my first destination, the Asakusa-kanon temple, one of the most important tourist sites in Tokyo.


From the main street, the temple sits back about 2-blocks on a narrow walkway, along both sides of which are dozens of souvenir stalls and sidewalk restaurants.  Ruth and I had first visited the temple in 1976, and the stalls still appear exactly as I remember from that first trip.  One of the stalls (then and now) had exactly what I was seeking – a set of 5 Buddha bells.


I had only a few days ago received an email from Richard Brown, the percussion professor at Rice University, whom I have known since our high school days together in Philadelphia.  His email said that he is interested in having his students perform a piece of mine, CHING, which requires the Buddha bells, and he inquired about where he might find them.  What a coincidence that I happened to be in Japan!  I found and purchased the bells for Richard and then shuffled in the crowds around the temple grounds admiring the (recently painted?) five-tiered pagoda and the clouds of incense surrounding the main temple building, all the while sidestepping hoards of tourists (Japanese and foreign) posing in front of their cellphone cameras.


There is a covered shopping arcade leading away from the temple, and it was packed with shoppers.  There was absolutely no impression, to me at least, that the widely-reported current economic slump is having any negative impact on shopping here.  On the cross streets along the arcade there were rickshaws carrying tourists, something I do not remember ever seeing here.  I continued browsing at the shops, shuffling through arcade crowds for about four blocks until I came to one of the main avenues in Asakusa, Tawaramachi.  This street was my second destination.  Both the Komaki Percussion Center and  the Miyamoto traditional Japanese taiko (drum) store are on Tawaramachi avenue, as well as several high-end shops carrying religious items – including temple bells and gongs.  Whenever NEXUS has visited Tokyo in years past, Russell Hartenberger and I would invariably make the trek to this district in search of instruments.


Having skipped breakfast, the hunger pangs started to kick in, so I found a Dennys Restaurant on Tawaramachi and fortunately, I got there just before the lunchtime rush, so I was able to be seated fairly quickly.  Outside, along Tawaramachi, long lines were already forming to get into the popular restaurants, especially the the restaurants specializing in unagi (eel).  Actually, on one NEXUS trip to this district (1984?), John Wyre brought Russell and me to one of these unagi restaurants for lunch.  Anyway, Dennys had just what I wanted – a club sandwich with fried potatoes and hot coffee.  I almost passed on the club sandwich because it had the highest calorie rating in the menu, but my stomach vetoed my brain.


Every visit to Japan brings new experiences, and at Dennys this time it was when, after waiting for a while with the menu, looking for the waiter to take my order, a lady at the next table, after noticing my apprehension, calmly reached over and placed a wireless ORDER BUTTON (a small disc about the size of a standard doorbell button) on my table, which I promptly pressed, and POOF!, a waiter appeared.  Another new twist was the scrambled egg in my club sandwich – a nice twist actually.


After lunch, I walked three blocks to the Komaki Percussion Center, stopping only briefly to browse in the taiko shops.  The prices at these taiko shops have always seemed high in past visits, but now they were completely out of sight – 9200 yen (about US $95) for a small, 3-inch-diameter Rin (cup bell).  I resolved not to spend money at the Komaki Center, but simply to say hello to Akira Komaki (the owner, whom I just saw at PASIC in Austin last November) and Tomoyo, a graduate of Showa who was student there on my visit in 2007.  She is now working as a sales clerk at the Komaki store.  I was able to say hello to Tomoyo, but as it turned out, Komaki is at the NAMM show in the U.S.A.  As for my resolution not to buy anything, it went down the drain when I tried some very cool kinds of shakers I have not seen (or heard) before.  Ka-ching: another $100 bites the dust!


It could have been even worse.  I started looking through the stacks of sheet music – solo marimba pieces, timpani pieces, concerto scores, CDs and more, much of which was new to me, but the prices were simply too high.  Maybe next time the exchange rates will be better.


The crowds were still voluminous as I walked back to Asakusa Station for train ride back to Kawasaki.  As the sun was setting there were occasional views of the mountains from the windows of the Odakyu train, including Mount Fuji – awesome!


Now, the sumo matches are over and the samurai flicks have taken over on the tube.


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