As most of you will know, my fascination with various forms of Japanese traditional music is why I so desperately wanted to come here. So, I am over the moon to have begun shakuhachi (尺八) and biwa (琵琶) lessons! A very, very brief introduction: the shakuhachi is a type of bamboo flute, played by Buddhist monks in Japan since around the 12th century, often as part of their spiritual practice. However, as I am a beginner (and not a monk), my shakuhachi is plastic and I am learning tunes such as ‘マリーさんの羊’ , which you may know by its English title: ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb.’ You have to start somewhere. And I’m absolutely loving it.
The Biwa is a kind of lute played with a MASSIVE plectrum and its repertoire features songs drawn from epic texts of Japanese literature. For instance, the piece I’m currently learning describes a battle between two warring clans, so think powerful and dramatic. Well, when my teacher plays it. When I play it, think twangy and clunky. But again, I have patience and I’m a very happy Fran who still can’t quite believe that I am actually having the chance to learn these fantastic instruments!
I’m also going to as many concerts and performances as possible; this Saturday (28th) was particular crammed with a Tokyo Symphony Orchestra concert in the afternoon and a ‘one woman mono-opera’ performance at Tokyo Wonder Site in the evening. This was followed by meeting up with friends in a bar with 180￥beer (so about £1) and then ending up in karaoke till 4am. Love being a student again.
And since I am a student again, I go to school every day, do my homework and revise for weekly tests like a good girl. Though, since some of the sentences I have learnt at Naganuma from the teachers include ‘If he is a good person, even if he is not handsome, I would still give him my number’ and ‘At my house, it is OK to have a party and drink lots of alcohol’, I feel less like a good girl! I am enjoying learning Japanese – the lessons are pretty intense with a lot crammed in but the teachers are lovely and we still manage to have a laugh. It certainly takes a lot of my brain power; even though we finish at 12.30pm every day, I’m still knackered and ravenous afterwards! It’s interesting to see what elements stick relatively easily and what takes a lot of work to understand. I think I find speaking the most difficult so I have found a conversation partner to practice with, I ask questions in shops even if I know the answer just to practice, I try talking to (incredibly patient) Japanese people when possible even if just to say 'that's nice!' and my music lessons are all in Japanese too - so I’ll get there...!
There are weekends for a reason! So far I’ve been out to Nikko and Kyoto. Nikko, a mountainous area north of Tokyo, was a bit of a whim! We went for a day trip but then we saw there was Kabuki on at the Toshogu temple …so Alex and I managed to beg the tourist office to find us a bed for the night so we could go (everything books up soooo early here.) Totally worth it. Amazing performance, which we followed with an onsen and then a walk to a waterfall the following morning.
Since we had a 3 day weekend right at apparently the best time to see 紅葉 (Kouyou – autumn leaves, maple leaves changing to red), we took the bullet train and made a girls trip to Kyoto! A jam-packed, fantastic and breath-takingly beautiful weekend spent visiting temples, walking through the bamboo grove and monkey park at Arashiyama, driving up Mount Hiei, watching Nō theatre, spotting Geisha in Gion and gorging on Shojin Ryori (Buddhist vegan cusine – made me SO happy, not a fish in sight!). There is still so much in Kyoto that we didn’t get to see so I can’t wait to go again, next time in cherry blossom season!