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"Hirado served as the connection point with other countries. The footsteps of the eras created by new encounters still remain today".
With the sentence above, the opening statement of the touristic 'Hirado Guidebook', my appetite, imagination and curiosity have been wetted for already months, ever since the exciting news arrived of my acceptance to the 12xHolland program. This day was the culmination of all excitement and the metamorphosis from imagination into reality. Already at Schiphol, the consequence of the Japanese/Dutch encounter of 400 years ago was noticable, and especially tasteful, by drinking Japanese green tea before boarding the plane. And as the journey progressed, the metamorphosis from The West into The Orient became more and more evident. Especially in the queue at the gate to Tokyo in Frankfurt, where Westerners merged seemingly and naturally into the Japanese, Japan seemed very close. Even Japanese music suddenly stood in front of me, waiting to return home, in the form of the well-known and respected colleague of the late Toru Takemitsu, the composer Toshio Hosokawa.
Once in the plane, I felt lucky that time leaped forward another 7 hours, making the travel time to Tokyo even shorter... Japanese newspapers, read from the back to the front, company of Wil Offermans and conversations with a Japanese passenger made the time pass by quickly. Sleep also was a pretty good help in this process. As the vast Siberian plains seemed to go by, darkly and mystical as in a dream, in a world 10 kilometers below us, Tokyo announced itself by waking us up turbulently. Even though the night had been replaced by day, there was no visibility at 3 kilometers height and all passenger were overpowered by a typhoon. It took 7 loops around the airport and the filling of 2 airbags, for me, to land at Narita.
After enjoying some fresh, but rather stormy and rainy moments outside Narita Airport, enough time was created unexpectedly, for calming down from travel sickness. The typhoon had such a strong will of itself, that it forced our next plane to Fukuoka to wait on airport grounds, including all passengers inside. Closing one`s eyes, the plane already shook so much on the ground that it was not hard to imagine how it would behave in the air; it was like an iron horse impatient to return to his home, the skies. Three hours and two air sickness-pills after the original departure time, the plane got permission to take off as the last allowed plane in this storm. The take-off was exciting, accompanied by a spontaneous, instantly composed choir of yelling. After fifteen minutes, sleep made the time fly by like the plane itself, and finally we arrived in a dark Fukuoka.
Aki-san had been waiting for us to pick us up by car. He brought us travellers - me, Nikkie, Wil and Junko - to food, including my feared fish, and the hotel. How lucky I felt to be here. Fukuoka is beautiful, and full of satisfaction, my last thought of that long day was: `This is fantastic, we are in JAPAN!!`
The reasons for the name of the place where I woke up, the Orient, seemed understandable. With the Rising Sun shining in my room, it became evident for me, being from the West, to consider this beautiful and civilised part of the world as an important source of Orientation. Sipping a coffee in the morning sun near our hotel, Japanese life passed by us quickly and organised, with lots of people looking excellent in their beautiful clothes, including the youth who gazed at us in uniform. During the three hours after, not only the people seemed splendid but there was a unification with their environment - how splendid was the nature that passed by the windows of Aki-san`s car! The towns formed a friendly chaos among the green, and rice fields alternated with fiercely coloured billboards. After three hours the road stopped, and the bridge, which belonged until two days ago to an almost imaginary but future world from the touristic brochures, marked our proximity to the final destination for the coming month.
We stepped directly out of the car into history: a boat, marked with 12xHolland flags, was waiting for us to bring us to the 17th century, when the Dutch ship anchored in Hirado. We could imagine well how the Dutch must have felt when they had a similar approach to Hirado as we had now. But I hope that at that time, the Dutch had a similar warm welcome as we got, with people clapping for us when setting foot to Hirado....
The weather and the welcome were very warm. Even the press had interest. These were all people that we would get to know during our stay. Food was offered to us, and my and Nikkie`s apartment were shown. A bike, offered to Nikkie and me, made us feel at home even more. How efficient the Japanese are: both apartments were beautiful, and very empty. There seemed no more than needed, but everything needed was there. Everything extra is given by the people, who showed us around during that day. Japanologist Tycho de Back was a great help for communication. And it was clear already now that the people were even warmer than the weather!
The day was closed by a welcome party in fierce, thundering weather, and an even bigger splash into the water in a hot on-sen bath. Until late, this bath is opened for everyone who feels like relaxation in a clean, beautiful outside environment with a sea view. Without this element water, there could not have been a world as it exists, and without this same element of water for shipping, a strong tie between Holland and Hirado would be unthinkable. How symbolic and pleasant this close of the day was.
After a nights sleep, we had the honour of meeting the personification of Hirado, the mayor, in the city hall. Him being an utmost kind man, I did not know exactly whether to interrupt 'ma' - the silences after the chain of separate miniature dialogues - or let the sound of silence be itself. The concept of 'ma' is important in Japanese music, and I decided to treat life and music as equal and interchangeable, leaving 'ma' intact. Hirado seemed via its personification a very hospitable place to be. Also the other people in Hirados control tower were kind and friendly as I was being introduced personally to almost everyone. With this, maybe even more business cards than words were exchanged, which seems to me an achievement since so many kind ones had been said.
Lunch found me using chopsticks with more and more agility. Immediately after, it was very much time to practise finger agility as well in the piano studio. I realised soon how conditioned man is; even though I read several books that highlighted Japanese custom, I still found myself walking into the studio bluntly with shoes on, without realising it. Luckily there will be time to get back to good manners.
Observation of a koto (traditional Japanese string instrument) group session closed the day in a sounding way. Always surrounded by the smell of Japanese tea, East and West seemed blended very well by way of Western rhythms, Japanese kanji-notation and pentatonic but well-tempered scales. The shakuhachi (bamboo flute) seemed a comfortable instrument to play, even though it has innumerable array of sounds and sound colours. Trying it myself, I had to change my deceiving thoughts since I could hardly produce a tone within fifteen minutes. The shakuhachi is at least as deceiving and complicated as the piano, where it comes to tone colour and production. The shakuhachi is, above all, an incredibly beautiful, colourful and original instrument.
The three-stringed instrument that I tried late in the evening, shamisen, is as difficult, but the similarities between the Japanese language and the music struck me. Its short but fierce attacks, delicate yet forceful way of playing, and the difference between sound and abrupt silences after the attack, made me experience how language and music are intertwined. I had the whole night still to think of how music reflects the culture and ethnography of people, and how important the treasure of music is for us in an increasingly complex society.
The days fly by when one is in a place full of wonder and beauty. So the Japanese also noticed over the hundreds of years, as became clear to us during our sightseeing walk tour this day. Centuries seemed to have passed in minutes, without any notice, with hardly any change in original sources. A world flowered in front of our eyes; one that has been created long before us but has become mature by all the eras it saw pass by. Those mature elements consist of Shinto shrines (jinja), Buddhist temples (o-tera), and Japanese gardens. They stood there as old, wise men, for which you could feel nothing but respect, which Nikkie and I tried to express by a small prayer ritual. Tea was respected by a ritual performed by a native and both respected and drunk afterwards by Nikkie and me. One wonders how it is possible for different time periods to live together side by side; after all, we seem to live in a three-dimensional world. However, the Japanese learned to live in a world of four dimensions.
The Matsura historical museum showed us relics of our Dutch ancestors, who have experienced Japan four hundred years ago, maybe differently, maybe similarly, but in each case having observed the same sights as we just had, though concrete was at that time still wood. Time has passed, but not past. Besides the Dutch objects, Japanese and Chinese relics showed us the hierarchies of the people. It is interesting how people in different parts of the world have independently created their very own world and culture, and at some point of time have crossed their paths. Is this the result of a Buddhist way of living? In each case, it happened, and though not without initial struggle, our presence in this museum was one of the consequences of that event.
All the time, I had been carrying my Lonely Planet-dictionary. I think it is a good one, but there is something fundamentally wrong. The planet, even in the 'Far' East, is not lonely at all. Even in another culture like this, the influence of humans can be found, more than the influence of so-called Japanese or Dutch...
This day found me practising; not only practising music but also Japanese conversation and Japanese eating. But even when one is not directly at his instrument, music is everywhere around. Not only by the lush musical fabric woven delicately but electronically by loudspeakers into the shopping streets of Hirado late at night, but especially by the rustling of the wind, playing a subtle game of windbells at the doors and windows of the Japanese homes. The Japanese have an excellent ear for musical colour, and their windbells form the most perfect audible spectral diamonds. Debussy has once written that one does not learn music at a school; one learns it from nature. It is now very understandable that Debussy is a much beloved composer in Japan.
At night time, the appointment with my host and her friend was accompanied by a musical wind blowing from another direction, formed by wind instruments playing a karaoke Herbie Hancock. Lights put into the water at The Carillon made the water seem crystal clear, and the ma inbetween the little dialogues constituting our appointment now transformed into crystal silences. The concept of ma and its mysteriously chameleon-like quality makes more sense every day.
Later that same night, staying with my very hospitable host family Machida, music filled the room quickly. With my host and her friend playing quatre-mains Debussy, "En Bateau", there was for me that night not a more appropriate and urgeful feeling to play in return Debussys Ce qua vu le vent douest. The wind at that moment came from the West, but I hoped it would be the responsible one for bringing the boat to the East.
On Sunday morning, the winds brought us a wet wake-up call. Although our 10-kilometer walking marathon did not directly evoke the feeling of a marathon to me, the rain pouring down soon made me change my opinion. I understand the saying about the Japanese not living in nature but with nature better and better. One feels humble indeed, even powerless, when so much water comes down from the skies that even your shoes, waterproof bag and even visibility give up their functions. Nikkie, totally soaked herself, was -as always - helpful immediately and brought her knowledge of creating houses, buildings and roofs to practise by creating an ingenious protective plastic dome for my backpack. Afterwards it felt pretty good to have met nature face to face, and I decided for the future to cooperate, rather than to compete with it.
The sound of nature was more harmonious the hours after the marathon, as we attended a traditional Japanese music concert. The shakuhachi was the sound of humans having cooperated with nature rather than having competed with it, with the human wind finding its way through the bamboo instrument. And, one wonders after listening, why did we in the West narrow down nature to only twelve tones per octave? The wind, nor birds, sing in whole-or semitones. The shakuhachi and koto turned the otherwise black-and-white picture of nature into a coloured one. Striking also was the more than just entertaining playing of shakuhachi while the other group members were tuning their horizontal harps, the koto. How natural this convergence of two different musics seemed to both musicians and audience. In Europe we would call this contemporary music. Wasn't Charles Ives then after all a naturalist indeed?
The night was one of wondering, to find compromise between my Western habit of score-playing and more Eastern ideas of improvisation. In Japan, improvisation has another history and perhaps a bigger accent than in the West. On shakuhachi, a Zen-instrument, a traditional goal was no-goal: become one with the sound, transcending oneself by giving away his breath to focus on colouristic aspects of one tone. This could be impossible, or at least very hard, with written-down and dictating notes within a time frame. With the Wind Ago wind ensemble, East and West could meet in an interesting way, via Japanese song standards with a Western tint. Written out-scores would be alternated with improvisational sections. Though improvisation is one word, it has so many meanings. This evening has showed how far-reaching the effects of the West have been in return to the effects of the East on the West. Improvisation was within this music via twelve tones. Perhaps music is after all a universal language?
The Japanese seem, on a superficial level, quite a traditional people. Their land alternates between temples and buildings of our own era - indeed I have never seen a people who have integrated old and new, or vice versa, better than these. But, on this free day, little things struck me more than ever, little signs which show the cleverness and modernity of the Japanese inhabitants. Inbetween practise and preparing the next day's lesson, walking through the streets to the town hall, one can see satellite applications like the GPS system in quite a diversity of cars. While walking, one gets drink cans from an automat, but not only ice cold ones, also extremely hot cans filled with coffee of every kind for every taste. Entering the town hall, one can immediately check his blood pressure free of charge on the machine directly on the right of the entrance. Mine strangely enough gets radically lower every day...the natural environment, the subtle and colourful music and the good manners and friendliness of the people of Hirado obviously have a good influence on human health. At the computer in the town hall, the keyboard looks pretty conventional, but subtle signs of their time-consciousness is shown by special features such as a special single key for the sign @. Email but also mobile phones have entered Japan only shortly ago, but already now they are accepted as full members of society, and fully integrated. Walking back to the practise space, one could meet our translator Tycho, just receiving an email via his extremely thin mobile phone, after being warned by a real audio sample of acoustic music. In the evening, during a meeting with the teachers of the school where I teach the next day, I am brought to beautiful rooms in the Hirado Elementary School with new Yamaha grand pianos.
When I think of Europe, we do not do such a bad job either with incorporating technology into our lives. However, it seems that this goes hand in hand there with an ever more decaying sense of social behaviour and human responsibility. Technology makes our life easier, and some of us act accordingly. It seems that this growing comfort in life tends to individualize people and make them forget social codes as they depend on machines more and more, and as machines prevent them to go out of their houses. For now, it seems and feels very safe in Japan, even in the darkest alleys at the earliest hours of the day. Here, technology has helped the humans, but it is maybe their inner respect for nature that keeps them feel humble. Let us hope that they will preserve also this part of their culture, as this is nowadays certainly more decayable than any temple, no matter its age.
Sometimes one experiences days of which memories have a great impact and do not fade away. Today was one of those. The lesson I gave at the Hirado Elementary School for children between five and seven years old has helped to explain the striking Japanese personalities. Never before have I seen a more disciplined, but at the very same time a more happy and spontaneous group of young people than today. Children sit on the ground and stand up when they speak; children greet the teacher or the guest in perfect unisono; and after all that, one child even comes out of the group and greets the guest personally, on behalf of the group. But of course the role of the teacher should not be neglected here, and indeed the children would have been different, were the teachers not as respectful towards the pupils of their class as they are. And all this would not have been necessarily so special - it is the happiness and spontaneity of the children making this a memorable event.
A second striking thing was the openness of the children towards -contemporary- classical music. John Cage seemed now, finally, to have written the most daring and exciting music, and Debussy suddenly got the appeal, like Cage, of a pop star. Is this not a proof that the young people of today make the future? What a lack of education music-haters have experienced, since young people take up anything so easily. Cage's prepared piano is still a positively surprising novelty even though the music was written long before many of us were born; also the Japanese anthem was spontaneously and loudly sung, even though there was some pretty unconventional piano accompaniment with several extended piano techniques.
I strongly believe that contemporary music should and actually is conquering the music scene and people's hearts more and more, and some day we will have the iron-20th-century-repertoire. But seldomly I have experienced a class singing thank-you songs, and rushing afterwards in enthusiasm to say a thousand thank-yous and shaking hands. Who could think in Holland that this is a result of the -for some people- infected word "contemporary music"....Contemporary music does affect us; it should affect us. We can relate best to elements of our life now, of our own time, and so why not with music. Is music different than life? Is it to be separated? The children have proved the opposite clearly.
The afternoon was spent by teaching a couple of students in the Bunka Cultural Centre. They played Schumann and Debussy, and it was such a pleasure and actually an enormously special phenomenon to be on the other side of the planet and work together on cultural expressions which are common to both of us. Even though we did not know each other before and we were raised very differently in very different places. Why "Lonely Planet"? I think that music has after all the potential to become a universal language - but we must understand our local dialects....
This Wednesday was also filled with workshops, and therefore automatically also with joy. While the morning gave me the opportunity to expand on the theme of Musical Imitation a little more because of the longer lesson time (2 hours), the afternoon was interesting because the workshop took place in another school, at a thirty-minute distance. Even though the morning class consisted of 110 children, this increase in size was not at all noticeable. The children were like an orchestra: with all the instruments sounding perfectly in pitch and balance, the orchestra becomes one body, instrument. There was no cacophony at all. The school lunch with the children, afterwards, impressed me. For the sake of food hygiene, face masks were worn until the mouth really needed uncovering. The children and the teachers together formed a close harmony.
I was brought to the Houki Elementary School that same afternoon by the Principal of that school. The GPS system in his car guided us flawlessly past the beautiful scenery to the small school. All 54 children which made up the whole school body listened with dedication and wonder to the uniqueness of the piano as an instrument. The children absolutely felt no barrier in singing either. On the way back to the city centre of Hirado, we stopped by the Houki Christian Church. The glass stained windows created a bright spectre of light, which according to the priest is responsible for lighting up the visitor's soul. I had never seen a richer orchestration of light before.
The night's shodo lesson formed a musical close of the day. Japanese calligraphy, introduced by two hours of theory, can be seen as an expanded history of modern art. Even though this is artful writing, not painting, the symbols of the kanji (Chinese letters, also used in Japanese) have evolved from pictural and figurative drawings, through several stages, to highly abstract condensations of those pictures. There are direct parallels with Kandinsky's revolutionary ideas of abstraction and in musical terms the work and thought of Anton Webern. Obviously, the evolution from the obvious to the abstract is a natural, human one. It happens automatically in history, similar to the way the world and human beings themselves have grown more and more complex. Another proof was given tonight for the cause, reasons and necessity of the kanji-like characteristics of our music of today.
This morning was filled with another elementary school workshop for another curious class. During these projects, one notices that as one grows up, he does not fundamentally change from his childhood. Especially after the class was given, when all the children ran up to me and touched me by shaking hands, hugging - still surprising to me, such open display of things so uniquely human - this was visible. Of course curiosity plays a big role here - after all, the Dutch do look different than the Japanese and vice versa - but that same curiosity for the "other" or the different, as shown so directly by children, is one of the very reasons of my own presence here in Hirado. Though more restrained than the children, Nikkie and I are also still observing the "other", by way of the Japanese and their customs, with great interest. Almost every second. And we are both very impressed. The child within us also became visible to the children in return, when they grabbed the contents out of my pockets. I must admit having felt a little embarrassed, when the kids discovered that also my pocket was pretty full of empty sugar-candy covers, something that is supposed to be seen more often with them than with me, perhaps.... Well, one cannot change totally.... And aren't we humans basically the same, regardless of age?
In the evening it was time to give some piano lessons to several children and young adults. Even though it is my goal to teach them something, they at the same time always teach me too. Every time again I hear other people, including myself, I discover not only how beautiful this instrument is, but also how difficult and complicated playing the piano actually is. But this is the challenge that helps to keep the flame alive. And it is a fantastic challenge to try to make clear to those studying piano, how challenging this instrument actually can be. Isn't "being challenged" one of the 88 keys to succession and self-surpassment?
It was my last workshop at the Hirado Elementary School today. And the children made that known: I was presented a beautiful hand-drawn portrait by the young people, and even a self-made paper medal. Of course this makes one think of how small effort one has to do to get back so much. And who could have thought that contemporary composers would evoke such reactions. Well, perhaps it should be stated differently: how could contemporary music not have any influence on people, when it is being made by fellow human beings living and experiencing the very same world? It is almost unimaginable that our "modern music" written in the previous century was once being described as "too difficult" by so many people. Luckily this is changing and luckily this music seems to integrate better with the present human world of emotions and experiences today.
After driving for about an hour in a black, invisible world, our evening took place in a small but beautiful temple, packed with people who seemed to just blossom out of the dark. Wil Offermans and Junko Ueda gave a concert this night, playing flute and biwa, with a great overview of 400 years of Japanese music. Strangely enough, the oldest music sounded like the newest, similar to our European composers DaVenosa or Des Prez, whom many composers nowadays are indebted to. The "traditional" music Junko sung and played on biwa, changed abruptly from the unexpected and almost aggressive to the sweetest and mellowest. Stockhausen wishes he could put his signature below it.... This was highly interesting and great music which absolutely needs more study. Wil was able to make his flute sound like a shakuhachi - and soon after, his shakuhachi turned into a flute again with great ease. He showed us tonight in every possible way how East and West could be musically integrated. Tonight it became clear that the future of new music could very well depend on the integration of musics from all over the world. Perhaps with a "global village", a "global music"?
This morning and afternoon were off for practise purposes. It was welcome, but suddenly very quiet without any children around. Also Nikkie was out of town to visit Nagasaki. Luckily the practice space is air-conditioned, because it turned out to be a very hot day. For us it seemed like mid-summer, even though for the Japanese it was only the aftermath of a much hotter period. Hirado looked covered with gold, with the yellow-turning autumn leaves reinforced in their colour by the intense rays of the sun. A very unusual autumn scene.
The day unexpectedly got a surprising turn, as Machida-san handed tickets to me for a Chinese theatre play that same evening. With a hall full of people, I saw one of the most spectacular shows ever. This was not circus, nor pure theatre, nor opera. It was either all of them or none. In each case, the players displayed some magic with their bodies, embedded in an artful storyline. With faces filled with concentration, and striking in the absence of sweat, the most beautiful body gestures were made, without any change in facial expression. Within those artly gestures, salto's were made from the plain stage floor, jumps, and so forth, but never in a harlequinesque way. This was like contemporary dance. Especially the simulated sword fights were incredible in their precise coordination and imaginative use of physical gestures. For me, even with a dislike for plain circus, this was a form of art which is at least on the same level as theatre play, if not higher. This was acrobatics but at the same time there was no acrobatics at all. It is like a virtuosic musical piece, being played so naturally that one cannot speak of virtuosity but only - if its demanding qualities strike anyone at all - only of an effective musical necessity. One cannot have enough respect for people who work so hard and have such skill to achieve this level of art. Isn't it great to see that the language of art is spoken and can be understood everywhere in this world, regardless whether it is Japan, France, Holland or China!
Even though today also started off with practise, the beautiful weather gave us all a holiday feeling. The sun was very hot and intense, and sun lotion was even necessary to prevent skin problems. Wil en Junko advised Nikkie and me to visit one of the mountain tops, and so we did, with Wil behind the steering wheel of his car. And indeed, after some time of steep hill driving and increasing ear pressure, the most stunning panoramic views passed our eyes. At 800 metres, the shape of the island of Hirado, also within perspective of the surrounding land, seems to be highly curious and complicated. The sea seems to come in everywhere and allows for the many little ports and beaches. It quite obviously was a land formed once by some wild volcanic activity, leading to these rough shapes.
In the evening, my knowledge of Japanese popular music was increased by rehearsing some Japanese standards with the Wind Ago wind ensemble. It was fun; sometimes it is nice to temporarily do something outside one's area of activity. A Korean meal together with Wil and Junko formed a close to the day, as a goodbye for their leaving, the next morning.
The Monday was a day of discovering Hirado. The day was saved of any activities so that Nikkie and me had the opportunity to discover all the beautiful spots on the island. And that certainly worked out well; as soon as one goes beyond the daily and crowded paths, a new world opens in front of your eyes. For six hours in a row, after the usual morning practise, we have been walking, forgetting totally about time and blisters until the moon had all of a sudden replaced the sun. A tempting, fiery red pagoda halfway an eye-catching mountain has wetted our curiosity for already more than two weeks, and now finally we could see it from close. However, more impressive was the way to go there, which was really The way. The streets got narrower and narrower, the bush thicker and the density of spiders increased until a steep forest path led us there, preparing our spirit by countless stone Buddhas, all covered with a red cloth. I think that they were all saying something to us, but I do not understand the language. When we were mentally prepared, the red pagoda came into sight, but more surprising was the huge stone Buddha besides it, sitting in front of another huge temple. There was definitely some spiritual atmosphere here in this pretty desolate place, but as we do not know or understand the language, it just gave us a lot of interesting incentive for thinking.
After visiting this special place, we decided to walk the Kawachi Pass, a 30 kilometre strip of walking path high up in the mountains. This took hours, but the nature was breathtaking - and so was the sun which was glaring on my skin. It was interesting to notice a collective human characteristic: even though every time we thought we would be satisfied at reaching a certain height, there was a feeling of wanting to reach the next top. It is similar in the development of a career; one has dreams, but once close, one wants to surpass this dream and extend the goal. The highest point was worth the trouble; and actually that trouble was not more than a bit of sweat and a few soar muscles. The way back was fast; finding an old skin of a deadly poisonous snake and some interesting walking tree-branches and other insects, the trip felt like watching a 3D-version of National Geographic. Back home, it was already dark and the day had already ended. Days are anyway passing by extremely fast in Hirado.
Today, it became clear how far away we are from nature. We observe it as something special, not as something belonging to us. In our daily life in Holland, we do not get in touch with nature at all. Though this could be a bad thing, it maybe is a very good thing. Because, at least, in this way one realises how beautiful and original nature is, and how precious a place it should have in the life of a human being...
Tuesday has evolved to be a teaching day, and so it was today. The afternoon was filled teaching Yoriko-san and Motoko-san, two talented pianists of whom one has studied piano at the University of Nagasaki. It really is pleasure to work with motivated people, who take interest in what they do and approach their activity with interest. Beethoven was alternated with Schoenberg this afternoon; two composers that are so different in sound and language but so similar in tradition, renewal and feeling. Their music goes together very well, and even though the last-mentioned composer is not well known - still, and unjustified - also these musicians certainly had understanding for that strange language.
After teaching, the evening intermission was especially relaxing, with Tycho taking Nikkie and me to the electronic shop selling massage-chairs. The Japanese have invented anything which makes life more comfortable, and also these belong to that category. Though of course for sales-purposes, many Japanese gratefully use these chairs in the shop every time to make better judgement whether they will decide to buy it. So did we. It is indeed comfortable, though sometimes the machines are a little rough and rub your back and neck rather thoroughly. The drink machine near the chairs formed a welcome element to cool down.
The evening I worked with some younger children, from elementary and high schools. They too were motivated and enthusiastic, playing solo and duos, with great pleasure. Though this month consists of a great deal of teaching, which takes up only a minor segment of my time back home, it is nice to be totally immersed in it for a while and see the different levels, different personalities and in this way get to know people of all ages. It is more and more clear that real integration can only take place anyway when one knows people and society better than just in a superficial way.
The rice-filled pizza at the close of the day formed another welcome example of global integration!
This morning I woke up in a haze. I did not notice this only by looking out of the window, but also by looking in my apartment: I felt the beginnings of fever. Even though I decided to sleep a little longer, after hours there was no improvement so I decided to get up and practise. Reason is that one can never have enough practise.... During my walk-break I met my fellow Dutch(wo)man Nikkie, indeed, even in Japan the world is nothing but small. And compared to the Japanese, we may be both so huge that we cannot miss each other! Together we thought, for a change, of reviving our national spirits and we went to a bakery store buying food that looked most familiar to us. It was good, but we both felt that it was really not necessary for the cashier to actually run for us.
The night consisted of our second shodo-workshop. Through working on my character, "Dream" or "Yume", and through a lot of laughter because of my -"individual"- interpretations, I did learn something very important. This is a form of art which is indeed very close to music, where the arm is the instrument to be played. Every line has its own gesture, its own position of the brush, even its own feeling and energy. In this way, one can analyse shodo-works of different people and they should reveal a lot about the personality of the creator. Though the shapes of all the versions are basically the same, the speeds and angles at which the strokes are made are very different and are even very visible. It is more than just the mood and shape of as picture. The lines of my Dream were in general very thick, and curvy. Indeed one of my dreams is as clear as accidentally came through: shouldn't every human being have a better knowledge of the arts, to make more communication and mutual understanding possible? For me this lesson opened up a new world and a new vision on visual arts. I would not like to have missed this knowledge - I would miss an important tool for communication. I think that I will look at art now in a very different way....
This morning the haze in which I woke up was more like a cloud. Still I decided to go watch kagura, a traditional ceremony accompanied with music to express gratitude to the different Shinto deities. Nikkie went with us, and this was to become both an impressive, hilarious and shocking event. In the temple, a few minutes driving from Hirado city, the people present were divided by those sitting to the left, wearing business costumes, and those on the right, wearing beautiful Japanese dresses and special hats. The latter ones performed the ritual, with the help of the people sitting on the left side. There was recitation of Shinto texts, followed by offerings of food to a shrine and then graceful solo-dancing by two men - those who were not playing either the flute or drum. The patterns played by the flute sounded like complicated permutations of notes of a pentatonic scale, and the drum part was admiring because of its alternation between pulsed rhythms and rhythms seemingly without a pulse - with the flute still playing in an unharrassed way within his own time-frame. I have read a lot about the integration of tradition and modernity in Japan, which I admire very much. But the event that followed was for me the very best example of this phenomenon, even better than I could have imagined. At the height of the ceremony, when the flutist seemed to get estatic, he all of a sudden stopped, turned around and made a quick phone call on his mobile. With everybody else continuing the ceremony undisturbedly, including the dancers and the drummer. For a minute there was no flute, no melody. After the phone call, the flutist dropped in again and reached ecstasy immediately.
After the ceremony had stopped, a sumptuous lunch was offered, to which Nikkie and me were kindly invited. Sake flowed abundantly, and that had its consequences... When the ceremony continued, the plates of food offered to the deities had to be taken back ritually. In their satisfaction of the "godly fluid", the men were hardly able to keep the plates straight and almost dropped their offers to the floor. There was lots of shouting and laughter through the music and suddenly the group of dancing people had increased quite a bit. Even Nikkie and me at once received the status of a ceremony master and were asked to join the otherwise so strict ritual. However, the root norms and values were still maintained and the bowing to each other was done in the most honest, respectful and obedient way.
I am still doubting how to interpret this event, but I think that after all I am very impressed. This way of life, Shinto life, is in its possible strictness actually very flexible and incorporates human pleasure and the elements of life - even though drinking and partying is for me not the ultimate way of life. But at least it is symbolic for the "good" life, and that has its importance too. Shintoism is obviously not a religion, but even more a way of life. A life that in Japan includes the mobile phone. I fully identify myself with Japanese thought: one should go along and move on with his own time. This does however not mean that one should forget about his own identity and his traditions. I could not help thinking what an interesting and funny world we live in, when I was teaching about the (sake-less) interpretation of classical, written-out piano music that same evening...
The haze of the previous mornings had become a thunderstorm, not only outside but also inside my head. This day was scheduled as a free day, and I was lucky of that since unfortunately I finally stood up with quite a temperature, which is quite a rare event for me. This day should become a "stay-home" day, and I made it so. Still, it turned out to be a useful day for learning more about Japanese custom, as I could finally finish reading my "Japan-Culture Shock" book in the sleepless moments. Until now, actually, Ive found certain habits of the Dutch more shocking than all Ive seen in Japan...
In the morning the thunderstorm had disappeared and I just woke up in a haze, which was a good sign. Soon I was on my way to Shijiki, after practise in the morning - during which I noticed actually for the first time that huge airconditioning device blowing cold air right in my face. Hmmmm... I wonder what that means!
In Shijiki, a student was waiting to receive a lesson. After this lesson, rehearsals for tonights concert were planned, since I would not only play a solo concert but also perform in a joined fashion with pianist Motoko-san and flutist Machida-san. Time went by quickly in this manner and soon people came in - and luckily the audience was big. During the concert, I presented music of my own time (but starting with music from 1915... it IS still categorised as "contemporary"...) and striking was that the more silent the music was that I played, the more attentive the listeners became. Maybe it is that feel for "ma", that communicates to the Japanese most. For coming concerts, I hope to find out more about this.
After my solo concert, Nikkie presented our culture by her lecture on Dutch architecture. It is very similar to music; also here the past is mainly a medium to finally reach to the present. I was glad that this time our schedules did not clash and I could finally be a part of the audience of her presentation.
At the late dinner, after the evening was closed by our joined performance - which was fun - I noticed for the first time the absence of "ma" in the restaurant. Not specifically with the people I was with, but more by all the other people that surrounded us. Sake can do the seemingly impossible! The way back to Hirado was practically invisible because of the fog. But this time, it was outside...
Today was a celebration day since the rice harvest has been so replenishing. Rice is the most important and most basic food for the Japanese - that is, of all the foods NOT living in water. All month, shows and ceremonies are being held to cherish the weather and good luck, and show gratitude to the responsible elements - gods, people, whatever or whoever takes part in this. And actually, it made me feel so happy for the Japanese myself! Nikkie and I decided to visit the Welfare Festival today, and share the joy. For sure, there was plenty of water - it was raining cats and dogs. The Festival was therefore celebrated inside the Bunka cultural centre, by way of a market with beautiful and very low-priced objects for sale, and little activities such as rice-hammering, to make a ricecake, and pottery shaping. It was all very nice and replenishing for the mind as well. However, it would be nice if the water could now for once stop falling down. It was maybe a little too much of the good - we were well replenished, if not soaked - but well, one should try and not complain too much. Like the Japanese...
The seeds of all this joy were eaten that same afternoon in the form of a lunch with Machida-san, who had kindly invited me to join. There was indeed an abundancy of rice. But also noodles and... water! But this time the water was integrated in the meal as soup, tea and small pieces of fish. A tasty lunch, and so typical and symbolical for the Japanese! I felt pretty much integrated in Japanese life already when I went to sleep at night, especially after having rehearsed Japanese musical standards with ensemble Wind Ago. Back in my apartment, right before falling asleep, I suddenly realised how the idea of a Japanese "yume" has come into existence!
For today I was extremely curious about the second kagura-experience, after the first one had left me in a quite a bewildered state of mind. But again an unforgettable event has happened for me. Situated this time in a different temple, very near the harbour, there were the same musicians but with some new ones added. As Nikkie and me arrived, we recognised already from a large distance the same melodies played on flute and drum. Coming inside, and carrying out the compulsory Shinto greeting by clapping, bowing and sipping some sake, the musicians soon stopped and paused. During that break, some ladies performed a dance in traditional clothing right outside the temple. It was sober but at the same time impressive, even virtuosic in their small gestures and movements. As soon as their dance was over, the ceremony inside the temple went on. And it started in the most peculiar way - with one of the flutists literally pouring sake into his wooden flute. The flute, after being fed well enough, spoiled some sake on the floor and it was cleaned by the player. This was an interesting start.
There would be a performance now by a member of the temple, with three swords. We were warned by Machida-san that this was pretty dangerous and that the performer had already cut himself several times. The music soon started, but now with a very evenly-pulsed rhythm by the drum, and with five flutists. The musicians looked absent, or they actually hardly looked at all. They stared at something not there. The drum went on and on, with its dark, sonorous sound, and the flutists kept on and on repeating their melodies. It somehow became pretty threatening. After a while, the very normal looking, spectacled sword-performer stood up and made movements with the music. This took long, but he looked more and more in a state of ecstacy. Then, at the moment we thought there were no swords, he grabbbed one and did wild movements with it. The cover was still on it. Time passed by and at once he uncovered the sword. Again lots of virtuosic movements, and the music was pounding on and on, emotionless but threatening. The musicians did not look up at all, but made sure they took over each others playing when one was tired. After the most exhausting and dangerous movements, two other swords were presented to the performer by one of the musicians. And indeed now the most killing, scary and dangerous movements were done. With one sword in his mouth, he was sweating, growling, and visibly getting exhausted. But still he went on, just like the music did.
At the moment I started to be very worried that the man would hurt himself irreversibly, the performer stopped. The music also stopped, but a few minutes after the performance with swords had ended. Even though the music stayed the same, it seemed radically different in character than before, in all its soberness, its emptiness. It did not end though; the music stopped just as insignificantly as it started, like an eternal song coming to the human, temporal surface only shortly before retreating into the inaudible. There were no congratulations by anyone. No comments. The day just went on.
This experience has touched me for several reasons. It has made me experience music in a way that I only read about but never felt. That of constant repetition and its enormous impact. Timewise, I cannot tell how long the whole performance has taken. This music becomes more expressive than any Romantic composer; it has an inner power that cannot come out and is trapped, it wants to explode but it cannot. It has so many faces, it is superficial but in its capability of hiding so much it is so mysterious and powerful. Also the function of music is impressive. The music only can help the performer do the impossible, it becomes his energy, his life food. I felt shocked at times when the flutists were getting tired and dropped out of the texture; also I was afraid of the impact it would have on the sword performer. I have felt the music as a necessity, and not as an object. It went even further than touching the soul, being "sensitive" or trying to be "emotional". It was purely needed, it formed a heartbeat in sound, without which there is no existence. The sake which was poured into the flute of course seems ridiculous, and from a viewpoint of music it is. The tone of the flute dropped at least half a tone. But this, I now see, is a very spiritual act. The flute is not just a piece of wood but is an entity, a personality, responsible for making the ceremony possible. It should be draped with the symbol of fruitfulness and luck, for the sword performer to perform his dangerous dance safely.
Lastly, I was impressed by the very modest sword performer. He looked like the most normal person one could imagine, but did so impressive things. And for whom? He is not an acrobat, nor he wants to display anything. He does it for his soul, for his beliefs, I do not know and I do not understand. I do not think I necessarily have to, but all I know is that someone has performed purely out of his own necessity without any reason or intention of commerce, display or egocentrism. I think that this is quite an artistic ideal which is certainly not always there with a lot of people that call themselves "artists".
My last elementary school session was reserved for this day. This time I went to the Tsutsumi elementary school, about 45 minutes away from Hirado. I was picked up with translator Tycho by the principal of the school. During the trip, he kindly thought of showing me around the beautiful spots of Hirado Island and we stopped even to have a photo-break at the peak of a beautiful mountain with a beautiful view. Indeed Japan has a splendid nature, and even though there are many mountains, volcanoes, geysers and more dramatic expressions of nature, the landscape is never rugged. Where American landscape is impressive and overpowering, and the people seemed to have grown to their landscape, the Japanese landscape is subtly detailed, colourful and delicate, also seemingly reflecting their people. I have never studied the relationship between people and landscape but it seems like it is a useful and revealing activity.
Of course the children were, like in all schools, schoolbook examples of good behaviour. They were interested and it was grateful to show the versatility of contemporary music and excite them with the new world and new sounds of new playing techniques.
From the school, next on the schedule was to go directly to a sake-factory and teach there. A Ballade by Chopin and the Beethoven Waldstein-Sonata were on the program, and of course I was wondering what the composers would have thought of the idea of playing in such a place. I think they would not mind. Especially with the free sake at our disposal!
The night consisted of my practise. With these full days, it is a moment of great relief to sit by yourself with your instrument and work undisturbed on your passion, no matter how nice any other activities are. But I think that, experiencing so much of Japan in a relatively short time, this chance should be given to everyone, and I think that in this respect, the world as a global village would only be a very good thing.
The activity planned for today made me somewhat nervous: working with three, four- and five years old children at kindergarten. Children at this age generally do not yet know even simple emotional and musical concepts like happy or sad, so it is hard to work at all on music. Besides that, being trained to become a musician does not mean automatically being the right person to entertain whole groups of such extremely young people.
When I arrived at the school, the children were already waiting, and therefore I luckily had to plunge directly into this session so there was no space for doubt. I had decided to play and let the children sing and dance, and luckily this proved an effective formula. The children behaved of course perfectly, and participated with full enthusiasm, as did the teachers. The hour was over sooner than I thought, and also that made me very happy.
If I had any doubt on the abilities of the children, it was taken away fully by their performance of traditional wadaiko-drumming, after the school lunch. Their power, rhythmic precision and dedication was overwhelming and moving. It was unknown to me that children at that age could perform relatively complex rhythmic patterns, and playing so well together. This reassured me that the music I played for them at the end of the session, music by John Adams, was perhaps a good experience and not that difficult to appreciate after all.
In the evening our last shodo-lesson took place. The teacher, Mr. Tateishi, showed his very kindness by having prepared beautiful marble stamps for Nikkie and me, with our own initials. That evening we made a second stamp, for ourselves, with a personal signature using our own chosen kanji. From this night on, we are even enriched with a Japanese side of our personality!
Today was a day of practise, mainly preparing for coming concerts. Luckily I had targeted the cause of my fever the other day so I could make it make the stealthy wind-cannon disfunction immediately, coming into the practise room. In the afternoon, a rehearsal of a Japanese piece with two kotos (Japanese horizontal harps) formed a little break, and a nice one, as the musical language was so different from my own usual musical language. Piano and koto did not blend that badly either - after all, they are both string instruments. Although the piano can be seen as a percussion instrument, I was surprised at how the kotos can sound a good deal more percussive! The evening was off to practise, too, which was also very welcome. During practise, I let my thoughts wonder at times and smile to myself, when I thought of how life can take its turns. I had always been fascinated by - in Europe - relatively unknown artists, especially from Japan. Now, in Japan, talking with Machida-san, I discovered in his home a whole bookshelf of recordings by those artists, like pianist Masahiko Satoh. "Of course" he knew him, and "of course" he knew brilliant composers like Toshi Ichiyanagi and Akira Miyoshi. And even Kitaros CDs are to be found everywhere I would not have expected some time ago that I would find that obscure things are actually very popular. I am glad it is that way. Arent we just MAKING some far-away people and unknown music obscure on purpose, back in Europe?
We were all prepared for today, the Okunchi festival. All kagura sessions had been a preparation for this moment. Also this festival honours and thanks the gods responsible for everything fruitful, and they in turn provided us with a beautiful, sunny day. But first - though after practise - we would eat a special Okunchi lunch at Machida-sans. The food looked perhaps even more colourful than the outside processions festive clothing, and it was delicious and healthy. At these times, it is unfortunate that my stomach allows food in relatively small quantities, and I had to leave a lot behind on my plate, embarrassingly. However, perhaps it is this characteristic of mine that made my length fit in pretty well with the Japanese!
During our busy conversations in our exciting new language of Dutchjaplish, we heard a lot of noises outside and we had to rush to the door opening to see the long procession, consisting of traditionally clothed children, women, men, horses and last but not least the man at the end of the chain, responsible for removing horses traces. And, in small Japan we saw some familiar faces: the kagura musicians we saw some days ago were not only musicians but equestrians too! Short nods to one another proved a mutual recognition.
That afternoon, we watched a dragon-dance performance at a schoolyard and tried by way of sunblock cream to keep the sun out of it, just for once and just for now. It worked, but luckily the sun was able to catch the most important part of today, the dragon dance, at the same time. Ice-cream sold near one of Hirados temples cooled us down.
The evening I turned back to some of my own music again, by practising and preparing for tomorrows concert. It gets dark very soon in Hirado, and night starts at 18.00 h. For this reason, the evening seems long. However, the night always feels too short after all when waking up, the next day...
This night felt short indeed, and I thought of extending it a little for this time. Still, however, it was early and fresh outside when I went to the practise space. But the freshness did not disappear as Nikkie and Joep called me and picked me up by car to go and see kagura on this second and last day of Okunchi. It was very cold, especially sitting in the open temple. I was afraid the wind might spoil the concentration of the kagura players and dancers, many of whose faces looked very familiar by now.
It was busy at the temple with people, cameras and microphones, and the atmosphere did not seem as gloomy as before, but also not as intimate. People clapping after each performance broke the typical tension that I had experienced before. Of course the performances impressed me, but this time differently as before as they seemed like real performances now. The sword-man was there, he seems to be specialised into the more difficult repertoire. The smallest and meagrest of all, he made some awfully difficult movements, this time without sword but with a second performer. He had a bad cut in his throat and a blood stain on his white robe near his elbow. It was not there when I saw him before.
Chilled to our bones, we went back to the car to go with the Machida-family and Tycho to our concert place in Hureai. It turned out later to become a very long evening, with me playing an almost two-hour concert and Nikkie giving a one-hour lecture in-between the two halves. I think it did become a nice and interesting evening, and I think the audience had some new experiences. Luckily, inside it was less cold, but still, after this long evening, we were all glad to go home and rest.
It was good to sleep as today promised to be rather intensive. After the usual morning practise, first on the program was a concert to give during the Tabira Culture Festival. Indeed, Japan is not short of festivals! The hall was rather hot and rather full with audience. The Yamaha Grand that I got to play on was good but a little too small to fill a hall of that size with sound. An advantage of soft sounds, however, is that the audience is forced to be very quiet in order to hear something, so I did not mind it very much. Immediately after playing, and after I felt touched by the presence of two teachers of Hirado Elementary School and the flowers they had given to me, I had to rush to play for a haiku (Japanese poetry) club. Because of the nature-oriented and peaceful, quiet style of haiku poetry, I had thought of playing the most meditative pieces in my repertoire. I did so, and it made me feel very peaceful myself. The elder ladies of the club, however, had to work very intensely during my playing, and so they did. The result was surprising for me, as the haikus produced were far less abstract than I expected. They were rather descriptive, even mentioning the words piano , music and fingers, and making a link to nature in this way. I expected abstract poetry, only written in the mood of the music and describing more parallels in nature or sound with this music. It was interesting that several people were thinking of winter and autumn, and also water and wind were mentioned. These terms seemed quite appropriate to the context of the music (unknown to them). However, it was interesting that the combination of soft sound and sound of nut falling on roof came back several times. The latter makes me wonder what is being referred to, is it just a description of a feeling, or perhaps it refers to the few minor ninth-intervals in the music? Maybe they come across to people as percussive, regardless of musical context, because of their poignant sound. It was an interesting psychological experiment.
After a quick dinner at party of Machida-sans golf club, the last item on todays program was a rehearsal with ensemble Wind Ago. It was fun, not only because of the music but also because the members of the group are very nice, even though direct communication is impossible because of language barriers. But spoken language is obviously not the only way to get to know people. I still like these people, even though I do not speak with them directly - how powerful non-verbal language obviously is...
Today was reserved for visiting Nagasaki. Nikkie, Joep, Tycho, Yoriko and me left already early in the morning, as it takes three hours by car to get there. The car journey was a nice sightseeing trip, and on the way we caught glimpses of the Utrechter Dom, Amsterdam Central Station and a typically Dutch village - all standing together. It was clearly crazy to see all this in Japan without a drop of sake and it felt very confusing. Of course it was Huis-ten-Bosch and Holland Village we were seeing, but it did made me feel strange but in a good way. It was really for a moment like being back in Holland and I was in the mood for like taking my folding bicycle and cycling to my friends and the conservatory of Amsterdam, but of course this was not possible in the middle of the mountains! A very interesting experience.
In Nagasaki, of course the height points were formed by everything related to the atomic bomb. It is a phenomenon which is clearly very alive still among the citizens. The memorial Peace Park was impressive, with its many sculptures donated by many countries of the world with impressive texts engraved. The rain showers provided a rather fitting background for all this.
The museum was even more impressive. From the first step in there, one gets confronted with reality. With the sound of a ticking clock coming in from everywhere, the first thing one sees is a heavily damaged clock, found between the rubble of a destroyed house one kilometer away from the hypocenter of the bomb, with its hands standing still at 11.02 AM, the time of the explosion, when the inner mechanism of the clock became damaged. What follows are many TV screens showing the minutes after the disaster, and countless pictures of terribly injured humans sitting among the remains of their relatives, if there were still any. Texts explain how the bomb makes every human liquid vaporise within one second after the explosion with its enormous temperatures and how its killing percentage with two kilometres was a full hundred percent. Further dramatic objects intensify the experience of all this horror, with helmets with pieces of skull stuck and molten into it, clothings with stains and holes, bottles molten together, staircases with broken glass molten in it due to the high temperatures, and objects with shadows of human people, who became protective shields for the surface areas they stood in front of, so that those areas did not to burn like the other surface areas of these objects.
This was all very shocking, but not totally new to me. Nikkie had of course warned us as she had been in the museum few weeks ago, but also television and books have told this story. However, still seeing real-life damaged objects, things become closer. Striking was however, that the war story was only told from a Japanese point of view. But perhaps this is not at all an important issue, as of course this museum is to teach us the horrible effects of such human actions. And it certainly achieved that goal. Rightly, a sheet was handed out with a text written by Nagasakis mayor. It pointed to the recent developments after September 11 and the danger of new nuclear wars. I wish sometimes that whoever creates such violence, from all sides, would just visit this museum and let it sinks down what is actually happening. I wonder if that is being done at all.
The rest of the day consisted of shopping, after visiting the equally impressive hypocenter of the bomb and Dejima, where hundreds of years ago the Dutch have been kept prisoners. Shopping seemed perhaps like a rather contrasting activity, but it was good to have a nice time together and have fun after having stood still at the dark pages of history. After all, isnt feeling good and happy the basis for peace?
As often, the morning was used for practise, and the afternoon was filled with teaching two pianists, Brahms and Chopin. But another musical experience took place in the evening, when I underwent a Zazen-session. I was excited about it, as this is from a realistic point of view an important starting point for contemporary music style. Contact with zen-tradition caused John Cage to regard silence from a new viewpoint and it gave this composer incentive to give silence an as important musical value as its counterfeit, sound. In turn, Cage taught composers of today the meaning of EVERY kind of sound and its musical values, whether it is silence, birds, rain or a distant airplane propeller. Silence became the white canvas of the musical painter, to paint the musical events on.
The zazen experience happened in a special hall in a temple with many Japanese men, and it was led by a priest. After getting a special instruction sheet in English, the ceremony began, with impressive sounds made on bells and kettles by the priest and recitations of Japanese texts. Again special bell patterns were played, as an indication of the start of the session. For the next half hour, it was dead silence, but the silence became less and less as one became more and more aware of outside sounds. Perhaps this says I am not the best zen-candidate - later I was told that I disturbed other people's concentration by my involuntary movements of body parts - but this effect was anyway more interesting to me from a musical point of view.
After half an hour, the priest played again special patterns on bells and a whip, and the next five minutes found us walking circles in the temple space, probably to let the blood flow again after sitting all the time in the same cross-legged pose. I liked its quasi-purposelessness; walking without a goal to get anywhere. Again bells were played and we sat down again for the next half hour - though with our legs crossed in the opposite way. The lights were dimmed, and those who had trouble to come into meditation mood - so we learned later - asked by way of gesture, for eight hits of a whip on the body that sounded rather hard and painful to me. Anyway, the slapped ones bowed in gratitude to the priest after the eighth whip. The half hour passed by quickly, and the outside - and inside - sounds had grown really loud. The session was closed by the sound of the whip and bells again and other percussive instruments. A sumptuous dinner with all the guests, including a happily smoking and drinking priest, closed the session.
I do not think I can count myself to the best zen-meditators ever. It is impossible in one session to get into an ecstacy and think of nothing for a restless person as I seem to be. And my body protests too, since everything starts to itch when in silence in unable to move for long. However, the importance for me lay in re-experiencing what John Cage had experienced more than half a century ago and how he came to write his music. He too noticed that silence does not exist at all - he even went so far as to put himself in an anechoic chamber to find out if this was finally "silent". But then his bloodflow and heartbeat seemed to make tremendous sound. After this experience, it is so hard to believe that those Japanese, who participated today, do not know of this composer and it is even harder to believe they would or could not appreciate it. If meditation is within the inner soul of the Japanese, they should absolutely have a direct affinity with John Cage's music. They should be used to its sounds and its feel. I am still waiting for an explanation from somewhere, something or someone, why even here the name and music of John Cage makes faces look so surprised.
This last Wednesday in Hirado has been one of the most practical; it was a day off so that I could work long on solo pieces - being a musician is nice but one always gets confronted with his passion, the constant need for practise. It is both an addiction and a necessity; it is the angel and the devil at the same time, and there is nothing in the world that one can create more a love/hatred relationship with than practise. I noticed that during my walks to and from my apartment, I was evaluating more and more my stay here in Hirado and unconsciously I started to make myself accustomed to leaving this place rather soon. Every time I passed a special place, I was putting myself back in time several times and tried to think of what and how I felt of it in the very beginning when I just arrived. Then one notices how what a plurality of memories there are with every object - also the ones that are just passed by and that I never thought of - seemingly. Like a Japanese garden, where one sees the same, familiar and objects such as simple stones all of a sudden from very different perspectives. The red castle near the distant horizon, once made Nikkie and me gaze with open mouths in the heat of the sun; Wil and Junko's place of stay, where I got lost once trying to find my own home; the swimming pool opposite my apartment, which I was sure to swim in, but for which I actually never found the time.
If there is a good side of leaving places, it is that one starts to realise the details again, and one starts to appreciate them even more. In daily life there is no time to stand still and think of those good or even bad things. So there is another reason to from time to time escape daily life and plunge into something different that one has not known before and is unfamiliar with. Maybe it is also a similar experience with familiar and unfamiliar sounds, which keeps contemporary music so fascinating
A feeling conquered me of having to enjoy once more the kindness and hospitality of the Hirado people. I was given an excellent opportunity with Mrs. Matsuguchi, who took me and last-minute-found translator Tycho to her home for a nice conversation about music. Matsuguchi-san is the founder of the Hirado Music School, and I was surprised at the existence of two music schools for a small city like Hirado. Being the director of this institution, she had an appropriately impressive car, a house with room for several grand pianos - though there were only two - and Dutch delicacies, fresh from Holland's little brother "Huis-ten-Bosch", accompanying the coffee.
Our conversation - extended in a restaurant, after several hours - was nice and educative. I got to learn an important lesson, which concerns the reasons and history of the Japanese piano playing. Of course I have always been wondering why the Japanese have such a great technique and the Westerners take most value out of musical expression. The teaching materials for the novices among the pianists explained a good deal. No matter what age, the same book is used widely in Japan, a rather dry, factful, down-to-earth, but useful book of gradus-ad-parnassum finger-exercises. In the West, this method by the composer Bayern is not used, even hardly known. We use books in which every musical bar is justified by pictures as to what the sounds look like or allude to. Simply stated, we start learning music by learning to listen to the sounds and their purpose, the Japanese start by learning the piano, and, according to Mrs. Matsuguchi, the "fun" is for later, when the tools of playing are mastered.
In logic thinking, a combination of these two methods seems to be and will provide the ideal path for developing a balanced path for the piano student. I will certainly look and use this method by Bayern for students. But not without our "fun"- Western books!
It surprises me how Eastern and Western influences have come to grow apart in Japan so clearly. While the traditional music is meant for the ears, with shakuhachi as a tool to enlighten oneself and kagura music as a tool to provide "guts" to the dancers, the classical Western music tradition seems to be approached by muscle movements. It ignores, at least in the first, most important stage in development, the importance of enlightenment or even guts. Music then has the danger of becoming spotless aesthetics, with the ear more and more moulded into accepting only one type of sound.
In the evening I immediately had the opportunity to bring my theory into practice, during my very last session of teaching students by way of a group lesson. I really think it is time now to more appropriately combine East and West
The morning was free, and it seemed a perfect opportunity to sleep a little longer. After all, it is good to feel well-rested for a period, especially when travelling. Having done that, it became another day of respecting the details, as with learning a piece of music. After one learns the notes and is reasonably able to play them, he will revisit the musical score and pay attention to all the details. The day started by viewing musical scores and reviewing them in the practise room, as a preparation for the coming performances. Afterwards, the day itself became the musical score and my camera was used to testify that I paid attention to all its details. Because it is so easy to forget the usual things that make life so delightful, it sometimes needs thinking to make sure that those are taken care of. In this way, I took pictures of views that I saw daily, of the practise room, my apartment, and the beautiful autumn sky in the evening. This taking of pictures was not yet necessary in the evening, during our rehearsal in the Bunka centre with Wind Ago. The evening after we would rehearse again in the same place anyway. Nevertheless, also these rehearsals would not be forgotten. The kind people, the Japanese songs and the functionality of rehearsing in the same place where people are playing serious table-tennis-matches at the same time only leaves very positive memories. I like the practicality of the Japanese people, and I will certainly miss this back in Holland.
Today seemed to be the second movement of the musical score of yesterday, but the tempo was more largo, as there was a little focus on eating, a rather immobile activity, besides usual practising. Not only did I want to enjoy some Japanese foods and Nikkie's and my favourite place Hokka-Hokka Tei, but also I searched for local foods to take home with me. Also, the necessary time was spent on choosing souvenirs, although my suitcase must be already terribly heavy with them. Things are just so special and interesting, that ideally I would take all of Hirado back home. But since even Nikkie cannot do that with her miniature version of this city, I should give up hopes of realising my own plans and leave things behind.
I did however want to leave behind the memory of a satisfying concert the next day, so there was another rehearsal with Wind Ago and with the koto ensemble in the evening in Bunka centre. To my surpise, there were so many shoes in front of the rehearsal place I had to be, that I thought I was wrong. However, opening the door, I was confronted with almost a koto orchestra! This last-minute action of the organisers was a funny one, and I enjoyed accompanying a world of 3D-Japanese sounds coming from every corner of the room! After also the rehearsal with Wind Ago was finished, I could say that it was almost one other day ago, as it was late and I went back home soon
This very last day in Hirado was a busy one, as the whole day was centred on the performances at the Hirado Cultural Festival in the Bunka centre. Five hundred people were expected, so it was going to be quite a festive event. During the morning, there were rehearsals still with the ensembles I would play in, which made the time fly. Right before the performance, a very kind person, a clarinettist who had heard my performance earlier, came to me and handed over a beautiful letter and even scores and CD's to keep. I was very surprised and she even let me sign her own score, next to Takemitsu's (1930-1996) signature. I was very much taken by her kindness, generosity and emotion. I would have liked to talk more but had to go on stage for my half-hour solo performance. I also was to play Takemitsu among other pieces, and hoped while playing that he would have approved of my signature next to his!
Almost in one go, my solo performance was followed by the koto performance and the Wind Ago one. That was great fun, but a strange feeling came to me as I thought that those rehearsals every week were for this one purpose and now this was fulfilled. This feeling often grabs me after a concert, but every time it feels new.
Nikkie followed me up with her lecture, and afterwards we were interviewed for the last time by the newspaper journalists. I like interviews, although it feels uncomfortable not to be able to speak directly to them because of language barriers. Tycho formed of course a great help to overcome this.
The evening was one of saying goodbyes and thanking people at the farewell-party. There was not much space for me to do so, as I was asked to play again. This was on itself nice, but my main thoughts had, as a consequence, to be expressed in one speech addressed to all the guests who came, and it is not possible to express enough gratitude to everybody in only one speech. But perhaps even a whole day would still be not enough. It was great to see everyone for a last time, although I was sure to see them again in the future.
At six in the morning, I woke up to pack my last luggage and to enjoy the Orient, the Rising Sun, once more here in Hirado. My suitcase was much too heavy, with all the letters and presents I got, but I decided not to worry. At eight, I closed the door of my apartment and thereby a time which is unforgettable and which will influence my thoughts and perhaps even playing for the rest of my life. Aki took me in his Jeep, on itself already packed with memories of five weeks ago at Fukuoka, and brought me and Nikkie to The Carillion Café for a last time. There my feelings of seeing all the people from Hirado again, was confirmed, as many of them were waiting again to give us another load of presents and show us their warm-hearted nature. Of course saying goodbye is hard and never nice, but now I certainly believed that I will see Hirado and its people again in the future. And so did and do Nikkie and Joep.
Embraces and waving made a final end to five weeks of living in another culture, so close to us, yet so far. Nikkie, Joep and me were now on our way to the airplane bringing us to Tokyo. This was to become a great experience, but incomparable to the experiences of Hirado. I am so happy to have experienced the "real" Japan, which is Hirado and its people, before moving to a huge city, comparable to any large American city but with few more exotic tints and traces of Hirado-attitudes, Hirado-landscape marks and Hirado people. I believe now even more in the world as a global village, and this was confirmed again by two extremely kind women (Hiroko Goto and friend; red.) we met in the plane five weeks ago, now waiting for us at Fukuoka airport with gifts and knowledge of our activities via this website. This teaches us how close to each other the different areas of the world in fact are, how careful we should be in respecting each other's culture, how precious all our cultures are and how we can ultimately learn from each other. And lastly, I have again learned how valuable and important a cultural exchange project like this, with the specialty that the participators can be active in their own metier, actually is.
I would like to dedicate the last paragraph of my diary to thank all the great efforts and great hearts of all the people involved in realising the 12XHolland project. First of all, Wil and Junko, the most musical, the funniest and most skilful organisers I have known, in whose minds this project evolved on a very bright day. Machida Masayuki and his family belong equally in this place, for being the greatest host, and an unbelievable source of energy and effort in this project. And of course Nikkie, for being the ideal travel partner. Also Joep, for bringing even more fun to Hirado. Tycho gets a very big thank you for all his courage, his talents and energy in speaking and communicating so well with and between both the Japanese people and the Dutch, as well as the other translators, Rinako and Miyuki, who were invaluable. And, last but not least, a big DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMAS to everyone involved in the project, Aki and all the people that I have not met personally, and all the people of Hirado that have been so kind and generous. All the best to you, and I hope to see you soon again.