Monday, November 24, 2014

Japan Tour Travel Notebooks

Now that Opera Roanoke's production of Mozart's Abduction has opened and closed, I'm finally catching up on our recent tour to Japan (Oct 30-Nov 8). I posted a few images and gave the briefest of summaries on my Opera Blog

Below I'll share some more images, and some notes I made on walks around Tokyo in-between rehearsals and our 8 (!) performances.

This is the spectacular view from our hotel room at Chinzan-so. The Three-story Pagoda sits atop one of the hills in the fabulous Chinzan-so gardens. Below are more images from the gardens.

Below are a pair of the monuments in the gardens. The second is a "Pen" monument dedicated to the great haiku master, Basho.

The gardens are watched over by 7 gods of fortune. They are:
1. Daikokuten – wealth & fortune; guardian of the kitchen
2. Ebisu – Commerce & fishery; guardian of Chinzan-so; homonym of a Tokyo district and a famous beer.
3. Jurojin – wellness, safety, longevity – reincarnation of Roshi (China) –
deer is his companion – symbol of longevity & harmony with nature
4. Hotei – Zen monk – peace & prosperity
5. Bishamonten – wisdom & bravery – spear & pagoda
6. Fukurokuju – fortune, longevity, wealth – with tortoise, symbol of longevity
7. Benzaiten – goddess of music & eloquence – with lute (biwa)

Like the Pagoda, many of the statues and monuments are some 500 years old. The 20 stone statues of Rakan (Rakanseki) represent images of Buddha's priests, and were originally at a temple in Kyoto. Their diminutive and fragmented shapes add to their aura of mystery - I found the atmosphere at this crossroads of the gardens to be especially mystical, as if outside of "normal" time, suspended in another dimension...

The Chinzan-so gardens are famous for their Camellia blossoms - dozens of variations adorn the hills. Opera lovers know La Traviata is based on Dumas's novel, The Lady of the Camellias, and our friends know how special that opera is to Amy and me, so we delighted in the colorful paths each time we walked through them. We also enjoyed people-watching during Japan's busiest weekend for weddings, which corresponds with their National Holiday for Culture. (Did I mention how much we loved Japan?!?)

Though I didn't snap any pictures of them, the fierce crows in Tokyo did inspire a poem in the form of the Haibun - a descriptive prose paragraph followed by a Haiku.

Crow Haibun

Crows circle the three-story Pagoda at Chinzan-so – their caw loud as their wing-span
is wide. Tokyo crows are immense – they’re ubiquitous at shrines and burial grounds. Having seen them in Japanese films – Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu – their presence seems surreal, as if an apparition has materialized, or a dream image from myth has taken form. Their incessant inner-city choruses blare down from building tops like sirens or apocalyptic trumpets. I am awed and vaguely afraid.

Crow, I hear your voice –
Crow, like a god, I fear you –
Your call rules the sky.

This is the "Tortoise of Fortune" - a 10,000 year-old, naturally-made "sculpture" in the shape of one of Japan's symbols of good fortune and longevity. I sat beside Fuku no kame while composing the first draft of the crow poem.

We spent one afternoon visiting the National Noh Theatre, the top of my "bucket list" items for Tokyo, given my fascination with this stylized and rarified older (less popular) kin to the famous Kabuki theatre. One of my favorite composers, Benjamin Britten, was so taken with Noh theatre he modeled three dramatic works on the genre. Below the Noh gardens are images of the Sumida River, the setting of a famous Noh play which inspired Britten to compose his first "parable," Curlew River.

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