Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December Updates

At the beginning of this month the Kashima Philharmonic (trumpet section starts griping instead of playing the fanfare) held its first-ever "Family Concert". As I mentioned in an earlier post, because of gross mismanagement scheduling problems, we weren't able to follow our usual pattern of Summer Pops and Winter Classics this year. Instead, we held our classics concert in August and had a more family-friendly program in December.

The first part of the program was a whole series of tunes by Leroy Anderson including "Sandpaper Ballet", "The Typewriter", "Syncopated Clock", and "Blue Tango", among others. It gave me a chance to expand my instrument performance repertoire; in addition to my usual clarinet playing, I did the dog bark at the end of "Waltzing Cat" and played a slide whistle in "Plink Plank Plunk". The second part was a "conductor's corner" in which members of the audience were able to try their hand at conducting the orchestra. The tunes they got to try were the 1st movement of Beethoven's 5th (one of the hardest tunes to direct, period) and Brahm's Hungarian Dance # 5. There were more participants than I expected, and it was a lot of fun. Part three was a selection of famous classical tunes that have appeared recently as background music for TV commercials. Included were a cut from Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld", the wedding march from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Tchaikovsky's "Serenade", Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance", and, most significantly, "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets.

It was actually a pretty good show, perhaps one of the best for us. (Of course, the orchestra was so loaded with extras and ringers as to be almost unrecognizable, but anyway...) As for me, the CTS in my left hand didn't cause any problems at all this time, even with all those notes in "Jupiter", and I really felt like I was in the groove. I felt better about my playing than I had in a long time. It was tough for us to prepare so many tunes in such a short time, but we pulled it off reasonably well.

Speaking of music, I went into the studio in Tokyo to do some session work toward the middle of this month. It was the first time in ages, and it felt great. Once again, the CTS didn't even surface. (My voice, however, continues to be in crappy condition. Luckily I only do backing vocals.)

On Sunday the 27th I'm scheduled to fly back to Oregon for what will (hopefully) be my first visit home in four years. So naturally my son came down with the H1N1 ("swine") flu on the 20th, which also happened to be his birthday. He's already pretty much over it, but I'm hoping like crazy that I don't end up with the damned thing! As it was, his getting sick threw a wrench in works which were already fouled up to begin with. I only just got our Christmas tree up today, and I haven't even started my Christmas shopping. I don't know if I'm going to make it...

I'll report back if anything else comes up that is worth mentioning.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Trend Born of Tragedy

In the past I have spoken of the ongoing competition that seems to be going on between the areas around Kashima Jingu Station in Kashima and the Aso Community Center in Namegata to outdo each other in Christmas light overkill. It's something that started just within the past five years, and it has already grown to the point of sensory overload.

So how did it all begin?

Certainly there have been homes and businesses with Christmas light traditions dating back far longer, but they used to be scattered and isolated. What got the wave started in Namegata, however, seems to have been one large (by Japanese standards), old house located on the main street of what used to be downtown Aso, just up the hill from the Community Center. Both it and the business standing next to it (probably connected) suddenly started sporting very colorful, eye-catching Christmas light displays during the winter season earlier this decade. This decor grew in size and complexity each year. Perhaps inevitably, other businesses in the area decided not to be outdone and thus started putting up their own lights. Then someone got the bright idea to make it a community tradition, and the Namegata Illumination Festival was born. Ironically, however, the house that started the trend didn't do it for such happy reasons.

Apparently the family that lives in the house had a little girl who dearly loved Christmas lights. Back when light displays were still a curiosity in these parts, the girl was really excited whenever her family came across them during one of their outings. Try as she might, however, she could never talk her parents into putting up lights of their own. But then tragedy struck. The little girl died.

Heartbroken as any bereaved parents would be, the little girl's mother and father decided to grant her in death the wish they'd denied her in life. They turned their house into an eye-catching Christmas spectacle they hoped could be seen from Heaven.

Namegata Illumination 4
(Here's a quick cell phone shot of the house. I'll try to post a better one later.)

It goes without saying that the grief-stricken family had no idea they'd wind up starting a trend, but apparently they did. Now not just their house, but the very heart of the former town of Aso is a colorful fantasy of light and color.

Namegata Illumination 1Namegata Illumination 2
(More cell phone suckage, but you get the idea.)

I don't know for certain if Kashima's own Illumination Festival, which started shortly afterward, came about in response or imitation, but I'm sure the little girl would be very happy to see it.

Now that I know the truth behind all this, I guess I won't complain about the cheesy Christmas bling bling overkill. It does have a noble purpose, after all.