WuToWu #88: HGC East Asia Tour: The End of the Tour

Hi Jessica,

Well, now we’re both late, so we might as well call it a draw on assigning tasks to each other. I’ve been caught up in the whirlwind of classes and scheduling that always happens at the beginning of the semester, but I’ve found a quiet moment to write back and finish up this tour blog.

I understand your love of routine, part of what makes the first week of the semester tough is the adjustment to an entirely new class and work schedule. I think you’ll find though, that your college and home routines are closer than you might expect, if you want to keep them that way.

Here are a few of my notes from our last few days of tour.

Day 23: Morning with Tamagawa, Evening with Waseda

Before going back to Tokyo, the Glee Club visited the museum about Tamagawa’s history, and then split up into groups to attend music classes with the K-12 students of Tamagawa Academy. I was in the high school group, and we played some rhythm games, and sang for each other. I didn’t know any of the Japanese songs, but it was fun to sing Handel’s Messiah with them, as it reminded me of my own high school choral days.

At noon, we said goodbye to Tamagawa, and ate our lunches on the bus back to town. On the bus ride, I realized that I must have lost my key to Wakei-Juku back at Tamagawa, and so I had to pay for a replacement key. After a brief stop at Wakei Juku to pick up our tails and drop off our luggage, we went to the Shibuya district for our concert with the Waseda Glee Club.

img_3072-1This was our penultimate concert, and our last good opportunity to do the traditional tour prank. After some intense deliberation, we decided that for our opening number, two members of the Glee Club would walk out before our conductor or accompanist could take the stage. One would give the pitch from the piano, and then the other would conduct. We sang the opening song well, and no one but our conductor and accompanist realized the change we had made. The other change we made was that the Glee Club member who had been translating for us asked the audience to stand up after one of our songs instead of clapping. As you might expect, our conductor was a bit confused by their reaction, and the audience enjoyed being able to participate in the concert.

On a more serious note, the Waseda Glee Club sounded amazing as they sang their school spirit songs, the equivalent of the Harvard football songs we sing at almost every concert. I felt lucky to be standing between them on stage and hear their enthusiasm and great blend. They never got to the point of shouting, even as they punctuated their songs with a lusty cheer.

After the concert, both Glee Clubs went to a nearby sports bar for snacks and drinks. I got to talk with a few of the Waseda members, and found it a bit embarrassing that they had such an inflated opinion of Harvard. I tried to reassure them that college is not too different from place to place. I also tried sangria for the first time, which was quite tasty.

Day 24: Traveling to Koriyama

Koriyama is in the Fukushima region of Japan, about three hours north of Tokyo. It was one of the places hit hardest by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011, but it has recovered a great deal since then. Before we left Wakei-Juku, we thanked Yoichi, former conductor of Waseda and our host in Tokyo, with a Domine. Since we left at 10 AM, lunch was at a rest stop, and I got an enormous fried chicken cutlet on rice.img_3077-1

It was a good thing that the meal was so big, because we had a long afternoon rehearsal with the local Koriyama choirs before we got to our hotel. The rehearsal was long, but quite an amazing experience. The Koriyama singers practice 10 hours a week, and it definitely showed in their intonation and how quickly they were able to take instruction from our conductor and incorporate it into the music they sang.

When we got to our hotel, the restaurant inside provided us an all-you-can-eat barbecue dinner, and I had a copious amount of meat, rice, miso soup, and soft drinks. Some people opted for alcohol, but I wasn’t feeling like it that evening. Instead, I packed my stomach full of food, and settled in for a restful night.

Day 25: Our Final Concert    

The morning of our last concert, I went to an old craft village, where they have been making paper mâché for four hundred something years. According to the sign at the entrance to the villiage, the town has a distinctive glue smell as a result of the production. The craft master had organized a session for us to decorate our own paper mâché creations. I chose a mouse, because that’s the zodiac animal for 1996, and by working from a model, I soon had a decent reproduction of the mice I saw in the shop display. I personalized it by adding “HGC” to one of the legs.img_3093

From there, we went to get lunch at Koriyama main station, where I had some delicious ramen, and then we were off to a sake brewery. We got to see how they cleaned the rice, and I had a good time remembering the fermentation/cellular respiration processes from high school biology. They also had a sake tasting, so I got to try a couple of different types of sake, from stuff that had been bottled two weeks ago, to sake that had been aged for a couple of years.

At our pre-concert rehearsal, we figured out how to fit 100 something high school students and 55 Glee Club singers on stage, and learned about the significance of “Hana Wa Saku.” Pakkun explained to us the magnitude of the devastation caused by the earthquake, and the bittersweet lyrics of Hana, which can be found here. This gave us a sense of the importance of the song, and also our presence there in Koriyama and at the concert with the high school students.img_3081

The Glee Club’s part of the concert went off pretty much without a hitch, and the crowd enjoyed the banter with Pakkun, our translator, and our tour manager. The joint pieces were quite good as well, particularly “Ave Maria,” in which the sopranos and altos sang the trio part. It’s definitely a different piece when voiced that way, but it was beautiful and powerful in its own way. Last, we sang “Hana” as our encore, with only sopranos and altos on the first verse. This gave me a chance to look at the audience, some of whom were singing along, and appreciate how powerful music can be when confronting tragedy and loss.

Unfortunately, our concert went long and we had to hastily vacate the concert hall. When we walked outside, we were in the midst of a huge snow storm, with wet flakes clumping together to form half dollar sized puffs dropping from the sky. Thankfully we made it back safely to the hotel, where we celebrated a successful series of concerts and shared our favorite parts of the tour. I felt even better when the snow stopped falling, because it meant we would probably get out without a problem.

Day 26: The Return

We had breakfast at the hotel, then got on the bus to Haneda airport. Our transport company had kindly bought some pastries for the ride, so I had a curry bun on the way. When we got to the airport, we thanked Tag Murphy, as well as JTB for helping us move throughout Japan, and then went off in search of lunch.

Our flight left Tokyo around 5:00, so at the gate, we told stories from tour, and tried to spend the last of our Japanese money on souvenirs and food.

The flight over the Pacific is always slightly terrifying. I mentioned this in my first blog post, but there’s something about knowing that I am literally hundreds of miles from land that is particularly frightening, especially in bad turbulence. As the serving carts rattled in the bag, and the lurched back and forth in my seat, I thought of the fact that if our plane crashed, it would be nearly impossible to find it. Finally, our plane dropped for a couple of seconds, and the water bottle in the hand of the guy sitting across the aisle rose out of his hand, and then we stabilized and the water bottle fell onto the floor. And we were through the storm. I cling tightly to my ability to control my surroundings and myself, about as tightly as I held onto the armrests of my seat during those few minutes of turbulence. This was a forceful reminder of how powerful nature really is, and therefore, how powerful God really is.

“He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He sets the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.” Psalms 104:3-7

When we got through customs and security at SFO, I bought myself a vegan burrito, two words that are extremely hard to come by in Asia. The flight from San Francisco to Boston was uneventful and quite smooth compared to the first flight, and soon we touched down in Boston, with all members of the Glee Club accounted for. The tour was finally over.



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