Day 87
Hence there was a bit of a release session on Sunday evening.  Those nights that you never plan and never really intend to finish at 7.30 the next morning are always the best.  There was nothing special about it, but when you take over a bar and the bar staff are  basically staying open just to accommodate you (and seem happy to do so) you just take advantage of the hospitality.  We ended up at a cocktail bar and the funky staff were doing all these tricks for us and just letting us go nuts.  It wasn’t a huge drink fest but a lovely casual gathering of different folks.  It is funny how you can be on tour for 3 months with a group of people and only towards the end do you get the opportunity to go out and share some time together!  We sang, danced, salsa-ed, limbo-ed – and I think there are even some photos of us all doing the Macarena!!!!! OK so maybe there were a few drinks involved!!!!  It was pretty funny to see our lead Spaniard cowering on the couch as the familiar strains of the macarena came on.   Apparently it is a source of National Embarrassment in La Spagna!  We even had a dance-off, of who could do the most tragic video hits impersonation.  I think our aussie physio won that one!!!!  Hehhehehehe.  But the night was so much fun and ended with us alll on the roof of the hotel watching the sunrise and lots and lots of laughter.  As we prepared for bed we realised that if we stayed up another half hour, we could catch breakfast at the hotel!  Can you imagine serving a group of dancers who had been out the entire night beforehand and were still jolly!!!!!  I felt for the staff!  

So that pretty much catches you up on everything.  The end is nigh and whilst it has been wonderful, an education, a grand experience, an absolute blast, I am so looking forward to being in my own space for a little bit.  Just to touch base and take stock of what this life is.  I return to London on May 30th and will have about 3 months of unemployment before the next supposed contract.  Don’t know what I will do, but the first week will be very quiet and just getting used to being in London again and doing necessary jobs; tax evaluations, bank transactions, setting up new dance contacts, reacquainting myself with Monmouth Coffee!  Then it will be trying to figure out what I will do for 3 months!  Ah normal life.   But then normal will be so exciting and not very normal after an experience like this one!


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 80
One more day off to squeeze in some quick sightseeing and my intrepid tourist guide, Liz takes me off to the Imperial Palace of the Korean Imperial dynasty!  Very different to the Japanese palaces and temples, colour being the obvious difference.  Myriads of primary colours adorn the walls and ceilings of these palaces and the flags are all flown with great display.  This palace was burnt down by the Japanese, twice in Korea’s  history and it is only just now beginning to be restored to its former glory!  There is a lot of anti Japanese sentiment here and I am beginning to understand why!  They have been conquered and invaded by them numerous times throughout recent history and the civil war after WWII is still a bone of contention too.  The only problem is that I think the entire company has gotten into the habit of speaking Japanese that we are constantly having to apologise for ourselves as we answer everything with a forceful HAI whenever we are asked something.  But back to the palace...it is quite demure and simple when you look at all the quarters and worship halls, but the grounds are VAST.  I just had the impression of being an invading force and having to deal with the numerous corridors, walls, gateways and alleys that we seemed to meander around.   Constantly trying to find landmarks to regain our bearings we simply walked the huge grounds stumbling on lotus ponds and halls and tree lined avenues.  There aren’t that many photos of this day because Liz and I found ourselves being constantly surrounded by school children.  It seems that they have all been learning English and just couldn’t wait to try it out on us.  AND THEY WERE SO LOUD!  There was no escape as we were forced to sign books, bags, bits of paper and endlessly answer “hello, where are you from and welcome to KOREA!”  It was all a bit much and we eventually had to try and avoid them by slipping down alleyways and behind ancient walls!  

We left the palace and found this wonderful little street that had paved cobblestones and the most ecclectic selection of galleries and cafes that you could imagine.  It was like something out of Paris or something, kind of like the Latin Quarter!  I didn’t stay long as I had things that I wanted to do but Liz hung out there for a good 5 hrs!  So it is surely something that I will look at doing on my next day off!  Other than that it was straight back to work and to doing the 8 shows a week deal in this theatre.  

The Korean audiences are a welcome change really.  They react for one thing!  They are nowhere near as reserved as the Japanese and are happy to laugh and clap along with the production, which at this point in the performance schedule is such a wonderful thing.  The audience reaction really does lift you and make you realise that you are doing things that are registering and that your characters are reaching the people sitting in the seats!  So the shows have been great thus far.  Of course there are a few injuries and that means extra workload for some of us.  It kind of becomes like a challenge in the end, to see how many shows on the trot you can do and keep doing with consistency and precision.  The Big Swans are down to the last four so it is getting tiring.  You get home and just flop!  Wake up later in the morning and just do it all again.  As we get towards the end this is the last push and whilst you love it, you are looking forward to that final week where you know you can give it large and not have to turn around and do another 3 weeks.


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 79
We have two days off and the most exciting thing is that I have my own space. So I pretty much spend the first day in motel room, watching movies, chewing on corn chips and salsa and having endless cups of tea!  So very funny!  There is a movie channel on the tv so I am pretty set!  I don’t think I saw anyone!  I did go for a quick walk, only to realise that once again we are in the business district, so not the most happening place on a weekend.  But that was the most exciiting thing about that day!  The following day is the beginning of a week long celebrations for Buddha’s Birthday.  Yep, the buddhists were out in full display all having a bit of a bash!  And it was beautiful.  It started with a parade of lanterns down one of the main streets of  Seoul.  This parade was meant to last for 2hrs but went for 3, there was just so many people with lanterns.  The cute monks were out, families, international representatives and little dancing troupes, all with these pretty lanterns.  As the night descended the parade got bigger and better.  Whole dragons were beginning to appear breathing fire and everything, and huge representations of buddha on lotus leaves and peacocks with sprouting tails all lit up.  It was positively beautiful.  And all the people marching were just so quietly happy.  Big smiles on faces and waving at people, it was kind of strangely quiet and very respectful and yet kind of beautiful.  The oddest floats were the ones that bore comic manga style representations of a child buddha with a finger stuck up in the air!  Now I am sure this is a representation of singular peace or something, but funnily enough it looked like this little buddha was giving everyone the bird!!!!  It was so funny!  Again the westerners were giggling and pointing and the locals were looking at us with questioning gazes!

At one point, the announcers who were talking on the loudspeaker (which was incredibly loud, compounded by the tonal nature of the language I am sure) suggested that anyone who wanted to get up and join the parade was welcome to.  Well we didn’t need a second invitation.  We jumped in and started walking along the middle of the parade with a band of some sort behind us, and some sort of float of kings in front of us!  The Koreans thought it was wonderful and so started handing us lanterns that they had and encouraging us to smile and wave!  So there we were, in a parade of lanterns for buddhas birthday!!!  Talk about getting involved!  We were a hit, smiling, marching, waving, clapping, skipping along.  We made the parade!

When we met up with a few of the others of the company, the parade was winding up, so walked up to the end of the street to find a small stage with some lights set up.  Obviously a party waiting to happen.  So we hang around and this very strange group of local folk singers start singing something that really reminded me of the Mamas and the Papas.  It was in Korean and sounded a bit strange but the locals seemed to love it!  It was all getting a bit droll and so some of our party left for food.  THEY MISSED OUT!  All of a sudden a young troupe came bounding onto the stage to some interesting kind of bubbly music you would associate with a High 5 concert, and they started doing these very interesting dance routines.  Then, from above us, pink ticket-tape started to fall all over us and it all turned very festive!  With Korea High 5 on stage and pink paper everywhere, we all started going a little pink ourselves, getting into the spirit of it all and dancing along with the troupe.  

Then the Koreans started doing this weird circle dance that looked like Zorba the Greek in slow motion.  And there was no escaping it.  Women were coming over and basically grabbing our bags out of our hands and pulling us into these circles of dancing.  Some of our troupe really did try to resist, thinking that we would never see our personal belongings again, but these women would have none of it.  So pretty soon, we were all running in circles and bouncing along with pink paper STILL falling on top of us.  This went on for a good 15 minutes and by which time we all were getting into the spirit of it all.  The pink paper was CONTINUING to fall and the streets were strewn with it so of course what do the westerners do but start picking it up and throwing it at each other.  The locals were a bit perplexed by this but pretty soon found it a source of much amusement.  All of a sudden camera crews and nikons were all out and pictures were being taken of the strange westerners being aggressive to each other.  Well it ended up with the Koreans getting into it and pretty soon we had started a pink paper war as the locals were getting into pelting all this paper... AT US!!!!!  It’s kind of funny to be having a bit of fun with your mates when all of a sudden you get a mouth full of paper and an old toothless Korean man pointing at you and laughing his head off!   But it was all in good fun and pretty soon the dancing and the paper stopped flowing and the party was over.  I mentioned before about the apparent lack of efficiency on first impression.  Not when it came to dispersing the crowd.  To get rid of people, just send in the street sweepers with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Everyone will move pretty quickly and we did.  We returned home and I think even 3 days later were still finding bits of pink paper in our clothing and bathrooms and so forth!


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 KOREA
First impressions of korea?  CONGESTED!  Being on a bus with lovely blue curtaining over the windows and seats that makes it look like something out of a Bollywood film and being stuck in traffic for 2hrs, crawling along a 10 lane motorway on a Friday afternoon at around 5pm.  LOVELY!  This place just seems to have that quality that everything is everywhere and life goes at this mad pace until you hop into a cab and can't go anywhere because everywhere you turn is traffic!  Lanes mean very little in Korea.  I think they are there as a guide for you to drive over the top of before deciding exactly which side of the road you will actually drive on.  Swerving and meandering is the norm in these big buses and cadillac style cars and the chaos must be appreciated by all for it leaves me stumped how accidents don’t happen everywhere you look!  

When you get onto the pavement you have no relief because you are confronted with an array of automobiles, both stationary and moving all vying for a position on what should be a pedestrian walkway!  It is not unusual to find yourself in armed combat with a lorry as it backs into you as you walk along the shopfront.  And don't get started on the motorcycles, that seem not to obey any roadrules whatsoever!  If they come to a red light they just veer onto the pavement, at full speed, and pretend as if they are a Mountain Bike hurtling across gutters and racing the oncoming traffic in a bizarre game of what appears to be Asian Chicken! The locals do a lot better at tolerating this kind of intrusion on the pedestrian space and once again I feel as though I am a bumbling westerner unable to deal with the normalcy of motorised transport on sidewalks!  Oh well.  Adapt as a tourist so they say!

Day 78
We arrive in Korea amidst a great bumbling of organisational chaos.  When flying we were told that it was a mere 1.5hr flight. Ah, easy we think.  So when you end up being 9hrs in transit on a 1.5hr flight with no stop for food because that would just disrupt the transfer from airplane to bus to hotel, you  could imagine how a company of dancers were taking to that.   Not to mention how irrate I get when I don’t eat!  Combine this with the fact that we are about to share accomodation YET AGAIN on this leg of the tour and my mind was not handling the situation very well indeed!  You know those days when all you want is to sit quietly and close your eyes and find some solace otherwise you are going to literally shackle someones genitals to the ceiling!  Yeah well you get the idea of how I was that day!  When we finally got off the bus and into the tiny motel lobby with ALL our bags just sitting there we realised that we had left the completely structured and efficient Japanese behind, here it was fend for yourself!

My best decision was to actually request a room to myself.  At a cost of course, but quite frankly I couldn’t careless!  I need some space and some personal time away from all the people in the company.  I am so relieved I decided to do so as the apartments (yes not just rooms) are FABO BABO!!!!  Wooden floors, full size double bed where my toes don’t stick out the end, full size wardrobe, desk, comfy couch, air-con, windows that OPEN hallelujah, cute bathroom and KITCHEN!!! YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYQAY!!!  Absolute heaven where I can cook!  Oh what delight.  Very happy and already feeling so much better!  But of course the first thing on my mind was food.  So after putting everything away in MY flat and deciding what goes where and doing some minor furniture rearranging, I went out in search of food!  Quick easy filling food.  I am ashamed to say it but my first meal in Korea was Pizza Hut!  Laugh away, at my poor misfortune but I am telling you that after that hideous day, it was the perfect thing to eat whilst curled up on my couch watching English TV.  Like I always say, the simple pleasures!!!!!


 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 62
Last night was a continuation of all things grand in Kobe.  We  headed out for some food as is normal.  Intended on getting Indian at a certain place which of course  ended up being closed!  So we searched in need of something similarly spicy!  Mexican turned up and it was a tiny little restaurant with space for about 18 people.  Looked really authentic and so we ventured in with no expectations.  How surprising it was and utterly wonderful wonderful.  The food was REALLY good and so tasty if not large and overbloated with corn chips.  Then we tasted quiet possibly the most delicious Sangria I have yet had.  Not that I have sampled much.  But it was delightful.  Seeing as all the girls agreed that it was so wonderful I had no reservations ordering a bottle.  This trend seemed to continue throughout the meal, and was a grand source of enjoyment.  Then, in the middle of it all, the waiters stepped out from the bar and picked up guitars, bongos and wind flutes and began to serenade the entire restaurant in Spanish.  It was delightful.  Truly beautiful.  It was amazing to think that earlier this very keen Japanese waiter was eagerly running to serve our drinks and ensure everything was just right, and then he was there being beautifully engaging with this flute and creating the most beautiful music!  It was utterly sublime.  Some of our party departed and those of us remaining were contemplating whether we would continue in the current frame.  After all we did have shows tomorrow.  But with the endless run of shows, and the seeming slog of everything, I out of character that we should have another bottle. This time though, it was White Sangria.  They had no more red left so we thought, what the hell.   Having had the food and onto post meal events, the wine was perfect.  It was kind of like a dessert wine without the really heavy sugar.  It was just perfect way to end the evening.  And the conversation was flowing so well, just another one of those touring experiences that you have got to clock up to chance.  

And now I sit in the hotel about to go to Korea.  Tomorrow we fly and it has been such a wonderful experience to have been in this country for the past 2-3 months.  I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to peer in on this culture and its people and perform for them, feel their generosity and also get to know how they live.  I am looking forward to seeing how different Korea will be.  I have been led to believe that is not quite as accommodating as Japan, so I am ready for something different.  But then that is the whole point of travelling really isn’t it!  So I shall be sending this off and be looking forward to writing from another place, another culture, and another motel room.  The day is sunny and the hills are calling for one last climb.  Adieu.


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

The National War Museum

I forgot to mention in my last letter what I did on April 25th. Being overseas and away from home makes you very aware of your nationality and the patriotism that you truly believe doesn't lie within your heart begins to make it's presence known.  I decided that because I couldn't get to anything that was going to be remotely like an ANZAC parade, I decided to visit the Japanese War Museum.  This is something that I really thought of doing when I discovered it upon the first adventure out in Tokyo all those weeks ago when we did the Fish Markets.  The museum included a is laid out over two levels and you work your way around in a downward spiral, starting at the exhibits commemorating the ancient battles and warlords of the shoguns (rulers who took power from the Japanese Imperial Family) and various individual factions that ruled areas around Japan.  The rulers must have had to rule with iron fists as continual feudal battles occurred to take possession of properties.  Even though there were a few shoguns who did manage to unite Japan and effectively rule over the entire population, there were always successions to deal with and new challenges to authority.  Much like European history, the bloodthirstiness of the lords must have been a necessary trait to possess.  

From this noble rich history you begin to move more into the more recent history of the Japanese.  And this is where it got really quite interesting.  Having studied WWII in depth during school and having debates a plenty with my sister regarding facts and information, there is a healthy interest in the tigger for this period of history and Australia's role within it.  I felt like I was back in Miss Watmore's history class at Dubbo South High.  The displays documented the expansion of Japanese interests in the international arena, taking in China, Mongolia and of course Sth East Asia.  The Russo-Japanese War was covered well and I found this really interesting to get all my old historical perspectives back in order.  It was when we moved on to the WWII section and also the post WWI era that I began to see how things were being presented.  

Looking at the facts and looking at the way the Museum had worded certain aspects of the historical information was a real eye opener.  I am so happy to have had a teacher like Miss Watmore who encouraged us to read between, above, below and around all the lines of any historical text!  On this note of 'wording', the historical references to the Russo-Japanese War and associated battles in Mongolia and upper China, were all referred to as 'conflicts'.  They even go so far as to state that war was never officially declared on their behalf!  INTERESTING.  In regards to the WWII section, basically the Museum pursues the angle that Japan were forced into the war from US and Western trade policies that were holding resource poor Japan ransom from developing as an industrial power.  All through the references are "forced into war", "forced to pursue aggressive policies".  It was really interesting.  There was very little mention of the Sth East Asian policies and really how aggressive the Japanese were in conquering those countries that were so important and rich in vital resources for Japan.  This combined with the withdrawl of Japan from the League of Nations and effectively isolating themselves from the rest of the global community seems to paint a picture of the Japanese combating the influences and evils of non japanese countries - ie a threat!  Interesting to note this was 'isolation' factor was a trend of the Japanese pre 1890 as they chose to keep their borders closed to any foreign involvement or trade before the Meiji restoration!  

There was hardly any mention of Australia or the Australian troops that were combating the Japanese.  Perhaps because of the notorious nature of the Japanese occupation and treatment of Australian POW's during the Sth East Campaign.  The focus was very much on US involvement and the battle between Japan and the US trade and foreign policy.  The best thing was that even though there was a little bit of selective editing to scripts, it was interesting to see how the museum justified the war for the Japanese.  There was this emboldened noble vision of doing what was deemed necessary for the nation and the costs associated with that were merely part of the deal.  And I guess in a way, they are right.  It was war.  War is awful and no-one plays by the rules (just look at Abu Ghraib).  So I had my few little moments of reflection on April 25th, even though it was in the "other" camp.  Really interesting experience and am really pleased to have done it.  


 

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Ah and then it is back to work for another week of performances for crazy, seemingly obsessed Japanese fans.  OK, so this is my life at present.  You finish doing a show or two as the case may be, and you are post performance tired, know you have another show (or 2) tomorrow and you just want to go home and get into a bath and get this bloody white make-up off your tired body.  But before you get beyond the theatre stage door, you have to face the conglomerate of fans who must have spent their entire life savings on coming to see Swan Lake...every night!  Now most of the guys have got their devoted group of fans who have them as their favourite swan.  And of course they are all really waiting for the lead swan to appear after mostly everyone has left.  So in groups, as dancers, you get together and try to keep talking amongst yourselves and casually chatting, perhaps pretending not to notice all the expectant faces staring at you.  And you can actually get past them all like this; guilty as you might feel because they have been waiting a good 20 minutes already.  But if you dare to look up, or catch someone’s eye, you are caught like a fish in a net!  Sometimes you can’t help but wave a little at one or two who just seem to be jumping out of their skin because a swan has just walked past them.  They are like little kids as they smile expectantly at you.  And I remember doing the same thing to people who I thought were fabulously wonderful and special.  It’s kind of childishly innocent.  

But then there are the die hard fans.  The ones who call out your name and call you over and take photo after photo of you with them, their friend, your friend, and anyone else who happens to walk past!  The ones who will literally run after you down the street if you have managed to walk past them without them getting the chance to say hello!  There is the constant signing of programs, photos, t-shirts.  It really is very humbling.  I mean, we are just dancers!  And only corps at that!  But they love it!  It can be hard work some nights.  I think there are one or two photos of me scowling as I have got into a lift and not appreciating the fact that this Japanese woman is holding open the lift to take photos of me as I leave the theatre.  Or turning up to breakfast in a hotel on tour and there is one of the really obsessed fans smiling and beaming good mornings at you and trying to hug you and kiss you as you get your bacon and eggs!  Oh well.

I will admit that I have a soft spot for one or two of them!  I have a couple of fans who are very sweet to me and bring me gifts and flowers and little packets of biscuits (do they want a fatter swan?) which is very cute.  And then you get the odd person who meekly approaches you on her own, and offers you a single rose and tells you in very broken english how much she enjoys your dancing and how powerful you are.  How your big swan is so “big and very dynamic”  and your Italian escort is exciting when he gets slapped by the princess!  How can you not feel so humbled by such honesty and affection.  Especially when you see them shaking with excitement and their eyes wide with happiness and emotion.  I have always said that if you reach one person in the audience for each performance then you have done your job, so this is just the reality of that occurrence and isn’t it great that art can still do that to someone!  YAY!  So it is a beautiful thing!

So there it is thus far.  Not missing home at all (sorry guys, but with so much distraction, Tooting Broadway holds little hold) but am starting to want to do normal things like listen to that bizarre music track off some obscure CD.  Although a home cooked meal in front of the tele would be fun too!  Ah well, that shall come soon.  Hope the emails aren’t too long but hey, you don’t have to read it all!  Love to you all and thinking of how lovely it would be to catch up and share experiences.  Having Tammy here made me realise how special it is to catch up with good friends. Time will come!

 

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Then we decided that the day was just getting the better of us so we jumped back on the train and intended to head back to La Hotel and perhaps catch a movie or do something meant for a rainy day.  But as luck has it, we jumped on a train and then saw that we were going past an area that neither of us had visited in Tokyo, Akihabara, which is the electronics district.  Where shops can offer you anything electrical that you could imagine.  Well we parleyed amongst cameras and videocams and so forth for a while but started to get a little bit desperate for interest.  So wouldn’t you know it, we happened upon a very tacky souvenir shop which actually held much more interest for us!  Checking out all the terribly ugly Japan paintings and black lacquered scene paintings reminded me very much of getting gifts from parent’s work colleagues who thought that such a hideous monstrosity of art would make a beautiful gift for a teenager!  Such was our giggles and laughter in the back of the shop when we found bad japanese t-shirts, that had they been in a 70’s retro yellow colour would actually be worth a purchase!

We arrive back into Shibuya later in the afternoon with still the intention of finding a movie to catch.  So we wander about looking at the cinemas only to find that most of the films are bad hollywood numbers that neither of us were really interested in seeing.  So, with the rain still pelting and the shops open, what is left for a couple of girls to do but go shopping!!!!! The funny thing was that Tammy and I both headed towards the same shop that we had both found independently that has the most fabulous t-shirts in Tokyo.  We spent a good hour in there choosing various t-shirts for each other and deciding what the other should wear!  This trend seemed to continue as we went looking in shops and I actually felt like I was playing ‘queer eye for the straight chick’ as we piled through racks of frocks and impossibly thin summery clothes in Zara and I was telling Tammy what she should go and try on.  It was actually kind of fun, and a great way to sort of spend some time with a friend and really do some silly things together.  Think I understand what shopping is about between girls now!  Lots of coffees, and basically dressing up!  Trying on ridiculously outrageous looks or simply guessing at exactly what you would look like dressed up in that scarf about the chest.  It is kind of fun and giggly.  Hey, I can dig it!

We retreated to the motel room for a while and just hung out with each other for a short time and then decided to go and enjoy dinner at a local company hang called CHRISTON’S.  This rather wonderful find of western style food and wine has been a bit of a fix of home style comfort but it is pretty amazing in it’s own right.  You descend the wrought iron lined stairs to a basement level where the light immediately lowers to a very atmospheric deep glow.  Huge doors open to a bar area and you are greeted by the host(ess).  As you walk into the restaurant you are struck with the most amazing gothic memorabilia launching out at you from every possible angle!  Images of the Madonna (no not the pop princess Mitchell) and Jesus and angels abound positively everywhere.  It is as if they auctioned off a church and crammed it into this space.  So dense are the images that the occupy perhaps every nook and cranny of this very ornate space.  On the sides are private booths that have lush red curtains that can be pulled across to create a private space; and they are usually reserved for the local Japanese couples who seem to frequent the place.  Although who needs private booths when you have amazing mahogany tables and luscious armchairs in every possible place of the space.  This is one of those restaurants that just seems to have had someone go to an antique store and thrown all the contents haphazardly into a room.  But it works!  There are large wingbacks, huge french leather armchairs, massively thick french polished tables and each table has it’s own unique appeal and style.  You are clapped in as you enter which is a little unsettling the first time you enter as you feel as if everyone turns around to look at you as you are walked to your table.  But really, it is more your first impressions playing mind games with you as you try to take it all in! My favourite table is the low set coffee table with french leather chez lounges, and right underneath a surreptitiously placed black demon hovering over you from above.  He is the only one I have found in the restaurant but he is amazing; all bare chested and horns and huge death inducing eyes, so very out of place and yet it so works with all the other statues.  

Now as with most wonderfully decorated restaurants or places by the sea, (excepting the mecca that was H.O.S Bodo’s) the service is positively crap!  HOWEVER, being the service nazi that I am, they get away with it because they just smile so much at you and funnily enough attend to your every need.  It seems such a paradox but they spend so much time in ensuring you are comfortable you forget that the food and drinks seem to take forever before they arrive.  And yet the constant looking and smiling makes you feel like you are actually being served!  Maybe I should  try that if I ever get back into hospitality!!!??  We actually went with a couple of guys from the company so it was a nice group of 5 or so, and I think that Tammy was rather happy when I insisted that we get a couple of photos, and there is tam, surrounded by swanning men, of handsome character (Indeed one of the lead swans), in an atmospheric restaurant and being fussed over.  Think I scored brownie points for that one!

   

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 52
A day of exploration to go and see what we could of some Japanese cultural life.  The day was fairly overcast which seems to have been the norm for most of our days off here in Tokyo.  But it was still a day to be able to walk around without being too battered and bruised by wind and rain.  Tammy and I took off to UEDO PARK which is a grand park in the middle of Tokyo that houses many of Tokyos galleries, museums and concert halls.  It also has a fabulous walk of cherry blossoms and we were fortunate enough to catch the very end of this amazing spectacle.  With the advent of summery days and weather at around 24 degrees, dancers were seen outside the theatre with great regularity with tops off and bare bodies exposed to the precious half hour of sunshine that we were allowed before being herded back into the theatre for more performances or rehearsals.  Of course this meant that the cherry blossoms began to open and everywhere in Japan there was the quest to find the perfect cherry blossom day.  The news reports even give you a “cherry blossom percentage” which tells you how many of the potential blossoms are actually out.  We missed the best day of viewing but the morning in Ueno Park was still a beautiful sight.  It is like one big gigantic pink cloud land!  The trees just take over the entire landscape with the colour of pink and deep centres of almost purple!  As we were walking through the flowers were falling all around us and it felt like we were in a snow storm.  Without the cold!  Truly beautiful.  And the Japanese go nuts for it.  It is kind of weird to have these visions of Tokyo just looking like this pink fantasy land for much of spring, but the blossoms pretty much went in 10 days.  It is a very short window to see such a spectacular sight, but like most things stunning in nature, it is the special factor of it being so that makes it so attractive.  

After this brief little part of beauty, we headed into the Tokyo National Museum which was a beautiful couple of hours.  With the weather beginning to turn outside, it was a perfect day for Museums!  The collection is huge with some 80,000 pieces, but of course you only get to see a selection of this at any one time.  The buddhist statues and gods of worship were rather impressive and their age was certainly something to be appreciated.  One of the most interesting sections was the one of Japanese ancient helmets!  These helmets were so beautiful and just so interesting in how they were woven together to create constructions of very geometrical design.  You can imagine how the designers on the Star Wars movies got their inspiration when you look at them.  Tails of woven cord that spread down and away from the crown to form a ramp along the nape of the neck.  Really intricate and great stuff.

Then there was the display of traditional swords.  The hilts have been taken apart to reveal the construction of the swords and you can see the blade in it’s entirety.  The carvings on the hilt are worthy of an artistic appreciation, but the real detail was to be found on the sword blade itself!  The tiniest of etchings and engravings are carved into the delicate blade and they are truly marvellous.  Again the appreciaton of the Japanese aesthetic.  You can just imagine someone slaving away over these beautiful engravings and getting them just right.  And to see them pulled apart really allowed you to look at each one individually and appreciate each aspect of the sword.  Whilst there may not have been hundreds, you did get the chance to really stare at the few on display and notice such detail.

Of course the calligraphy section was also very amazing.  The buddhist scrolls were incredible. Rolls and rolls of this beautifully refined pressed paper with stamps and linen within it were rolled out like wallpaper; each scroll with the most beautiful writing and calligraphy in gold and silver ink that just went on and on and on.  I so wanted to pick one up!  And these things were dated from the 16th Century!!!  The artwork was also interesting.  The artists seem to work on a piece of paper or canvas about 2m in length and about 1m wide.  Then these canvas’ are placed in a framework of 2 concentric rectangles of ‘decorative’ paper and then the whole lot is rolled up and secured with these delicate tabs of more decorative paper.  They make for a pretty impressive long thin piece of work that all has the same construction and dimensions.  The folding screens are perhaps the most amazing pieces just for their sheer size and length of work.  They are huge canvas’ for the artists and offer a whole wall of something to paint upon.  And then they are sliced up to place on doors.  It makes a really interesting way of viewing artwork as it is seemingly sliced up into various sections and that can influence how you focus on a certain part of a painting.  Perspective I guess is the word!  But well worth sitting in front of and soaking up the essences.

The return outside brought little happiness as rain and wind had definetly set in, so we walked off to see what we could.  Tammy found some schoolgirls in cute little uniforms and this brought about much hilarity when we asked to take their picture.  The Japanese have a very ‘cute’ way of reacting to westerners.  Peace signs reign supreme whenever a Nikon is brought out.  We retreated into a tiny café to find some food for the disboy was fading fast with blood glucose levels dropping.  The experience deserves no mention apart from the fact that both Tammy and I were having to watch every step to ensure we didn’t bump our head on the ceiling or bash into someone’s cappucino!  Very cosy!

  

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 DAY 51
End of the first week of return performances to Tokyo.  Loving the return to private space.  No more sharing.  No needing to be considerate of others space.  Return to doing yoga first thing in the morning and lighting incense.  Back to eating the way I want, to being solo and being quiet on my own.  Being the fitness person I want to be.  Return to Harajuku Gym and to walks along the parade and to being me!  Also a return to being a Swan 8 times a week and pushing the body to it’s limit.  Yesterday was a 2 show day with the end of the week.  Felt harsh to get through but get through it I did and feel good I did.  Last night was also a return to old habits.  Bottles of wine with cheeses and bread and fruit and chocolate and a few well chosen guests.  The post show release technique of really letting the hair down and taking your time with indulgences.  Ended up with a small group of interesting people.  No-one too extreme and no-one too full on.  A small group of people taking it easy and talking and enjoying conversation.  SO LOVELY! So enjoyed it and felt that everything was so casual and so easy to enjoy.  Hearing others take the conversations in different directions and sharing stories with lots of laughing!  I really miss having those sorts of evenings and the richness that they bring to your life.  Too much solitude is not good and not healthy for the soul and spirit.  It is fine to indulge in it every now and then, but ultimately one needs the companionship and reflection on thoughts that others provide and the chance to evaluate your own opinions in comparison to the rest of those around you!  

The funniest part of the evening came when evening was no longer present.  As the sun rose around us and some of us refused to believe that we had spent the entire night talking and drinking red and massaging each other on the bed.  OK it’s a completely hippy thing to do but it was actually a most beautiful sharing!  When you are on tour and there is so little comfort in familiarity and affection that you normally assume from other sources, then it is hardly surprising to find yourself getting affection and support from those around you. It was a really lovely night!

Having my friend here from Oz has been loads of fun!  Tammy is here for 10 days and she has been wonderful.  Just letting me have my space and making no demands on my time or my relaxation and rest which is just oh so necessary on this tour.  She is going off and doing tours and activities during the day and I am at work without having to worry that she is getting along OK or being bored.  And then we catch up in the evenings and have chats and cups of tea and share the tales of what we have discovered about Tokyo.  It is fun really.  Nice to have someone to share the journey with whom is also doing completely different things!  We seem to go well together because we are both so independent to ourselves but then share the same enjoyments of wine and cheese, conversation and different experiences.  It is great having an easy buddy here.  

And to top off the Japanese experience.  I have survived my first real earthquake.  Heheheh, what a blast.  The earth really did move.  Apparently it was a 6.5 and the epicentre was not too far from here.  CHIBA, CHIBU?  Not sure exactly.  But the feeling of strange noises as windows moved and creaked, and having never experienced it before I thought I was suffering from too much red wine, but then upon standing I could feel the building doing small concentric circles for a good 30 secs or so!  It was a most bizarre feeling.  Really not much shifted and there was no falling of pictures off walls and jumping into doorframes as the buildings here are designed to absorb earth tremors and their foundations move accordingly so as to minimise the amount of shaking during a tremor.  So really it was kind of a non event.  But being on the 23rd floor when it happened was pretty freaky!  Makes you realise how fragile everything can be!

 

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Musings on Japanese...
It is considered offensive to blow one's nose in public!  The strange aspect of this is that the Japanese are so health conscious and very aware of personal hygiene.  Constantly you are confronted with people on the streets handing out packages of TISSUES!  Unlike just normal pamphlets that you shun on the streets of London or elsewhere, here they give you packets of tissues with the advertising on a sleeve on the inside of the package.  And yet if you do actually want to blow your nose, you should wait until you are in a private place to do so????  Hence these very hygienic people wander around preferring to sniff endlessly rather than risk offence at taking out one of the their multitudes of tissues.  Perplexing!

The efficiency of the Japanese is amazing.  There must be such minimal unemployment here because there is a job for everyone!  The other day I was in a department store and we were being ushered into the lifts (busy as they were) by these beautifully dressed Japanese ladies, whose job it was to determine which lift was overcrowded and which one was fastest and so forth.  And there was a posse of them!  After herding you on very gently (not like the famed Rugby commercial in Australia) she explains where you are going and delivers the normal tirade of pleasantries and thanks and then gives the entire lift a very low and humble bow – and holds the bow for a good couple of seconds.  You sort of feel trapped because you can’t bow back as the lift is too full but here is this woman, prostrate in front of you in a deep sign of respect and all you can do is smile sweetly!  Also you notice on the trains that there is not just one conductor at the helm driving, but three! Perhaps they are just there to jump in in case the first driver feels a headache or something!  I don’t know how it works but they are all clad in suits and gloves akin to an airline pilot...makes the London tube look like a heap of ruffians; which lets face it, they are anyway!

Even the grocery stores have 2 girls at every checkout, one to do the scanning and the other one busily wrapping everything up.  AND BOY DO THEY WRAP.  If you buy something glass, it gets wrapped in a separate plastic bag so as to avoid breaking or spilling, and each piece of fruit is wrapped in a separate paper bag, and most bags are double bagged, and presented to you with lowly bows.  Honestly, Coles and Sainsbury’s could learn a thing or two! This is just buying groceries.  Forget trying to refuse extra bags because it just doesn’t happen.  The good thing is that they use a lot of paper bags more than plastic so the recycling has some hope!  I am sure I am going to suffer culture shock in terms of customer service when I return to the western world.  

Even being a stupid westerner and not being able to speak Japanese is not a problem for these people...they all try to translate something as simple as PRAWN for you and if they can’t, they will get books and papers and try to draw or show you pictures of what it is you might be buying!  The length they go to to help is quite inspiring!  

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

Japan Thoughts

Buses are the most hideous way to travel.  Riding along in a seat that hosts who knows what kind of of organisms with untold temperatures and underlying fluids trapped within the walls of the seat fibres.  All this whilst being tucked into spaces that you would generally not try to squeeze a blind mouse into for the claustrophobia that would be encited.  All this whilst having barely an hour beforehand being on stage in swan feathers and with make-up running down your sweaty back having also been induced into a state of full body muscular contraction. And the only recompense of dietary relief comes in the form of local junk food from a very understocked convenience store, or better yet, the 95% processed menu of the Japanese/Italian restaurant chain (that hails from California of course) across from the theatre.  As you are herded into this small space with take away pizza boxes being brought in front of your already failing nasal passages, the assortment of assaults becomes a meditation in self control and finding the "it could be worse scenario" in your imagination.  Ah touring travel.  

As we bump our way along the highway all assortment of laptops, iPods and walkmans emerge as those of us who have not taken sedatives try to find the most amicable way to pass the time.  Rather large editions of impossible stories in paperback form sit un-thumbed on the pull down trays or seat pockets in front of desperately fading expressions.  

Those lucky enough to be possessed of frames small enough have managed to make a camping style bed of wooly scarves and padded jackets in the aisle of the bus.  Surely they are the most fortunate as they stretch their petit bodies to full length and with relative space of a hamster in a shoe box.  Oh to have the body of a 12yo again!  Just to be able to find solace in the environment of a bus aisle!  

The beer cans pile next to me from the lads who just seem to believe that yeast ridden beverages can accommodate the smallest of spaces and turn any journey into a bar stool and a casual night down at the local.  

And now the sun has set and the seeming distraction of outside scenery gently wafting past in multi coloured hues is now just a jumble of street lights and generic housing lanterns, nothing as cute as a Privet Drive or Ramsay St!  My bum begins to ache in this makeshift lounge-chair that I am trying to create.  Legs are beginning to appear in different positions on headrests and window-frames.  Dancers really are a funny lot in terms of how they find positions that do tend to defy comfort.  But from personal experience these cacophony of limbs in various array are quite often the easiest way to feel happiness in these circumstances.  

AND lo and behold a Japanese man that I have not really seen before pops up from somewhere in the front of the bus.  How and where has he come from? Who is exactly driving the bus? What is his purpose and what does he do popping up in the front of the bus?  Perhaps a more  pertinent question is does he have more space in front of him?  At least more than those of us packed into the back of the bus with it's vibrating toilet shack that none of us really want to use in any situation.  It is all exciting on a Japanese tour!

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 40

Matsumoto – Bloody gorgeous fantastic and wonderful Matsumoto.  Staying at the ultimately fabulous Buena Vista hotel (and no it is not fabulous simply because it has a Disney name) makes this place seem like a resort town compared to where we were in Nagoya.  Matsumoto is nestled at the foot of the Japanese Alps and it makes for a pretty amazing little setting as you walk around this small almost rural city and see snow covered peaks on the horizon wherever you look.  It hints of a ski resort centre and you want to start yodelling Sound of Music tunes as you go hiking off into the natural wonder.  The air is positvely wondrous as you take in fresh cool mountain air.  I imagine this is what cigarette companies want to try and make you feel like when you have a smoke.  It is gorgeous.  And very invigorating.  The hotel is lovely with beautifully designed  bars and restaurants.  There is internet access in every room and the rooms are of ample size and have windows that open!  YAY.  Last night there was an open fir in the front bar where the wine is displayed in glass cabinets as you enter with very comfy couches to repose in.  Hence I spent a good couple of hours reading architectural books and having a glass of red or 3 by the fire.  People were walking past and coming in to see exactly what it was I was doing sitting there on my own... “relaxing” was my contented response.  AND they were playing some funky funky music.  Great lounge stuff that was very cool  Such a lovely place.

Breakfast this morning was delightful and very tasty with fresh food, great croissants and nice tea; and once again, funky lounge music.  It makes such a difference when you have surroundings that are beautiful to enjoy!  Makes you smile and be happy.  All I ask is for beautiful things to surround me, then I am content.  Not very buddhist is it!

So, Day off.  Go off on my own (which I am really craving right now as we have been sharing for the past 3 weeks) and visit the Matsumoto castle, a beautiful original 15th Century building of a warlord and it is in it’s original form still.  The Castle is surrounded by a moat and still has all the narrow steps that ascend its 6 levels allowing you full access to each level and each room.  It is pretty fascinating looking at all the woodwork in the castle construction.  It is all very functional and even the narrow steps serve the purpose of defence.  This castle was meant for overseeing the battles that raged between warlords and regional despots.  The steep stairs meant it was difficult to ascend quickly so that if the castle was ever breached, the Lord could still hold out in the top levels.  It was great and I spent a good couple of hours going through the castle and taking in the darkness and the bitter cold winds that were coming through the windows.  Of course, there was a lot of ducking and dodging small beams of thick wood as a westerner was definetly not meant to be walking the constructs of the castle.

Couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for sightseeing as the sun was shining and the breeze was cooling.  Blue skies everywhere and such gorgeous buds of flowers and plants as they begin to welcome Spring.  A couple of performances here over the next 2 days and then we are back to Tokyo for 3 weeks.  I am so looking forward to that, but also to seeing Tokyo in spring.  Also to be somewhere known where there will be no need to search for food and comfortable places to hang out and so on.  Having a routine for 3 weeks will be an advantage as well.  Definetly what is desired on tour!  This week will be my first swan return after being ill, and I am so looking forward to it.  Trying to get the body back to it’s former glory will be primary focus.  Won’t be too hard I hope.  

Still getting lots of pottery fetishes everytime I walk past a shop or have a meal in a restaurant.  Will be definetly buying a new suitcase when I get to Tokyo as I have pushed my little fold up bag as far as it can go in terms of stretching to fit all my new purchases.  Nothing too extravagant, but  pottery doesn’t crush so a new bag it will have to be!

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

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Matsumoto – Bloody gorgeous fantastic and wonderful Matsumoto.  Staying at the ultimately fabulous Buena Vista hotel (and no it is not fabulous simply because it has a Disney name) makes this place seem like a resort town compared to where we were in Nagoya.  Matsumoto is nestled at the foot of the Japanese Alps and it makes for a pretty amazing little setting as you walk around this small almost rural city and see snow covered peaks on the horizon wherever you look.  It hints of a ski resort centre and you want to start yodelling Sound of Music tunes as you go hiking off into the natural wonder.  The air is positvely wondrous as you take in fresh cool mountain air.  I imagine this is what cigarette companies want to try and make you feel like when you have a smoke.  It is gorgeous.  And very invigorating.  The hotel is lovely with beautifully designed  bars and restaurants.  There is internet access in every room and the rooms are of ample size and have windows that open!  YAY.  Last night there was an open fir in the front bar where the wine is displayed in glass cabinets as you enter with very comfy couches to repose in.  Hence I spent a good couple of hours reading architectural books and having a glass of red or 3 by the fire.  People were walking past and coming in to see exactly what it was I was doing sitting there on my own... “relaxing” was my contented response.  AND they were playing some funky funky music.  Great lounge stuff that was very cool  Such a lovely place.

Breakfast this morning was delightful and very tasty with fresh food, great croissants and nice tea; and once again, funky lounge music.  It makes such a difference when you have surroundings that are beautiful to enjoy!  Makes you smile and be happy.  All I ask is for beautiful things to surround me, then I am content.  Not very buddhist is it!

So, Day off.  Go off on my own (which I am really craving right now as we have been sharing for the past 3 weeks) and visit the Matsumoto castle, a beautiful original 15th Century building of a warlord and it is in it’s original form still.  The Castle is surrounded by a moat and still has all the narrow steps that ascend its 6 levels allowing you full access to each level and each room.  It is pretty fascinating looking at all the woodwork in the castle construction.  It is all very functional and even the narrow steps serve the purpose of defence.  This castle was meant for overseeing the battles that raged between warlords and regional despots.  The steep stairs meant it was difficult to ascend quickly so that if the castle was ever breached, the Lord could still hold out in the top levels.  It was great and I spent a good couple of hours going through the castle and taking in the darkness and the bitter cold winds that were coming through the windows.  Of course, there was a lot of ducking and dodging small beams of thick wood as a westerner was definetly not meant to be walking the constructs of the castle.

Couldn’t have picked a more perfect day for sightseeing as the sun was shining and the breeze was cooling.  Blue skies everywhere and such gorgeous buds of flowers and plants as they begin to welcome Spring.  A couple of performances here over the next 2 days and then we are back to Tokyo for 3 weeks.  I am so looking forward to that, but also to seeing Tokyo in spring.  Also to be somewhere known where there will be no need to search for food and comfortable places to hang out and so on.  Having a routine for 3 weeks will be an advantage as well.  Definetly what is desired on tour!  This week will be my first swan return after being ill, and I am so looking forward to it.  Trying to get the body back to it’s former glory will be primary focus.  Won’t be too hard I hope.  

Still getting lots of pottery fetishes everytime I walk past a shop or have a meal in a restaurant.  Will be definetly buying a new suitcase when I get to Tokyo as I have pushed my little fold up bag as far as it can go in terms of stretching to fit all my new purchases.  Nothing too extravagant, but  pottery doesn’t crush so a new bag it will have to be!

more perfect day for sightseeing as the sun was shining and the breeze was cooling.  Blue skies everywhere and such gorgeous buds of flowers and plants as they begin to welcome Spring.  A couple of performances here over the next 2 days and then we are back to Tokyo for 3 weeks.  I am so looking forward to that, but also to seeing Tokyo in spring.  Also to be somewhere known where there will be no need to search for food and comfortable places to hang out and so on.  Having a routine for 3 weeks will be an advantage as well.  Definetly what is desired on tour!  This week will be my first swan return after being ill, and I am so looking forward to it.  Trying to get the body back to it’s former glory will be primary focus.  Won’t be too hard I hope.  

Still getting lots of pottery fetishes everytime I walk past a shop or have a meal in a restaurant.  Will be definetly buying a new suitcase when I get to Tokyo as I have pushed my little fold up bag as far as it can go in terms of stretching to fit all my new purchases.  Nothing too extravagant, but  pottery doesn’t crush so a new bag it will have to be!
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 DAY 37
Nagoya
OK so this is the part of touring which I don’t like and which is really very unglamorous and very dull.  Have been in Nagoya for the past 4 days and all I have seen of it is the inside of a very dull, small and BEIGE hotel room which has one very small window that looks out at another beige concrete wall which is about 3 meters away.  I have been lying in here with a fever for the past 4 days and it is all very dull.  It is to be understood when you are in such a large company and doing so many shows and so forth that you are bound to pick something up.  Only prob is that when one person gets something, it floats around the company again and again and again, as we share so much communal time together, and no amount of Vit B and Echinacea is going to be able to combat that.  Tried to do my performance in Otsu but it was not going to happen.  I basically got knocked flat the day we were supposed to travel to Nagoya and have not yet recovered.  I did get the special treatment though and got rushed to Nagoya on the Bullet train though so that was one good thing if you can find the good thing in being ill. The Shinkansen looks like something out of Star Wars as this long white thing with curves and headlights and all comes towards you at the train station, looking very much like the snowtroopers helmets from Empire Strikes Back.  The distance from Otsu to Nagoya was 236kms and we did it half an hour!  HALF AN HOUR, it was incredible.  Unfortunately I really didn’t get the chance to appreciated it as I was pretty much out of it by the time we wound up the engines and were hurtling along.  It is a very smooth ride and very very comfortable, as seems to be the way with all things Japanese.  Everything spic and span and all catered towards making everything as comfortable as possible for you.  AND it is all an honour!  Amazing.

But for now there is not much more to describe.  Apart from going out to try and get some food once the cleaners do come in and make up the room, I have been sitting in the motel room, watching movies, watching tele, listening to music, over and over and over again.  It is all getting a little repetitive and I am hoping that this will be the last day of my confinement and that I will be able to actually get out and be free of the beigeness of all things thus far.  We shall see.  I have had a most fabulous nurse taking care of me though. (Mitchell your title could be challenged) My room-mate has even sat up at 2am when I am in the throes of delirium giving me pills (which I refuse until I am desperate for some relief) and putting cold flannels on my head.  I am so very lucky and he has been so very tolerant!  So I will leave the sick diaries for now and hope that the next time I write I will have something a little more exciting to report!


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 29
OTSU

Ah Otsu, a lakeside town that was the capital of Japan for 5 years way back in the 1600s.  Now it sits resplendent on its lakeside shores with not much else to recommend it.  So it is that these types of places create the challenge to the tourist to create your own recreational platter without having it served up to you.  We arrive after a short bus journey after a show...never the most illustrious of journeys' when you are post show and haven't eaten and you are surrounded by 40 fellow dancers in the same predicament.  But it was short and what a surprise awaited those of us who have never travelled to Otsu before.  The Otsu Prince Hotel awaited, with 35 levels of spacious rooms, with giant windows that literally look out over the massive lake and to the mountains that skirt the town and make for some pretty impressive scenery as the snow capped peaks sit looking across at you.  The rooms have enough space for two people, two single beds and a couch and two armchairs, a decent bath, wardrobe and mini fridge.  FABULOUS!  There is space aplenty for yoga first thing looking out over the scenery with the incense burning.  LOVELY.

The first evening is nothing too special and with the beautiful hotel room being lakeside, it means there is nothing much else around so dinner was an exploratory walk to a Katsu place, with a quick stop off at the 7-Eleven for some comfort OJ and Haagen Daz!  With roomy out meeting up with friends, I take advantage of the solitude and watch a DVD.  I have never watched the classic PSYCHO by Hitchcock and it was a fantastic movie to settle into Otsu with.  This was then followed with The Motorcycle Diaries which was a fabulous movie.  If I am the only one who hasn’t seen it then I won’t bother raving about it, but if you haven’t seen it...do so.  It is brilliant and makes you want to go out and have your own adventure on a crazy old motorcycle in some undesignated lush area of South America.  Inspiring stuff.

The next morning though was a day off and it was the challenge to see what Otsu brought.  Knowing there was not much to do, I had planned a day trip to nearby Kyoto but the weather awoke with other ideas.  So instead I accompianied my intrepid tour guide friend Liz, who is incidentally my German Princess in the show and fast turning out to be my fiendishly friend of mischief and adventure on this tour.  (She was the first person ever to be tigger pounced in the company so it was kind of destined to be a beautiful relationship).  Oh, where was I?  Ah, yes, Liz has ideas of visiting a tiny Island in the middle of the lake which involves bus, train and ferry to get there.  Knowing Liz’s brilliant and impeccable taste in all matters touristy, I tag along (and Mitchell you will love it but I had to also share the day with the wonderful Mr Barrett whom we met in the lobby...DOH).  We adventured to a place called Nagahama which is a tiny vilage from where the ferry leaves.  But with the weather being so miserable, all ferries were cancelled.  (Sandy we did not become the bemoaning backpackers you will be happy to know)  So instead we decide to walk about this tiny village and see what it has to offer.  And what a delightful yield of beauties it offered up.  At first downtown Nagahama looked empty at best.  But as always with these sorts of places, a little digging is required to find the gems.  We pass a seemingly anonymous door and see what looks to be an open sign (getting used to the Japanese characters still).  The woman seated on her Tatami mat in the apparent reception doesn’t speak English and all we can ascertain about the place is that it is 200yen to enter.  So bugger it we think!  We pay and enter without any idea of what is behind the curtain and we find ourselves in a traditional Japanese house with gorgeous rooms containing sliding panels, sliding windows, papered frames and gorgeous handpainted frames and cupboard panels, it was simply BEAUTIFUL.  So beautiful in fact that we couldn’t help ourselves and had to sit down on the floor and have a few quiet moments, and then sitting led to lying and even a short snooze.  The space was just so relaxing and we were the only people in the house so it was kind of cool.  As soon as we heard others come in we did get up and try to collect ourselves.  The whole structure of the house and the feeling of it with its wide windowed corridors that looked out onto the stunning and very full Japanese garden was so conducive to relaxing and taking your time.  It was a haven that I think we all wanted to be our own.  I was getting serious ideas of how I wanted my ideal treatment rooms to appear in 20 years time!  Hehehehehe.

We then moved on and found a great little street that had all sorts of gift shops and little houses that seemed out of a time warp.  Apparently these were all warehouses that have been converted into shops to house the handicrafts of the local merchants.  Then we found the Glass factory which seems to be a centre of interest for these shops and it was sublime.  Beautiful Japanese glass blowing and decorative jewellery, plates, grandiose lanterns and candlesticks.  And of course, corckery and wine glasses.  I was in quiet heaven marvelling at the stunning crystal and drinking vessels.  It just made me want to drink Port and Sherry!  We spent a good hour and a bit in there and found some stunning pieces to spoil each other with temptation.  Liz did end up buying a most beautiful necklace for herself which I helped her to purchase (get it get it get it get it!!) and we had a very indulgent time of it.  

Then it was off to lunch which happened to be an Osteria which we just decided looked dry and warm.  Turned out to be an Italian place with cosy tudor style walls and set 5 course menu.  Again, it was easy to order the set menu and we ended up with the most delightful lunch that just kept on going and going.  So much so I had my first glass of wine in 5 weeks.  The food and atmosphere was that good it deserved wine.  The best bit was that it only cost 10 quid.  So we stayed and imbibed for a good hour and a half.  Food once again making me a happy disboy!

Then it was off on a wander, sort of meandering back towards the train station in a roundabout way when we stumbled upon this little lantern display in front of someone’s house.  We had a quick look and as we did, the door opened and out came two gentlemen.  Behind the door lay a stunning large, old looking Japanese building which looked decidedly like a temple. Liz being the confident one stuck her head through the door and then looked back with a huge smile on her face that screamed “this is amazing!”.  The gentleman then indicated to us that we should venture in.  Again, not knowing what we were in for we entered and were shown a 100 year old family temple.  This man had just asked us to come in and look at his family’s private temple!!!!!  We were astounded.  The man spoke a little English and we found out he was the 15th generation to be in charge of the temple and he ran it as a place of worship including small little mats and toys for children to come and learn as well.  It was gorgeous.  Turns out he had lived in Brisbane for a year some time earlier so was pleased when I announced my nationality.  We took photos and he was so generous.  We left a sense of awe; not just at what we had just seen, but also of the generosity that is inherent in the culture here and the realisation that we had just seen something that not many people get the chance to see.  VERY SPECIAL!

So we return to Otsu very happy campers.   It feels great to have gotten out and explored a little bit again.  Tomorrow is back to work and then we have one performance before moving on to another town and leaving this luxurious hotel and its large rooms and stretching spaces.  All beautiful things.


 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 23
OSAKA - First impressions of this city are certainly that it is a smaller and more compact city without the liveliness of Tokyo... however this could just be that we are in the area that is not the happening place.  Shibuya was certainly an energy centre of Tokyo and not for the faint-hearted.  Kita-Ku is certainly not that, in fact quite the reverse with its reserved manner and feeling of quiet wealth about it.  Funnily enough it does remind me a little of Brisbane, as it is set on a river that winds itself through the centre.  It could also be that the view from my motel room is pretty much the same as if I was sitting at the QPAC building on tour in Brisvegas.  The river with the highway suspended above it.  

But the arrival on a Sunday is never a good light to see a city, particuarly one that is the business centre of Japan.  And I believe we are staying right in the heart of the Administration area.  There are suit shops everywhere and the area seems deserted on a weekend.  I went for a walk upon arrival to try and get some bearings and familiarise myself with what was around and available.  There was pretty much nothing on the streets and in particular there appeared a distinct lack of funky cheap eateries.  But this is the beauty of touring, finding the diamonds in the rough as it were.  This will certainly be a challenge here but I am sure it will yield some beautiful things.

First impressions are always interesting though and the first impression of Osaka was how bloody cold it was!  And of course, then it snows.  So I have had 2 cities and 2 days of snowing... it was lovely and quite a decent fall of snow so it had that magical attractiveness to it.  I sat inside for a little bit and watched it as I fell about on the bed and waited for baggage to arrive.  Oh, yes that is one of the advantages of travelling in a large group... tickets are ready for you at the airport, bags leave 2 hrs before you from the hotel and arrive about an hour or so after you... no hanging around and waiting for carousels... hehe, what a luxury.  Of course this means that anything you didn’t bring with you you end up not getting until the baggage arrives.  But it is kind of cool.  So unpacking was fun and then you run into people at the foyer and go along with whatever is happening.  

We have a couple of days off here so on the first day off, I and my PT decide to look for a gym to join where we can train.  Hotels always have the habit of finding the most expensive place that is near the hotel and recommending it, so it was with trepedation that I went to the Naniwa Training Centre.  Boy was I wrong.  I walked into a very tacky and old building thinking I had the wrong staircase and was led all the way up to the roof to find a small tin shed on top with a rather archaic gymnasium of free weights and machines from the Stalin era in Russia.  There was this little old man at the door who tottered about the gym and obviously didn’t believe in dusting much.  This was true grass roots and warehouse flavour working out.  AND WE LOVED IT!  My PT was entranced by it and we decided that the little man was so sweet and accomodating and it was so real that we would spend the week here training as if we were an East Block Olympic team.  After a couple of workout days already I can tell you how much fun it actually is.  We are the only people in there really, except for maybe one or two others and there is this 40’s jazz music playing on the speakers and the weights are all mismatched and made of steel... it’s such a characterful place.  No membership cards or such nonsense, the little man remembers you and that you have paid.  He asked us when we first went in whether or not we were models?!!!  Love it!  Laurie and I are fast earning the reputation that we are the fitness freaks of the company.  After running along the river for 30 minutes today and returning to the hotel in a sweaty state, we were given a round of applause by those waiting to go to a tourist destination for the day.  hehehe.  Let’s hope we are laughing when the season starts back up again.

Osaka Castle was the tourist drive for the first day (after working out).  We walked the distance to the centre of town along the river and it was actually a lovely thing to do on that day.  The sun was out, it was warm and there was a whole group of us so there was little conversations going on everywhere.  Learning little bits and  pieces about everyone is kind of nice and the walk took a good hour so there was plenty of time to spend a bit of time with individuals.  Also it was nice to see the residences of Osakians... how they live and so forth.  Having suffered such bombings in the war it is full of 50’s fuctional architecture so it is not the most beautiful city, but we enjoyed it’s character nonetheless.  

The Castle is also a rebuilt representation of the original with the original suffering a case of bad fortune having been struck by lightening in the early 1600s, burned down in the 1800s and bombed in 1945.  But the grounds are still beautiful and you can get an impression of what the building was like when it was the centre of a fortress in the 1600s.  The inside is very contemporary and serves as a museum to the Castle’s founder Todeya Hideyoshi ( I think I got that right) who was the first emporer to unify Japan.  It has 8 floors of artefacts, history and presentations inside the castle.  Quite lovely really, but as is always the danger of going in a group, you are restricted by time and the fact that not everyone wants to wait with you and spend the day in the one place.  Oh well, it was great to see anyway.

That evening was entertainment of a different sort.  Dinner with about 10 of us in a foreigner friendly eatery.  We get shown into a private room with a round table for our group... and then we see it... the karoake machine!  It is cheesy, bad taste, meant for bad drunken people, but it was oh so fun.  They had to chuck us out at the end of it.  And it is always the way, after the loud raucous ones who are happy to make fools of themselves have done endless renditions of Beatles and Simon and Garfunkels classics (and the obligatory Send In The Clowns), someone gets on the microphone and actually sings a beautiful rendition of a contemporary song and everyone just sits there open mouthed in appreciation of this beautiful voice that has just come out!  Buit then the drunken and loud renditions take over again and the night is a huge laugh for all concerned!

Today was another cultural iconic moment;  SUMO WRESTLING!  YAY, it is just one of those things that you have to do when you are in a nation where this thing only happens.  But it was fantastic.  The whole ceremony of the bouts and the tournament is very much a part of the whole experience, and these HUGE men just doing the most incredible posturing and leg extensions as they try to intimidate the other.  Then in a 30 - 45 sec push and slap fest it is all over.  How they don’t sustain serious injury to their ankles in this process is unbelievable as they are on a 2 foot platform and they literally get thrown and pushed off it every day for 14 days.  The size of the men does vary but the fact that they are so large of girth and yet able to do the box splits is rather fascinating.  We saw about 2 hours of bouts and it was kind of fun to be a part of it all and watch the excitment mount as the better wrestlers came on towards the end.  The ceremony of slapping and chucking salt on the dhoya was fascinating and just as interesting to note that the traditions that surround the sport are still as much a part of the experience now as always.  It was fun and we did some pretty amazing feats of strength, agility and underdog guts.  I can only imagine how I would feel squaring up to someone the size of them wearing that little jockstrap... enough to make your eyes water just thinking about it.


 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

Day 15

So now we approach the end of our 2nd week and the body is feeling the effects of shows. Thankfully the body is beginning to feel like a dancers’ bod again and BIG SWANS is not as scary as it seems!  My PT and I have finally found a gym that doesn’t cost the earth and we have been doing some sessions together.  We are going to a Gold’s Gym which is the hard core bodybuilders gym, so we are feeling sufficiently hard-core ourselves! It’s great to have someone to train with and push you that little bit extra when it is easy enough to rest on your laurels and sit in the motel room.  But for now my time grows short.  I am sitting at Shibuya’s main crossroads (I won’t tell you that it is a Starbuck’s nor try to justify it with the feeble excuse that it is the only placed open before 9am on a Sunday) with my cup of tea (detox still going strong) and watching all the people crossing patiently and respectfully, with a communal order and regard for their fellow pedestriansl... it is still such a lovely aspect of the Japanese.  But I must away for the last 2 shows of the week and then 2.5 hrs of massaging whingey dancers... yes they are all friendly to me when they are sore!  heheheh.  Yes the usual gripeyness of dancers on tour rears its ugly head.  I know you can’t get on with absolutly everybody in the world, but keep it cordial please.  It is easy sometimes to feel alienated... but if I choose to sit in a Martha Stewart esque tea room sipping on Earl Grey instead of going to Starbucks then I bloody well shall.  

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

Day 12

And I wake in the morning to find Tokyo ablaze in a blanket of white.  After those beautiful couple of days where we took morning tea and walked around the Imperial Palace and strolled along the museums and garden districts for what seemed like an entire day, I now see Tokyo in it’s winter snow coat.l  Apparently this is a bit of a novelty for Tokyo as it doesn’t always snow so it was pretty special to see it.  It is so very pretty and lovely, but as always the reality of walking in this lovliness is not always so easy.  SNOW = COLD  SNOW = SLUDGE  SNOW = SLIPPERY SIDEWALKS.  Unless you are really geared for it snow can be lethal... but then impractical things are always beautiful for behold and be a part of... and snow still has that effect on me of making everything feel slightly childlike and fantastical.

Lasts weeks adventures included an authentic Japanese ONSEN experience.  An ONSEN is a relaxation bath house of the birthday suit variety.  When you enter an onsen you are entering a place of relaxation and repose, and the Japanese are very good at doing such things very well.  As soon as you walk in the door you are asked to remove your shoes, you are then given a YAKUTA (kimono for want of a more familiar term) and directed to the changing areas where you remove EVERYTHING and change into your Yakuta.  You then pass through more doors and find a sort of marketplace with restaurants and souvenir shops.  Everyone is wearing Yakutas and the whole experience is quite lovely, as if you have stepped into another timezone and place.  You are then directed towards the bathing areas, seperated of course, according to gender, where you derobe and walk around starkers with everyone else.  Now being a patron of naked beaches in Oz this was kind of OK for me but for others it can be quite a humbling experience... until you see this tiny little boy of about 5 running around giggling and laughing as if it is the most natural thing in the world to do, to run around naked. Then you realise all is natural and wonderful.  

The baths themselves are huge pools (3 or 4), rather shallow and heated to a wonderful 42 degrees. There are outdoor and indoor pools and you just sit and relax in as many as you like.  The outdoor pools are quite lovely as even though it is quite cool outside (especially when you are starkers), the warm water is like wrapping yourself up in a blanket at the football on Sundays.  There are saunas and spas as well and you just hang about basically, doing nothing.  The baths are not for bathing though.  The japanese tradition is to wash yourself and cleanse before entering the bath.  At first you are asked to pour water over yourself from the cart, much like at a temple when you wash your hands (and mouth supposedly) with clean water.  Then you have a little cubicle with a small stool, like a footstool and your own shower.  You wash yourself, and being a westerner are very aware that these cubicles are made for small Japanese men... I felt a little like Hagrid!  But then it is relax relax relax... and after the first week of performances it was certainly what I needed.  

After a good soak it was then time for a good Shiatsu.  They have a communal room with about 20 beds all layed out at about knee height.  You are intoduced to your masseur and promptly put on a bed and they start working on you.  THIS WAS GREAT!  30 min felt like 45  and it is the first massage I have had in a long while so I really enjoyed it.  See Cate, I can do it when I allow the time!  

then there was the outdoor sectionwhere you remain dressed in your Yakuta so you could mix with the opposite sex.  This was a meandering stream of hot water that you walked along through a rock garden.  The added bonus was all the pebbbles under the water that were laid out ina variety of configurations for a self-reflexology walk!!!! Didn’t seem odd at the time but the westerners were having a great time walking alond and getting stabbed and pushed by tehse rocks of supposed pleasure whilst all the Japanese were sitting acalmly rubbing thierr feet on single pebbles!!  OK so wo may have got it wrong but we enjoyed the challenge.  We anticipated being there for an hour or so but walked out 3 1/2 hrs later, blissed out and gloating... certainly worth it.  

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness

 Day 9

TheTJUKI FISH MARKETS day.  Oh my god what an experience to behold. Up at 6am to try and get to the markets as early as possible.  We arrive at the station and as soon as we get off, are seemingly at odds with the directions on the map (mental note - girls don’t read maps well).  So I begin to just follow my nose... which meant spotting the man in Wellington boots with 2 market bags and following wherever it was he was going.  We arrive at a warehouse entrance and my market nose is telling me that this looks like the entrance to a market... having spent so many mornings at Adelaide Markets when the farmers were coming in my eyes are well trained to spot a markets entry.  

I can smell the fish but we consult our trusty map anyways... until we are surprised by a toothy older Japanese man aboard a sort of motorised trolley thing that is obviously for carting large amounts of seafood, of which there are hundreds seemingly swerving around us in a cacophany of activity.  Anyway, the toothy Japanese man says “fish?” to us with a cheeky grin.  He points to the back of his cart and nods, so without really thinking, I say “yes” and climb aboard, dragging the two girls with me!  In an instant we are zoomed off,whisking narrowly between lorries, pedestrains and other motorised trolleys at high speed.  It must have been quite a sight , these 3 guffawing westerners on the back of a trolley with a mad Japanese man at the helm, I am sure grinning maniacly and all with a great deal of pleasure.   It is most likely the cause of the cold brisk morning air hitting our numb faces, but I am sure that our eyes were watering from so much laughing as well.  

The actual markets were pretty bloody amazing on their own though.  I think I have actually found a market that does rival Adelaide... predominantly Japanese of course but there is everything there for the kitchen.  From the produce right down to the knives and pots and pans that you can watch being made right in front of your eyes.  The fish section is positively ginormous.  Stall after stall of fish, whole, fillets, live , molluscs, prawns , lobsters, whole squids, octopus, alive in nets even... and somethings that I don’t even know what they were!  The big attraction would have to be the BIG FISH.  And by that I mean the grandaddys of the ocean.l  Mackeral, swordfish, marlin and the HUGE tuna are too big to even contemplate.  All just lying around, waiting to be carved up.  Did actually see the men taking apart a couple of carcasses which was fascinating.  Gruesome but fascinating.  Just being amongst that sheer magnitude of fish though makes you realise why Japanese waters are amongst the most overfished in the world.  But so worth getting up early for... just for the mad trolley ride alone.  Seeing as we were at the fish markets we thought we would do an authentic breakfast, and that means SUSHI.  We chose a place out of the blue and it turned out to be the best sushi I have ever had.  We knew we were onto something when we entered and saw all the locals having breakfast and then vanish and 8:50am.  Locals hangs are always the thing to look out for.  We spent the next couple of hours just wandering around and looking at things... and buying things.  We found this great little pottery stall that was tiny but full to the brim of bowls, platters, plates, cups, teapots.  I am sorry to say that I went a little nuts in there because it was just all so pretty... and so CHEAP!  I love being on the right side of the currency exchange.

o even contemplate.  All just lying around, waiting to be carved up.  Did actually see the men taking apart a couple of carcasses which was fascinating.  Gruesome but fascinating.  Just being amongst that sheer magnitude of fish though makes you realise why Japanese waters are amongst the most overfished in the world.  But so worth getting up early for... just for the mad trolley ride alone.  Seeing as we were at the fish markets we thought we would do an authentic breakfast, and that means SUSHI.  We chose a place out of the blue and it turned out to be the best sushi I have ever had.  We knew we were onto something when we entered and saw all the locals having breakfast and then vanish and 8:50am.  Locals hangs are always the thing to look out for.  We spent the next couple of hours just wandering around and looking at things... and buying things.  We found this great little pottery stall that was tiny but full to the brim of bowls, platters, plates, cups, teapots.  I am sorry to say that I went a little nuts in there because it was just all so pretty... and so CHEAP!  I love being on the right side of the currency exchange.

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Furness