Stop #9: Japan (Osaka, Tokyo, Choshi)

A view of the busy walking streets of Kyoto

A view of the busy walking streets of Kyoto

Greetings from Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun! The Dins have just completed their ninth tour stop here, and though it’s been long and often packed with gigs it’s been one of our favorite stops so far. While here, we have stayed in Osaka, Tokyo, and Choshi. Tokyo is of course Japan’s largest city and Osaka is the second largest in the country, while Choshi is a smaller fishing town on the eastern coast of the country.

Something worth mentioning before I continue onward is that with this stop we have officially picked up another member, Lee Seligman #203! Lee got his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2013 and is an active and beloved alumnus of the Dins. He will be singing with us for all remaining stops of the tour except for Sydney. Lee grew up speaking both Japanese and English and has lived independently in Japan for some years, so he was invaluable to us in this country. Over the past week he’s covered everything from MCing our events in Japanese to interfacing with our longtime contacts and even taking us sightseeing to his favorite spots, so an immense thank-you goes out to him.

Dins at a fantastic southern-style ramen eatery on our first night in Osaka

Dins at a fantastic southern-style ramen eatery on our first night in Osaka

We arrived in Osaka from our few days of “free time” on July 1st, most of us still very jet-lagged from the seven time zones that we crossed on our flights over from Europe. While on free time, we had split up in places ranging from St. Tropez all the way to Seoul, and so we all had interesting stories to tell each other after meeting up again. Our first night in Osaka was fairly relaxed. We lugged baggage to our resting places, either at the Osaka Castle Hotel or Lee’s house in the city, and then went to one of Lee’s favorite ramen spots at a covered market in the city for a nice dinner.

Exploring Kiyomizu-dera, a famous Buddhist temple, on a mountain in Kyoto

Exploring Kiyomizu-dera, a famous Buddhist temple, on a mountain in Kyoto

The next few days were packed with activities. On July 2nd we had a morning gig at a senior center in Hirakata, after which we were invited to take part in a delightful Japanese tea ceremony steeped in tradition. For the afternoon, we took a train to nearby Kyoto, often described as Japan’s cultural capital and home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. We were fascinated by the artistry and attention to detail within these cultural centers, and were quite glad to take in a traditional side of Japan alongside the more modern parts of the country.

Neat views of Osaka en route to a gig

Neat views of Osaka en route to a gig

July 3rd and 4th were our two busiest days in Japan, both packed with two gigs each. On the 3rd we had a morning gig at Uchida Youkou hall, in which we had a lot of time to interact with students from Doushisha Women’s University in Osaka. During this gig, we sang a popular Japanese song called Hana wa Saku (“Flowers Will Bloom”) with the whole audience for a video that was later uploaded to YouTube:

This was one of the first gigs in which we got to experience the very enthusiastic crowds often found at our concerts throughout Asia. I personally had never signed so many autographs or taken so many pictures with people in my entire life, and it was a total pleasure to know that we were bringing happiness to our audience despite the language barrier. That night we had a performance at a restaurant called Cafe de la Paix, to similar effect.

At Osaka International University, visiting a tree planted with the Dins on our last tour in 2014

At Osaka International University, visiting a tree planted with the Dins on our last tour in 2014

The next day we traveled to Osaka International University. Here we participated in numerous activities with students studying English, including some question-and-answer periods and a short performance. After lunch we headed to Kwansei University in the outskirts of Osaka, where we performed in a chapel. During this concert we sang “Hana wa Saku” again, this time with students from the school’s widely acclaimed glee club. The students in this glee club were great sports, and after the concert we ate dinner and conversed together, occasionally singing some songs for each other. We were delighted by the students’ powerful voices, and agreed that it was no wonder that they were ranked the best in all of Japan. Though these two days were tiring, it was precisely this kind of camaraderie that got us through them.

Dining on the top floor of a hotel in Osaka

Dining on the top floor of a hotel in Osaka

None of this is to say that we didn’t get some downtime during all this, though. On the night of July 3rd we had a delicious dinner with Lee’s family on the top floor of a nice Osaka hotel, and afterwards relaxed in the hotel’s naturally heated hot spring bathhouse. The next night we had our own little Fourth of July celebration at a jazz club called Misty in one of Osaka’s busiest bar districts. The president of Osaka International University, whose birthday it was that day, treated us to drinks and karaoke with a live band. We performed a few songs and made sure to sneak in a performance of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Heading to Toudaiji Temple in Nara and seeing many deer along the way

Heading to Toudaiji Temple in Nara and seeing many deer along the way

On July 5th we had our only completely free day in Japan, during which some of us stayed back to explore Osaka and others went to Nara with Lee. In Nara, known far and wide for its docile wild deer and temples, we first took a tour of a pristine garden that had been preserved for centuries. We explored the ruins of a building that had been in the garden more than a thousand years ago, and then had another tea ceremony in a tea house that had been standing since the 1600s. This type of serene experience in a carefully sculpted natural environment was what I was most eagerly anticipating upon coming to Japan, and it did not disappoint. Petting some deer along the way, we then ambled over to Toudaiji Temple, known for being the largest completely wooden structure in the world and also for housing a very large Vairocana Buddha made of metal in its center. After admiring the craftsmanship of the Buddha we took a very exclusive tour inside Kasuga Shrine, a noted center for the Shinto religion in Nara. That night, we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo, where we would be spending only a short time.

At a traditional tea ceremony in Nara, a welcome air-conditioned respite from the humidity

At a traditional tea ceremony in Nara, a welcome air-conditioned respite from the humidity

We appreciated the more temperate weather in Tokyo after the occasionally punishing heat and humidity of Osaka and its environs, but we quickly had some business to which to attend. Our one full day in the area was mostly spent performing in nearby Kawagoe – first we had a short concert and question-and-answer session at a local university, and then we traveled to a historic part of the town preserved from the Edo period for a sold-out evening concert in a restored 1800s house. The stage was the hottest we’d been on yet, but we pulled out a pretty good performance nonetheless.

Some very tired Dins in transit

Some very tired Dins in transit

It was only just the next morning that we departed Tokyo for Choshi. As mentioned above, Choshi is much smaller than either Osaka or Tokyo, but the Dins have a strong tradition of performing there that has lasted for over a decade. Right on the eastern coast of Japan, the town’s lighthouse is the first place in the country of Japan to see the sunrise in the New Year. Our visit was managed by Terajima-san, a very kind man who has been overseeing the Dins ever since we first came to Choshi. He enlisted a number of people around the area to help drive us and assist with logistics in our performances throughout the town. We had great accomodations at the Taiyo no Sato hotel, which also had natural hot spring baths on-site of which we eagerly availed ourselves.

A very impressive pagoda at Enpuku-ji temple in Choshi

A very impressive pagoda at Enpuku-ji temple in Choshi

Our days in Choshi were packed with both performances and sightseeing. Some of our visits, in which we connected with some of the town’s most prominent citizens and talked to audiences about our collegiate experiences, underscored our roles as representatives of Harvard and the United States abroad. On Thursday the 7th we performed for the Choshi 1st Junior High School, participating in our third question-and-answer session afterwards. We were pleasantly surprised by the students’ great appreciation of us and were delighted to sing a few songs together with them in Japanese as well. The next day was our major concert in Choshi, located in the town’s major community center and organized in partnership with a local youth choir. We sang a translated version of the Disney classic “It’s a Small World” with this choir, and also sang a Japanese rendition of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie with Terajima-san’s granddaughter Elena. The latter song was especially touching to perform, as Elena has grown up listening to the Dins come to Choshi every two years for her whole life.

Testing out an old military helicopter at the Chiba Institute of Science's marina campus

Testing out an old military helicopter at the Chiba Institute of Science's marina campus

In between gigs we traveled by tour bus to restaurants, shopping malls, Buddhist temples, the Yamasa soy sauce factory, the Chiba Institute of Science, the aforementioned lighthouse, and a beautiful observatory. The sights could leave us exhausted, but as a crash course in Japanese culture we couldn’t have asked for better. I of course can’t speak for everyone, but on Saturday morning when it was time to leave for the next stop, I was left wanting more time in Japan.

Taking in views of Choshi and Chiba on the top platform of the Horizon Observatory

Taking in views of Choshi and Chiba on the top platform of the Horizon Observatory

The number of people who gave us kind assistance with our performances, transportation, and sightseeing in this country is truly too large to be able to name everyone (such is the incredibly respectful nature of Japanese culture), but we would especially like to extend our thanks to Nao-san, Komori-san, Lee and his parents and other relatives, Terajima-san, Jun-san, Miko, Mena, Mieko, and the entire staff of the Taiyo no Sato hotel for their troubles. The Dins have a very busy few weeks in Asia ahead of us, and so we plan to hit the ground running as we fly from Japan into China. Next stop, Shanghai!

Signing off,

Ethan Craigo #237