Hopefully I’m not tempting fate, but the start of our latest trip to Japan went very smoothly indeed by our standards. Having received our visas a whole three days before departure, we all arrived at the airport on time, breezed through security, and were boarded with our instruments safely in the cabin in next to no time. I won’t bore you with too much information about the flight, but what I will tell you is that 14 hours is a long time and Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore did not make it go any quicker.
On arrival, Genroh and the team from Pro Arte Musicae (who have put together this tour) met our somewhat dazed and disorientated group, and we were whisked off to our hotel to get some well-earned rest (via a charming local restaurant just around the corner).
Usually there’s a bit of time to acclimatise when there’s been such a long journey, but on this occasion we were straight into the action, heading to the Recital Hall at the Tokyo Bunka Kaiken the following morning for our first performance. Brass players will know how important a concert venue’s acoustic is to giving the best performance possible, and as usual Japan did not disappoint: it became immediately clear during the sound check that this was perhaps the best hall we’ve ever played in, giving a stunning bloom to the group’s sound. Our programme in Japan features our ever-popular version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker complete with narrator. We’re very familiar with this piece, having now performed it many times (and recorded it), but our concerts here feature an extra challenge: somehow we have to follow along with the Japanese narration to be sure we’re playing in the right place. Most of the rehearsal was therefore taken up with figuring this out (it must be said with mixed success). Fortunately everything was in its right place for the concert (we think), and morale was high as we headed out to the CD signing session that followed, where we got to reconnect with some old friends and make plenty of new ones too. Sushi and electronic darts ensued, and we called it a night feeling satisfied with a successful start to the tour.
The following two days had very similar schedules, involving largely free daytimes followed by short evening performances for students. This gave us the unusual opportunity of actually seeing some of the place we were visiting. Pete Smith took Dan on a comprehensive sightseeing tour of the Imperial Palace among other things, while Alan, Pete Moore and me, keen to keep working on our Olympian physiques whilst away from home, gained access to the nearby Anytime Fitness. We’re always amazed by how enthusiastic our Japanese fans are, but things went to another level here: it turned out our host at the gym just happened to be a tuba player who recognised Pete…either it’s a very small world or he genuinely is big in Japan. As you might expect he took it all in his stride, with barely a hint of smugness.
Choices the next morning varied between further exercise and the incredible views from the Tokyo Skytree (not sure I made the right decision there). Most of us then convened at teamLab Planets, an incredible series of immersive art installations, with highlights including a seemingly infinite mirrored cube, and wading knee deep through opaque water amidst animated fish. We left with the feeling that we’d genuinely seen something that we’d be unlikely to ever experience back home (I don’t know exactly what would happen in a room full of giant inflatable balls in the UK, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t involve reverential silence).
After a stroll back to the hotel we headed out for another short demonstration for some local students, who then generously hosted us at a nearby Chinese restaurant.
We’re looking forward to our first visit to Matsumoto tomorrow, but it will be a shame to leave Tokyo behind. It’s impossible to feel like you’ve done anything other than scratch the surface when you visit such a huge and incredible city – let’s hope it’s not too long before we get to come back.