We had enjoyed our time in Tokyo, so it was bittersweet to leave the bright lights of Japan’s largest city. The next stop on our journey was Matsumoto in Nagano, right in the heart of the so-called Japanese Alps. Two and half hours North-West of Tokyo, the journey flew past; as with most things in Japan, they seem to have simply improved everything – the trains are quieter, more roomy and run on time, the metro easier to navigate. We had decided to put the rehearsal back and had a little time to explore the town. There was a very different feel here, a more relaxed vibe with people simply going about their daily business at a pace I’d usually refer to as holiday pace. It felt good. We started rehearsing in The Harmony Hall. Hard to play in when empty, but when full of audience it allowed the group to play with a warmth of sound which made for a really beautiful, special performer. This was the first (and hopefully last) time that we performed the Nutcracker without a narrator. The hall were very specific that only seven of us were allowed on stage, so we decided that two shorter intervals would give our chops a fighting chance of getting through the gig. In addition Coxy, totally unfazed and nonchalantly confident, also read a phonetic translation of some of the more important narratives throughout the Nutcracker. By the end of the concert he had them in the palm of his hand, so much so that we had to perform two encores, the very last thing you want to do at the end of a septet gig! The customary signing session followed, at one point being asked to sign someone’s phone. She may live to regret that!

It tuned out that Matsumoto is the home town of Genroh Hara, the very kind man who has been looking after us and putting this tour together. His generosity knew no bounds as he then took us out for dinner at one of his favourite restaurants. And we could all see why. Dish after dish came out of the kitchen, all delicious and washed down with Sake and beer. Turns out Matsumoto can become quite lively on a Wednesday night, and with a free day on the horizon, a couple of night caps were in order.

Matsumoto Castle

Some of the group nearly made breakfast, but most chose to catch up on some sleep during the morning. Plans had been floated the night before, with some visiting the famous Matsumoto castle, others keen on some Onsen action. These days I try to get plenty of running done whilst on tour, and with that in mind I headed to the hills. I had some pretty serious DOMS from overcooking it in the gym a couple of days before, but I managed to cajole my body into action, and once out of town all thoughts of pain disappeared as I was transported into a world of beautiful forests and spectacular mountain scenes. The colours this time of year are incredible and with a backdrop of snow capped mountains it doesn’t really get much better. Three hours later having run only twenty kilometres my legs decided they had run up and down enough hills and I started the long decent back into town. We gradually all met in a wine bar to decide where to go for dinner, some deciding to stay there – somehow managing to crash what we assume was an engagement – others heading to a small, local place which very much felt like we had our own personal chef. Early nights all round, tomorrow we head to Kyoto.

Stunning scenery around Matsumoto