Friday, 24th November marks a week since we left London for Japan. In preparation for a fairly long day we took it relatively easy Thursday night, each of us choosing to rest & recuperate ahead of the final stretch of this Japan tour. Despite my best attempts to rejuvenate myself on our day off by going to an ‘onsen’ – a traditional hot-spring-sourced Japanese spa – I awoke early & less refreshed than I might have hoped. The cumulative fatigue of a tour like this is impossible to avoid, and it can be very easy to slip into a trough of low mood. Luckily the prospect of a ride on a Shinkansen (bullet train) was exciting enough to keep my spirits buoyed. I’m not sure if the same could be said for the others: a minor administrative error meant that our tour schedule listed the journey time for the first leg of the journey from Matsumoto to Kyoto (via Nagoya) as ‘9 minutes’. When it transpired that Nagoya was 90+ miles away we became painfully aware that no train on Earth – even the famously swift Shinkansen – would be able to actualise the 9 minute journey which was scheduled. No, it was more along the lines of ‘2 hours & 9 minutes’, plus another 35 minutes or so from Nagoya to Kyoto. Safe to say moral could have been higher.

On arrival in Kyoto we noticed a significant increase in crowds, compared to the relatively relaxed atmosphere in Matsumoto. It seemed to me that everyone had decided to bring their entire extended families to see Kyoto’s famous sights in the beautiful autumnal colours in the wake of the 23rd November national holiday, ‘Labor Thanksgiving day’ (勤労感謝の日) – which by sheer coincidence happened to take place on the same day as American Thanksgiving this year. I had hoped to see the Kinkaku-ji (the famous ‘golden pavilion’) but the bustling crowds, gridlock traffic and advancing hour meant we only had enough time to check in at the hotel, grab some lunch & head up to the beautiful Kyoto Concert Hall to briefly soundcheck & perform. I hope to get another chance to visit this beautiful city & properly see the sights!

The concert in Kyoto was the highlight of the tour for me. I’ve noticed over the years that each of us can have completely different experiences in halls whose acoustics favour certain frequencies or timbres over others. The acoustic in this particular hall seemed to suit the bass trombone – on this occasion at least – making my job feel relatively easy. This was the 3rd and final outing of the ‘full Baracca’ version of our Christmas programme over here, and it felt like everyone in the group felt free to take a few well-calculated risks musically, elevating the performance (to my ears at least) . In these concerts I have frequent ‘pinch-myself’ moments – where I realise what a privilege it is to share the stage with some of the world’s finest musicians – and this performance was chalk full of them. A particular highlight from these concerts are the encores: Pete Moore’s rendition of Stille Nacht is gorgeous, and the energy from a higher octane repeat performance of Trepak from the Nutcracker is practically electric.

After the concert we were shepherded to another autograph session in the foyer – an experience which I still find to be quite surreal & a charming reflection of the respectful nature of Japanese culture. As has been the case at all of our concerts we sat at a long table, scribbled our signatures on programmes, CDs, sheet music, instrument cases and even mobile phones. As we briefly greet each of the assembled audience members individually, we are occasionally given thoughtful gifts. Many thanks to Yura, a local tuba player who donated the group a very posh bottle of Japanese whisky – a gift which I am particularly fond of. Autographing completed we were whisked away to a nearby restaurant where we were
treated to another traditional Japanese meal by an assembled group of brass players from Kyoto & Osaka, most of whom we met on our previous visit here in 2019. Their generosity knows no bounds & we can only thank them for the beautiful meal, which was ordered expertly to showcase some of the countries finest delicacies.

Reuniting with some old friends (photos 4 years apart)

Saturday, 25th November: the final 24 hours in Japan was upon us. An early start and another beast of a day, but with the end in sight our spirits were surprisingly high. Today’s gig in Mito is another repeat engagement from 2019. This time it appears that we are half-time entertainment for the audience of a high school marching band & drum line contest. These bands are well-drilled & their choreography & powerful sounds are very exciting to behold. We performed a slightly abridged version of the Christmas programme, which must have seemed rather gentle in comparison to the rest of the afternoon’s entertainment. The operation itself was carried out with surgical precision; we arrived in Mito while the contest was already under way & we were shepherded out a mere 15 minutes after the Final Waltz of the Nutcracker finished. A miscommunication at the train station meant James accidentally ordered 5 of us Wagyu beef burgers, which turned out to be a delicious & much appreciated error.

Another two trains & we were checked into the final hotel near Tokyo Haneda airport. We shared Yura’s whisky gift amongst those of us who partake in that sort of thing, and also with our Japanese agents Genroh & Yushi who had so dutifully guided us to each of our engagements. I suspect they’ll be just as knackered as all of us after such an epic undertaking! Our sincerest thanks to Proarte Musicae for having us! どうもありがとうございます

Thankyou Genroh and Yushi!