When my friend Lizzy first told me she would be have a small koto recital I was all aboard. I whipped out my calendar, and saved the date February 22 using a pen! There was nothing that could possibly come up that would make me miss it because I’m a firm believer that when you promise someone you’ll be there don’t cancel, not to mention she’s my bestie and I of course wanted to be there to support her.
The koto is a traditional Japanese instrument and Lizzy has been learning to play it for about 5 months now. Her teacher is incredibly talented and one of the sweetest people I have had the pleasure of meeting in Japan. I’m so proud that despite her already busy schedule, Lizzy was able to make time for her Japanese dream before we both leave this summer.
The funny thing is that when she mentioned a small music recital it brought back my own memories of piano recitals that were stuffy, more than a little boring, and filled only with the families or friends of the performers. I always enjoy Japanese music though, so I figured, what the hey. The actual recital was totally different than anything I had imagined. To begin with it was out in the middle of nowhere. I drove a car full of friends for an hour to get to Ikeda, a tiny little town in Fukui Prefecture that I didn’t even know existed. The next interesting fact, was that the concert was to be held in a giant house.All in all, this “recital” felt more like a group of good friends all jammin’ out together and everyone getting their own moment in the spotlight. We chatted, most people drank, and everyone tucked into the food. The most interesting food by far was the inoshishi nabe, or in English, wild boar hot pot stew. I was pretty excited. I always love the opportunity to try rare specialties of a region and it was my first time to eat inoshishi. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I will ever consume inoshishi again. I enjoyed the first bowl, or at least the first half of my bowl. Ultimately though, and unfortunately for me, the gamey flavor and extra chewiness of the inoshishi was a turn off. To make matters worse that smell permeated the whole house, and was inescapable. After a while you stopped noticing it. But when I got home (at 2am I might add!) rather than crawl exhausted into bed I instead couldn’t strip myself of my stinky clothes, throw them into the laundry and dash into a shower quick enough! You know I don’t like a smell when I’m willing to do laundry at 2 am. I woke up the next morning, and then proceeded to strip the sheets off my bed because they too now stank of inoshishi.
Luckily for me, it was a potluck style event and I was able to nibble on some other goodies throughout the night. I was peckish but I definitely didn’t starve. I happily allowed the music make me forget my hunger, because trust me, the music is what you come for! It was all Fukui locals performing, and they were great! There something for everyone with a huge variety of styles. I particularly enjoyed the group The Grasshoppers Plays which was lively and very instrumental with a tuba, oboe, guitar, vocals and several other instruments I don’t know the names of. The lead guitarist jumped around the stage just like a grasshopper while he played, and the energy with which they played their songs had me smiling and clapping along very quickly. I particularly loved their rendition of a song from the movie Howl’s Moving Castle, which is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli movies. Another thing I never expected was a Japanese country group to perform! Much to many of my friends shock and amazement I love country music. It must come from living in Calgary for most of my life, affectionately nicknamed “Cow Town.” In case you don’t know, Calgary is home to one of the world’s largest rodeos every summer. This group of older Japanese men definitely channeled some country spirit, one dressed in jeans and red flannel, a second in a Canadian tuxedo with a large shinny silver belt buckle, and the best of all was the guy wearing red flannel and jean overalls! It totally made my night! Good times, good times! We had a short intermission and when the show started up again it was a cute family style reggae group. The mom was the singer, her children sat right next to her and played small drums themselves, and other family members played the guitar and drums. The songs were pretty adorable, about cooking with tomatoes and other cute themes. Even cuter though, was her little boy playing the drums. I couldn’t take my eyes of him he was so adorable! Finally it was the moment my friends and I had been waiting all night for! Lizzy and her koto group were the final act. She and her teacher played 5 songs together, with her teacher singing the words in Japanese. She sounded amazing! I was so happy I had come to support her. During the final song was one of my favourite memories of the night. Another boy Cian and I had decided to surprise Lizzy with flowers after the concert, so I had smuggled a small bouquet into the event (I don’t think, Lizzy ever saw the flowers, I was a real ninja). As Lizzy was playing her last song, and her teacher singing beautiful lyrics which were all about flowers on a mountain, Cian leans over and whispers “Jessie, where are the flowers?” For a second, I was a little confused why he had asked me at that second to translate the song, but replied anyways as I know how frustrating it can be to not understand what’s going on when it’s all in a foreign language. “They’re on the mountain,” I whispered back. The look he gave me was priceless. He had meant our bouquet for Lizzy, but had asked me specifically at the perfect point for me to misinterpret him and think he meant the song lyrics. We both burst out laughing when we realized what was going on.
After Lizzy finished her songs, her teacher performed once more with another student. The last performance of the night was Lizzy’s teacher herself. She is one of the most celebrated koto players in Japan, and has actually been flown to Europe this week to play a concert. It was so beautiful, the intricate music pulled at my heart, and not a single person spoke. After the concert was over there was a lot of photo taking. Everyone wanted a photo with these lovely ladies. Once things quieted down slightly Cian and I found a moment to spoil our golden star. I think she really liked her flowers!Then it was time to get the party started. So that Lizzy could fully savor her evening in the spotlight I had generously volunteered to be the designated driver which meant no alcohol for me. I enjoyed myself regardless! Who could fail to be entertained when you are friends with lovable goofballs like these! My “I’m sober and completely ok with that” face.
Soon with much prompting the ALTs got involved with the after concert jammin session. We sang a couple songs “Country Roads”, which is always super popular with Japanese people, and then 2 songs by The Beatles, “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be.” This was a great decision as we had almost everyone singing along with us pretty soon, and endeared all of us to the locals. Shortly after midnight, this little Cinderella fled home to go to bed. Luckily for me, Cian and I both wanted to be home by about 1am; he for a rugby game, me because I’m a granny at heart.
I’m really glad I was able to go. It was something radically different than what I had expected, in the best way possible. I felt truly at ease at the Ikeda Music Concert, everyone was so kind, and even with my limited Japanese I enjoyed talking with many people. I only wish I knew more small, local events like these that I could go to. It would be wonderful!