Thursday January 15, 1998
With the dawn light came snow flakes. Already the cars were making slushy sounds as they slowly passed the hotel.
Was yesterday real? Had I imagined it all? A vase filled with flowers was in the window. And snow flakes were falling all around sweet peas and arctic poppies.
I decided to skip breakfast so Werner went down alone while I stayed in the room and talked out yesterday to the tape recorder. I knew my hand would give out before I got it all written down.
By 10:00 Shukuya-san had returned the rented clothes and was waiting for us in the lobby. In spite of the heavy snowfall we decided to try to get tickets for a Noh play. Finally we got a taxi that was willing to make the drive and we were off sliding and splashing through the disguised city. The big modern National Noh Theater was in a park-like setting so Tokyo was lost in the whiteness and silence. Quickly Shukuya-san reserved our tickets and hustled us off to a restaurant to wait until it was time for the performance.
We had to go down snow-covered tile stairs to get to the tiny restaurant. Holding on with both hands we took one step at a time. The restaurant was nearly filled (all five tables) with workers, so it had a very rough atmosphere. Tattered kites on the walls were the only decoration.
Shukuya-san seemed uneasy and was worried about what to order for us. Werner looked at what the men were eating and said that was what he wanted. It was the right thing. We got big bowls of white rice, a platter of quick-fried vegetables to share, delicious tea and something we called Chinese dumplings. They were shaped like half-moons which were briefly fried on both sides. In a saucer the waiter mixed sake? vinegar? and soy sauce. The dumplings would have seemed fat, except the salty sour sauce matched their flavors perfectly. For someone who was still too excited to eat breakfast, I could not believe how good this food tasted and felt to me.
With yesterday behind us, even Shukuya-san seemed ready to relax and enjoy himself. We chatted about doing linked tanka and I hoped we would get one started between us, but the time ran away and we had to hurry back to the theater. As we were shaking the snow off our coats we met Yamamoto-san who had last night just gotten back from a business trip to India. Yet here he was to accompany us to the theater. We were given the two best seats (down in the front row at the corner) and the guys disappeared into other seats.
Suddenly Yamamoto-san was at our side giving us a book in English and Japanese -- Keys to the Japanese Heart and Soul. It seemed the perfect title to come from him. Since receiving the book, I have had so much pleasure reading it and getting answers to so many of my questions.
Music began off-stage.
planting on the theater wall
The first play was "Kamo" about the origins of the famous Kamo Shrine. Three priests see an altar with a white arrow on it (symbolized in typical abstract Japanese style with a small frame wrapped in white bands with an arrow fixed in the center of it) and ask two women about the history of this strange object on the altar. They tell how the arrow was found floating on the river and a woman took it home with her. Later she has a child. Through her songs and dances the one woman reveals that she was that woman and is the mother of the god of the shrine and she tells how us now she became his mother. Ahem.
All of the female parts are acted by men. When presenting themselves as women or gods, the men wear masks which are too small to cover their faces so their masculine chins and throats are easily visible, thus, the viewer is always vaguely aware that this beautifully robed "woman" is really a male. This becomes very erotic even if the drama material is quite subtle and the actions even more so.
I loved the slow parts where the whole action on the stage consists of the main actor moving one white-sock covered foot three inches. I loved the musicians. One played a bamboo transverse flute, the other an hourglass-shaped drum held at the shoulder, another played a larger hourglass drum placed on his lap and struck with wooden or ceramic shields on the fingers. This drummer chanted and performed abstract voice music. At the end of the play they added a taiko drum, played with two sticks. To the side were eight singers who sang the narrative parts much like the chorus in Greek plays.
Werner felt he could see the choreography better from the back of the theater, so I sat up there with him to see "Juki, the Clumsy Acolyte". This was a kyogen -- a light comedy to serve as intermission. Kyogen emphasizes dialogue and the young boy player was so emphatic that I felt I could almost understand what he was saying. The gist of the story is that once he bumped into his master and the man reprimands him by telling him he should, as a good acolyte, always stay seven feet away. So when the master needs his head shaved the boy gets a long pole and ties the razor to the end. In a moment of distraction, the razor slips and chops off the end of the priest's nose.
I was happy to go back down to my 'good' seat where I was under the feet of the actors. The second Noh play was titled " Ebira" (the quiver). I thought this was delicate planning to have both stories combine an arrow and a quiver. Again we have priests traveling and they see a plum tree blooming (which only increased my admiration for plum trees) and mythical figures to tell them of the battle in which a brave man plucked a plum branch and put it in his quiver before going into battle. This was definitely a man's play and it leaned heavily on the dialogue which not only I could not understand. Later I found out that the Noh plays are spoken in an ancient language that even the modern Japanese do not understand. Now I understand why so many of the persons around me nodded off. The beating of drums and the droning of the language was so hypnotic that I took pleasure in letting it carry me off to sleep, also.
When the music changed and resumed for the dance I woke up refreshed but I never really got into the play itself. This gave me a chance to observe the singers and instrumentalists and admire the gorgeous costumes.
As we came out of the play we found Yakamoto-san and Shukuya-san had been joined by Nakajima-san. While we waited on two taxis to come out of the snow storm, I found a table in the theater foyer with huge rubber stamps on it. The stamps had automatic dating devices on them so each person could stamp their program with the date they had attended the theater. I had so much fun with these gigantic brass-bound wooden handled stamps that I sneaked back and stamped blank pages in my notebook.
According to our schedule we were off to visit David Bull, a Canadian woodcarver, in his gallery. It became a bit unclear exactly where this was, so we were dropped off in front of one of Tokyo's big department stores. While Shukuya-san went from person to person questioning where this gallery was, I wandered off to look at all the amazing goods. Suddenly Nakajima-san was tugging at my coat trying to get me to catch up with the others who had hurried on ahead. When I said, "Shopping!" to him, he just broke up laughing.
Around the corner and up an elevator and we were in the very up-scale gallery hung with the unbelievable woodcuts this man had made. For nine years he has dedicated himself to making the many blocks for each of the drawings (done 200 years ago by another artist). Each year he makes ten complete prints. One more year and he will have the whole 100 of the Hyaku-Nin-Isshu done. Behind his workspace, on a pedestal, was a huge Daruma with one eye painted in, waiting on David Bull to finish the series so he could received his right eye and go back to the temple.
As demonstration, David sat down and printed the 11 blocks of colors and textures in his New Year's card. My eyes were out on stems trying to comprehend all his tricks and techniques. Because I was drooling so, and shamelessly begging, he gave me one of the cards he had just printed. I can hardly wait until I have time to try his techniques for registering prints -- so much more accurate than the way rubber stampers try to eyeball the registration. Hmmm. Soon.
It was planned that we would have dinner in a near-by French restaurant (so we would have a change from the Japanese meals although last night's party buffet was certainly international). When we finally got to the restaurant, after slipping and sliding and me having to use Nakajima-san's fine umbrella as cane to avoid falling down in foot-deep slush, we found the place had closed to send its workers home before the snow storm got even worse.
Today was to be a special day in Japan -- Coming of Age Day - when everyone who becomes 20 years old in this year gets all dressed up, often in expensive kimono, and is taken out to dinner for special foods - prawns - to insure a long life. The snow storm basically wiped out all the festivities. We finally found one restaurant open but it was hot and crowded and noisy.
But the company became much more interesting. Soon we were joined by Ito-san, wearing a very jaunty new cap. Then came two women we had met the night before: one was the daughter of the owner of the apartment building, who had published a book of her haiku and gave me a lovely slip-covered copy of it. The other woman was the daughter's friend from New York, a fresh and brash Victoria Herself.
Nakajima-san explained to them how the next day the Majesties were going to sponsor a duck hunt at a near-by summer residence and the two women got themselves invited to go along. We had planned tomorrow to move to a hotel in Kamakura, so we had to be excused (but I would have rather gone to the duck hunting). Nakajima-san did tell me that tomorrow he would take the opportunity to hand our books to the Imperial Family. Maybe that was when I found I could not take another bite of food.
Back out in the snow everyone thought it would take a lot longer to get to the hotel by taxi but I did not care if it took all night as long as I was softly encased in those lace-covered seats. Actually, we got through the streets very quickly because the traffic had literally come to a stand-still and only those vehicles which had chains on were moving. Tokyo is not used to big storms of snow like this and the city was paralyzed.
Proceed to Friday
January 16 , 1998.