22nd July 2019: Tokyo Shinagawa → Higashimaya Kyoto {Japan, summer 2019}

My Shinawaga hotel was very close to Sengakuji [泉岳寺], the temple that honours the forty-seven ronin so I paid them a visit before I moved on.

The reason why I was in Shinagawa was being close to the station as I was heading off to Kyoto. I took a shinkansen around 9 am and was in Kyoto just before 11, maybe. From Kyoto station I walked to Nishi-Hongwan-ji [西本願寺], which was about 10 /15 minutes away. It had been on my list since I went to Higashi-Hongwan-ji last year, but I had to go get some rest afterwards because I had a migraine.

As I was heading back towards the station I came across a building that really grabbed my attention. A little research yielded to finding out that it is a temple: Dendou-In [伝道院], which apparently belongs to Nishi-Hongwan-ji and is a research building. It was designed by a famous architect called Tadata Ito in 1912 in a style called “Evangelical”, and built shortly after. It’s not open to the public though, but it sure as hell is interesting.

After that I took the underground to my hotel. It was raining like crazy when I got there, and to make things more difficult, my bloody credit card decided to stop working. This made me slightly late to my 13:00 appointment at Studio Esperanto Oiran Taiken [studio-esperanto 花魁體驗]. Things were a little different this time. First of all, because I was just in time for appointment, I was directly ushered to the make-up room. Fortunately I had quite a clear idea of what I wanted, so it sort of worked in the end. The make-up artist was nice but she was a bit intimidated, and the photographer was difficult to communicate with, which hampered the experience a little. In the end, however, I got really cool pictures out of the experience, so I am not going to complain.

By the time I got out, there was a deluge outside. I was in the hotel, which was close to the photography studio, for a little, and after checking the maps that they had given me at reception, I realised that I was much closer to the Gion area than I – and Google Maps – had actually thought. There was one big park / shrine complex I could walk. At least part of it is called Maruyama Koen [円山公園] and it has a cool pond. I walked from the north entrance to the western exit, which belongs to Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社], the Yasaka Jinja Minami-romon [八坂神社 南楼門], the Tower Gate. I passed Gyokkō Inari Yashiro [玉光稲荷社] on the way.

I walked off to Gion, [祇園] which was almost empty due to the storm. Whenever I get to Gion in the evening, I always check whether there is a long queue at Gion Corner, which is a theatre that performs “traditional arts”:

  • Tea Ceremony [茶道]
  • Flower Arrangement / Ikebana [華道]
  • Koto [箏]
  • Gagaku [雅楽] Court Music and dance
  • Kyogen Theatre [狂言] (comic play)
  • Kyo-mai [京舞] (maiko dance)
  • Bunraku [文楽] Puppet Theatre (puppet theatre)

I was lucky this time, as the rain had scared most tourists away, so I could come in. It was a fun thing to do once, especially with “foreigner discount” it becoming half-price, but the audience kept talking and moving around the floor to take pictures and videos. Thai and Chinese people are loud (and a few of them rather disrespectful)! But all in all, I’m happy I got it out of my system, particularly the Kyo-mai dance.

After that, as it was not raining any more, I strolled down an almost-empty Gion.

Then I walked off towards an area that I had never been able to find before – Gion Shirakawa [祇園白川] and Tatsumi Bashi [祇園 巽橋]. Fortunately this time I had checked for the Tatsumi Bridge location fist, so it was not even that hard! I just had to know where to look for it! (≧▽≦).

I decided to take the way back through the park, so I could see all of Yasaka Jinja [八坂神社] lit up, which was very pretty.

As the hotel was also next to Heian Jingu [平安神宮], but as it was not lit up, I did not walk in.

Then I bought some conbini food and I went to the hotel to have dinner and a bath – the hotel had a hot spring public bath (and it was empty! Just for me!). I was lucky enough to get one of the traditional rooms, and the sand-puffs-like thingies were super-comfortable… until I had to stand up. It was so comfy I could barely stand up! And then I went off to sleep like at 10pm cause I was beat (∪。∪)。。。zzz.

Walked distance: 18517 steps / 13.2 km

3rd November 2018: Samurai Spirit in Madrid (Spain)

The event took place in the theatre Teatro Fernando de Rojas in the Círculo de Bellas Artes, in Madrid. A friend sent me the info for it a few weeks before, and I bought my tickets immediately.

Kamui x Mika Kobayashi: Utakatana Sekai – Samurai Spirit is a joint project between the musician and singer Mika Kobayashi and the Samurai artis group Kamui, a troupe lead by the sword expert and fight choreographer Tetsuro Shimaguchi. Through acting and music, the show represented a story about the old samurai ways giving way to a new world.

Pretty cool, if you ask me. Next time, though, I’d need a better seat, as my angle made me see all the stunts… stunty (≧▽≦). Then again, I managed to get pictures with the crew, and Mika Kobayashi’s autograph on her CDs…

28th October 2018: HA·YA·TO: Drum Masters (Madrid, Spain)

Out of all the taiko [太鼓] (Japanese drums) shows I have attended, this was without a doubt the one I enjoyed the most. HA·YA·TO: Drum Masters. First of all, the core of HA·YA·TO is comprised by the three Kanazashi brothers – Keita, Ryota and Yuta – along with a number of renown musicians: Koji Hada, Takayuki Hashiguchi, Makoto Sekine and Syunchiro Kamija, aside from two special guests: Chieko Kojima (dancer and first female wadaiko master in Japan) and Masato Shibata (shamisenworld champion).

Hayato Premium Ticket I found by chance

Theatre window with the Hayato Drum Masters poster

I was lucky enough to get a premium seat as I attended a matinee show in the theatre Teatros del Canal in Madrid. The show represents the four seasons of the year, and each part has its own rhythm and characteristics, along with energy and colour. At one point there were seven drummers and sixteen drums being played on stage at the same time.

Hayato Drum Masters Poster

Hayato Drum Masters essemble greeting at the stage

After the show, you could take pictures with the artists, and I was lucky I could do so with everybody! Also, I got myself the DVD…

30th June 2018: Spanish breakfast, Japanese entertainment (Madrid, Spain)

30th June 2018: Spanish breakfast, Japanese entertainment (Madrid, Spain)

My friend C***** came over to Madrid for one of those crazy crazy things that we do – a crazy Saturday. She took a bus overnight and I went to meet her up for breakfast. The day started with a good omen, because I caught a rainbow around 7:30.

To celebrate that we had met up for the first time in a long while, we went to the most famous chocolaterie in Madrid, Chocolatería San Ginés for chocolate and churros. As her bus arrived in the early morning, I think we were there around 8:30 as I took the first train available.

After breakfast, we head over to the area of the theatre, Teatros del Canal, for the main event at noon – a piece of Kabuki [歌舞伎], a piece of classical Japanese dance. In this case we were going to see an adaptation of Fuji Musume and Renjishi. First, we checked out the little market of Japanese craftsmanship and decided that we wanted everything, because of course we did.

Then we walked into the theatre. The company Heisei Nakamuraza was bringing two key pieces in the history of kabuki. The first was Fuji Musume [藤娘] “The Wisteria Lady”. It is a representation of unrequited love, dancing under the wisteria tree that represents femininity, and the pine that represents masculinity. During the dance there are several kimono dances and it is visually stunning. The second piece, Renjishi [検索結果], “The Two Lions”, is a very spectacular dance, in many ways mirrored between two dancers. The first part represents a parent lion-dog and its cub, then there is a small comical interlude and finally the lion dogs come out again in celebration. No pictures allowed of the performance, but have some of the theatre:

The show was over much too quickly, sadly. We went out of the theatre and raided the matsuri / market.

Then we walked a few minutes to the Japanese restaurant Hayama, where we had some sushi, gyoza, takoyaki, curry and ramen to share.

As C***** had an early-evening train to get back (I did mention that this was a crazy escapade specially for her), I tagged along to the station and I saw her off. Awesome way to spend a Saturday, though I wish we could have hung out for longer!

9th & 10th June 2018: Wicked London (England, Great Britain)

This will be the last work-trip, at least for a while. I might change my mind later, but for now I’m done with them (although there’s an upcoming family trip rather soon…). Again, we flew in early Saturday morning, and we went to walk around the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

Then we went to the British Museum. I left them for a couple of hours there and I went to visit some of the lesser-seen galleries.

We had booked tickets for the musical “Wicked” in the Apollo Victoria Theatre at 14:30, so we headed over there. Wicked is a parallel story to “The Wizard of Oz”, focusing on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, who becomes a social outcast due to her tendency to speak her mind and the strength of her magic. I had really wanted to watch this for a long time, so I used this chance and convinced the group to get there. I absolutely loved it ♥.

After the show, we dropped our things at the hotel. The group wanted to get some rest, so we stayed there for a while, then got out again. We took the underground towards London central and we were in Trafalgar Square for a while.

Then, we went to Chinatown for dinner.

Later, we walked around Piccadilly Circus, checking out some shops and so. We even stopped for cake.

On Sunday morning we went to Saint James’s Park, where we got to meet the local fauna, especially a very adventurous squirrel.

Then we dropped by Buckingham Palace. Although we did not watch the Guard Change, we did see one of the relief marches.

We walked from there to Westminster, saw the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, along the outside of Westminster Abby.

We visited the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst and stayed for a while in the Victoria Tower Gardens.

As a final visit, we went to the Natural History Museum.

Finally, we headed off to the airport, and the icing of the cake was that we got caught in a controllers’ strike, so we had like a three-hour delay on our flight and it took forever to get home (;¬_¬). All in all, this was a very… strange trip, and without a doubt the highlight was going to see Wicked, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time, and gave me a couple of hours of enjoyment to myself.

11th March 2017: “TAO: The Samurai of the Drum” show in Guadalajara (Spain)

More than a trip, this one is focused on an event I attended. There was a Drum Tao performance in Guadalajara, to which I was invited. The fun part the person who had invited me used to work at the theatre. As he still had “contacts”, I was allowed to peek a little into the backstage, so I could take a few special pictures.

There is not much of a description that you can write of a percussion performance, to be honest. TAO focuses on drumming, the Japanese taiko style, with bigger and smaller drums, but they also play traditional flutes, koto and samishen (traditional harp and three-string guitar). The show also displays a few acrobatics. It was pretty fun. In the end you could take pictures and get autographs from some of the staff members.

Aaand I own up that I did a little bit of trolling by speaking Japanese to random staff in the merchandise area…

Collage: the big drum, the back curtain reading Tao, and a CD with the booklet autographied

22nd May 2016: Kabuki at the CBA (Madrid, Spain)

I made a short escapade to the theatre Teatro Fernando de Rojas in the Círculo de Bellas Artes, in Madrid. It was my first time watching kabuki [歌舞伎], a type of Japanese theatre. The play was called Tsumoru koi yuki no seki no to [積戀雪関扉], something akin to “The Snowbound Barrier” and translated into Spanish as “En los límites de Osaka, bajo la nieve del amor” (In the Outskirts of Osaka, under the love snow). It is a dance-drama kabuki written in the 9th century, and deals with the spirit of a black cherry tree turning into a courtesan to extract revenge. Before the play, there was a small conference to explain some details about kabuki and that was really interesting.

Afterwards I just had to run for the trains so… no much time to hang around.

16th August 2014: Pretty people everywhere {Japan, summer 2014}

When a single is released in Japan, shops make a bit of a stand where it is prominently displayed. In the case of Tower Records in Ikebukuro [池袋], a staff-san had gone a small step further, and built a small shrine to L’Arc~en~Ciel. She was very confused as whether we knew who they were, and surprised we knew. We also saw Acid Black Cherry single stand, and as we were leaving we kinda walked into the Eito Rangers.

Promotions for CDs at Tower Records: L'arc en ciel, Acid black cherry and Kanjani 8

After browsing Book Off and K-Books, we had an appointment at Swallowtail, which was great, as always. They have opened a souvenir shop, which was great because I finally managed to own one of their napkins, legally. Now I won’t feel like stealing one whenever I’m there.

Entrance to the Swallowtails cafe, with a fence that has butterfly decorations

After a short Mandarake visit, we headed off towards the Meijiza [明治座], the Meiji Theatre, in the Chūō [中央] area to watch GACKT’s second Moon Saga instalment.

This time round, GACKT had tried to be more discrete, in a way it gave me the impression that he wanted to leave the “idol” idea behind, and he wanted to be taken more as a serious actor. The play takes off a few years after the previous one, and tells the story of how (spoilers) Yoshitsune tried to gain, or re-gain, his brother’s favour and downfall again. Yoshitsune struggles with his inner “evil” self, some kind of mononoke. While he struggles with the idea of whether he should kill himself or not. In the end, Yoshitsune loses control and the play closes with a threat of “hell beginning at that point”. Very… dramatic. It’s a pity that we will never see how it ends though (you might remember there was supposed to be a manga…). I bought myself the novel and I hope that one day I know enough Japanese to read it

Flowers, Moon Saga logo, and lide-sized cut-out of Gackt dressed as Yoshitsune

27th September 2013: Bunraku at Teatro Español (Madrid, Spain)

Oh, Gods, this was an odyssey. Seriously, can’t we just figure out print-at-home tickets? When the announcement for the event came up, I got tickets. I actually called my parents to ask them if they wanted to tag along, and they said yes, so I bought three tickets. There were only two performances, and the tickets were selling out fast.

Let me start at the beginning – the announcement involved the Sugimoto Bunraku 2013 European Tour. Bunraku [文楽] is a type of Japanese theatre that uses puppets to perform about serious topics, mostly classic dramas (as far as I know). The puppets are dressed in amazing costumes and manoeuvred by artists dressed in black as if to become invisible. Sugimoto’s company is collaborating with The Japan Foundation to show this art to the world, in this case holding a European tour with the play.

Anyway, back to track: I bought the tickets, and the next step was actually getting them. I had to go to a cashpoint to get them printed (because, again, print at home? It seems to be for lesser beings), which was not easy as I was living in a small town at that point. On top of that, I got the wrong bank cashpoint at first (≧▽≦). Sometimes excitement gets the best of me, but in my defence a) I did not even know the actual bank existed and b) the mistaken bank had a similar name. And on top of that… in the end my parents decided not to come at all! In the end I gave the tickets to my cousin and her kid, who were curious about the whole thing.

We met up in Madrid, in front of the theatre Teatro Español, where the event took place, and it was interesting to see how the whole thing was sold out. The work that was performed is called Sonezaki Shinjū, which translates to The Suicidal Lovers of Sonezaki, or the Love Suicides of Sonezaki, written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon in the early 1700s. It tells the love story of a poor merchant and a courtesan. When the merchant is set to marry off another woman, tragedy ensues until the two of them decide to die together in the forests of Sonezaki Shrine. I’ve actually got myself the book (well, my cousin insisted on getting it for me as thanks for the tickets) to read, as there were no subtitles on the play, just a summary brochure.

Even though I’m no fan of the whole romantic drama thing, I have to admit that the music and the puppets made the whole thing eerily captivating. Aside from the puppeteers, the key figure in the play were the musicians and the narrator, which explained (in Japanese) and narrated the play. The way the puppets are dressed, the shamisen and koto music, and the way you see the puppeteers and yet not see them is super cool. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed that I can show you.

Afterwards, we met up with my cousin’s husband (I did try to get a ticket for him, but it was too late already) and we… had McDonald’s, because that’s what we do when he hang out.

16th July 2012: Umi no Hi! {Japan, summer 2012}

Monday 16th was the third Monday of June, and thus Umi no Hi [海の日], The Day of the Ocean, and it started great – the sky was super clear. That means we were able to see Mount Fuji, Fuji-san [富士山]! I had not seen him since I was here, not even on my way to Osaka because it was cloudy. It is difficult to see Fuji in Summer, so I was really happy to catch him.

The summit of Mount Fuji peering up through the clouds at the end of a downhill street under construction

The morning, however, was to be spent in Yokohama [横浜]. The first stop was Chinatown, where I got to meet an old ‘friend’ of mine, whom I had been craving to see for a long time, in one of the temples. But that is its own story. (Basically: I got to see a dragon sculpture I loved).

The entrance to Chinatown - an ellaborate gate with Chinese characters, decorated in bright colours - red, blue, gold, green...

In Chinatown we visited Kwan Tai Temple [関帝廟]

An ellaborate temple with guarding dragons on top, over a flight of stairs. The colours are very bright, but the stairs are white.

And Kanteibyō / Kuan Ti Miao Temple [関帝廟 / 中華会館].

An ellaborate temple entrance, with lots of peaks and lanterns behind it

We had lunch in one of the many Chinese restaurants in the area.

Chinese food - rice, dumplings, soup, pickles

Afterwards we moved to the Port of Yokohama to see waves!! the famous skyline and the Yokohama Bay Bridge, along with lots of pretty ships which were open to visit in celebration of Umi no Hi.

Stairs that disappear into the ocean

Yokohama skyline

By 5pm, however, we were back in Tokyo because we had tickets to the theatre, more particularly GACKT’s Butai “MOON SAGA ~Yoshitsune Hiden~” at the Akasaka ACT Theater.

Being guionised by CLAMP, I expected a high body count [Spoilers from here] but I was surprised. The play is prepared as part of the whole Moon Saga project, so it does not focus in GACKT, who has surprisingly little stage time playing Yoshitsune. The play has all the elements of a CLAMP story – tragic love, honour debt, child with preternatural power, a few deaths, a character who randomly changes sides but in his heart he still belongs to the original side, main character forced to kill a friend, lots of angst… The butai tells the story of a group of fighters as they embark themselves in a war against the evil mononoke who are destroying Japan. Yoshitsune’s character himself is a half-oni or has an oni inside him, something along.

As I said, GACKT did not have much screen time, and to be completely honest, his spotlight was completely stolen by Saotome Taichi, a barely legal actor who plays Kage (Shadow), one of the good mononoke and who has a beautiful CLAMPian on-stage death.

Yoshinaga, one of the original companions, loses the love of his life, changes sides and tries to kill Yoshitsune, awakening the demon in him. GACKT flies through the stage during the fight and in the end Demon-Yoshitsune kills his old friend. The curtains fall soon after GACKT desperately cries over Yoshinaga’s body. Very sad. Very CLAMP.

The actors come back onstage, they are ovationed. The curtains fall again, the lights remain off. The curtains are drawn, and we are back to the beginning, the companions are alive and well, has it all been a dream? A foreshadow? Is this the companions’ destiny? But no, they are not companions… they are family…

Moon Saga board, showing singer and actor Gackt staring upwards, his eyes are red

[End Spoilers] It seems that when GACKT talks of the Moon Saga project, it means that you need to know all the pieces of the puzzle to understand the story. Each of the pieces seems to be part of a great jigsaw that will come together to form something absolutely amazing.

Well played, GACKT, well played. Now shut up and take my money, because this is going to be EPIC.

After the play, we had some curry at CocoCurry House.

A pork cutlet, breaded, with curry sauce and rice around it