On Monday we took the famous bullet train from Kanagawa to Kyoto and finally got a chance to see some Japanese countryside.
The train certainly lived up to its reputation – extremely comfortable, quick and remarkably on time (to the second!). Quite a refreshing change! Another difference was the choice of snacks on board: forget shortbread and jaffa cakes, most of the Gents bought sushi and 'bento boxes' to eat. Healthy, tick. Culture, tick.
When we arrived in Kyoto we went straight to the Urasenke Centre for a tea-making ceremony. Again, it goes without saying that PG Tips is a world away... it was even more of a treat for us discovering that the public are not normally allowed in the private tea rooms.
The Urasenke 'Grandmaster of Tea' was away in London for the Olympics but we were well looked after by his apprentices. The ritual involved watermelon (palate cleanser) followed by a green tea made from ground tea leaves, whipped up with a brush (a bit like a shaving brush) into a green, almost foamy tea.
Our Choristers aren't exactly known for their tolerance but they actually enjoyed the whole experience! Sadly we can't show any footage of the ceremony as we weren't allowed to take photos or record inside.
After our day off singing, Tuesday meant a full concert in the ALTI Hall in Kyoto. The packed venue appeared to love the whole programme but we gave a rather special performance of Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb; certainly special for us and hopefully to the audience.
The Britten, a setting of Christopher Smart's epic poem Jubilate Agno which Smart conceived during his time in a mental asylum, was recorded by the Choir for our celebrated series of English Choral Music for Naxos in 1999 and the CD of Britten was released about the time that the Choir last toured Japan. It was particularly fitting then that after the show, Mr Nethsingha spoke to a woman who had seen St John's on our last visit 12 years ago under the direction of Dr Christopher Robinson.
The scar which the earthquake and tsunami disaster has left on the nation's consciousness is painfully obvious, and we haven't even travelled to areas badly affected. So we have decided to raise money for the ongoing relief fund, with a target of 1 million yen (just under £10k), at each of our performances. The Choristers hold collection boxes as people leave the concerts which seems to be going down very well.
Indeed the Choristers themselves are the point of some fascination, especially amongst Japanese women. They are of course very talented for how old they are and they are coping extremely well so far from home and their families. Here's a video of them rehearsing the Benedictus from Haydn's Little Organ Mass or Missa Sancti Johannis de Deo in Kanagawa: