From Hanami Live to Tatami Live

Two years ago we had the most incredible evening which stemmed from a crazy idea that blossomed due to the generosity of all involved.

The Todd Wolfe Band, a blues-rock band fronted by Sheryl Crow’s former lead guitarist was touring Japan in April 2015. The tour manager happened to know Peter Barakan, a well-known English DJ and promoter of foreign music to his Japanese followers. After the success of our Philip Henry and Hannah Martin gig, who’d appeared on his radio show, Peter suggested he contact us about doing something in Ayabe. The band were up for it, but we needed a venue.

We were about to move on from Ayabe Yoshimizu guesthouse, and potential venues we looked at were not working. My husband had the crazy idea of hosting a live gig under the cherry blossom at the onsen (hot spring) park, calling it Hanami Live  – hanami, cherry blossom viewing and live meaning a live gig.

And it would be free….. we’d collect donations and the band could sell CDs, but the concert would be free for the whole community.

Hanami parties are hugely popular in Japan, especially in the milder regions but given that the beginning of April in Ayabe can be chilly at best and in the thick of snow storms at worst it was quite a gamble for both us and the band.

To our amazement, the Todd Wolfe Band agreed. We had a few short weeks to pull it all together. Again, Gekkiken theatre NPO supported the event providing the lighting, a sound engineer was found, publicity printed and volunteers recruited. Ayabe Onsen donated accommodation for the band.

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In the days leading up to the event there was warm spring sunshine but on the day storms lashed and the strong winds made setting up the lighting dangerous. Quick decisions had to be made and within an hour my husband had secured the restaurant in the onsen park as an alternative venue. Online events pages and local radio let people know the gig was still on, but instead of Hanami Live, it had turned into Tatami Live. The band were to use a small Japanese style room as the ‘stage’, tatami is the Japanese straw matting on which shoes are never worn. The band joked that playing a gig in their socks would be a first.

It was an amazing night that came together beautifully. Over 300 people came: from the local Ayabe Kanbayashi community and all over Kyoto There was a Swedish/UK film crew, foreign guests from Yoshimizu, a 4 months old baby and older locals – all together rockin’ the night away. I loved seeing an 80-year-old Baachan dancing (who’d just put her hip flask down) with our dear friend Tracey, a local Canadian potter.

Everyone left on a real high. There was a real sense of a shared experience which had brought different people from all over the world and of all ages. Many of the older people said they’d never been to a gig in their entire lives and were queuing up to shake Todd Wolfe’s hand. The band made more that night in donations and CD sales than other paid gigs on the same tour.

Posts and messages from the Todd Wolfe Band two years on show how memories of this special night live on for all.

Miles to Go

 

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Hanami – cherry blossom viewing


DSC_1013Hanami 
here in Kanbayashi means sitting with your picnic under the cherry blossom and enjoying the scenery and food – with the place to yourself.

My previous experience of hanami in Akita and Aomori was quite different. It involved sitting on a tiny square of blue sheet, eating what I call ‘festival food’ (yakisoba, takoyaki, fried chicken, frankfurters…), drinking beer or sake well into the night, surrounded by many others doing the same. It is noisy, boisterous and lots of fun.

It was a spur of the moment thing when we decided to head down to Kyoto city and join the merriment in Maruyama park, the most well known spot for hanami. It was all that I remembered (except driving meant no sake…), full of university students and workers (and now tourists) all jostling for space under a canopy of sakura.

We had to negotiate space on reserved matting just near the famous illuminated weeping cherry. The students allowed us a small area and we got to observe them and their strange drinking games. (At one point they all stood in a circle and one by one had to shout out ‘camembert cheese’-?! Japanese students still appear far more innocent and naive than those back home).

The atmosphere was lively, the food pretty awful and it was fantastic to experience once more.