Japan tour day 1!

Day 1 of the CLS japan tour is actually a bit of misnomer. The “day” cruelly started at 5am on Tuesday morning (UK time) when alarms went off and the orchestra began its journey by collecting at Heathrow Terminal 5 for check-in. It’s now gone 10pm on , half round the world. I’ve had more British Airways g&ts in that time than I’ve had hours sleep.

No thoughts of moaning about our lot: the general feeling at Heathrow in the Orchestra was one of excitement and anticipation as three years of planning came to fruition for CLS’s first ever tour to Japan.

An incredibly stress free flight to Japan (many thanks to the ever fantastic BA cabin crew who were their usual helpful, patient and generous-with-the-gin-miniatures selves) which arrived on time, and importantly with Ben Russel’s double bass intact, saw us arrive to be greeted by our wonderful friends at Min On, our hosts for this tour.

For a number of our group, it was either the first time in Japan, or the first time in decades, soit was great to spend much of our first day on a coach and boat tour of Tokyo, organised by the excellent Teruko Iwanaga, one of our directors.

Bringing CLS is the fulfilment of a long held ambition for Teruko, and it was a great pleasure for her to show us all her City, even to an orchestra of half-asleep people who had survived a long haul flight on next to no sleep, gin (are you sensing a theme here?) and adrenaline.

The work definitely begins tomorrow: full rehearsal, a sold-out concert at one of Tokyo’s premier concert halls, with the British Ambassador and Princess Takamado (Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado to be exact) in the audience, and a post concert reception with all the formalities. Then a further concert in Tokyo (Hachioji), then Osaka, then Nagoya, then back to Tokyo for Meet the Music projects and forums at the British Council, then Yokohama… but today was a chance to get to know Tokyo, rest, relax and EAT.

Despite lack of sleep and time difference body clock confusion, there was no way that a bit of tiredness was going to get in the way of many of us indulging in a food culture which is undoubtedly one of the best in the world.

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For or those readers who know Japan, the intense pleasure of meals remembered is no doubt flooding back. For those that don’t, food is beyond culture or pride in Japan. It is woven into the fabric of the country’s identity, with thousands of tiny restaurants, chefs who have spend decades agonising over nigh-on imperceptible improvements in something seemingly simple like the exact thickness of noodles or stickiness of their rice, never mind the meat and fish that go with it. Read a tome like Rice Noodle Fish (google it), and you will perhaps understand 1% of what makes food here so amazing. (And do read it, but make sure you’re not hungry when you do.)

So tonight, various parties went to hunt different specialities in Roppingi, Steve Stirling (horn) took Karen Jones (flute), Fran Barritt (violin) and CLS management off for an eight course tuna feast (different cuts, cut in different ways, cooked, or not, differently, and so on).

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I will admit to hitting the jackpot though: an exquisite sushi dinner in Ginza (a cross breed Mayfair / soho / regent street area) with Chairman John Singer and Teruko by our great friend (and special adviser on Japan) Mr Munetsugu Miyawaki (see pictures). Seaweed marinaded sea bream, devil fish pate (think foie grois minus the ethical dilemma, and with added seaside salinity) and squid that was super tender and crunchy *at the same time*, we’re just a few of the highlights. Mr Miyawaki has been our advocate and catalyst behind the scenes in japan for this tour, and it was a joy to have a meal ‘conducted’ by a great sushi aficionado.

Tomorow, the inevitable post flight early wake up will see some of us head to Tsukiji fish market for tuna auctions and sushi breakfast, and then the work begins.

So far though (and Elaine Baines, our operational supremo, will curse me for tempting fate like this), great food, great company,  good times and no hiccups. Orchestral touring is such a burden…!

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