Time of departure: 8:45 pm.
Today’s date is 25th January, 2017, and four composition students, accompanied by professor Markus Hechtle, cannot wait for what is going to happen: A one-week stay in Tōkyō as guests at the Kunitachi College of Music. None of us had been to Japan before and therefore, our trip in combination with the continuation of our exchange project, was something thrilling to us all.
After 12 flight hours which I had spent with three very friendly, elderly Japanese women and of which one spoke English quite well (which is rather rare in Japan) we arrived at around 4:15 pm local time at Haneda Airport in Tōkyō. We were welcomed by Mister Ando, the organizer of the project, who had been part of the delegation in Karlsruhe last year. After a friendly welcome with a Western handshake, right afterwards we were given the money for our train tickets from Karlsruhe to Frankfurt. To cover our ,overheads’. Afterwards we took the bus to our accommodations for the coming week.
While professor Markus Hechtle was accommodated in the ,Palace Hotel’, living up to its name, we, the students, took the taxi a bit further, where we were supposed to be accommodated in a ,guesthouse’, which is how it was called in the preceding E-Mails. Although we had – of course – been thankful for getting accommodation free of charge, we did not really know what would expect us in this ominous ,guesthouse’ in comparison to the Palace Hotel.
But our accommodation truly had nothing in common with a guesthouse or ,Gasthaus’ in the German sense: Near the station of Tachikawa we were awaited by the own guesthouse of Kunitachi College of Music. Usually, this guesthouse is used for accommodating visiting professors or other important guests of Kunitachi. The building, which looks discreet from the outside, consists of two apartments on two floors which I can only roughly estimate to be about 150 to 200 square meters large. Since we were two male and two female composition students, the ladies took the apartment on the first floor and we took the apartment above. We had a kitchen, bathroom, a separate toilet, two bedrooms, an office, a washing room and most importantly the spacious living room with our own Yamaha grand and view on mount Fuji – let’s say, we were pretty amazed. After we had calmed down a bit from our amazement and put our luggage in the rooms, we were invited by Ando-san to a welcome dinner with huge plates full of sushi, sashimi, fried tofu, grilled meat skewers and edamame, the compulsory green soy beans. Totally full and tired of the long trip we went back to our quarters to get enough sleep before Ando-san would pick us up at 10 am sharp the next morning.
The following days consisted of a mixture between rehearsals and guided tours. At the former, we admired the high standard the students showed, at the latter we admired the extensive campus of Kunitachi College, which for us Germans appeared more like a university campus than a campus of a conservatory. Their big concert and opera hall almost reaches the world famous Dutch ,Concertgebouw’ in size. On the other hand, every student pays, converted into Euros, 16.000€ per semester. With the additional state subsidies they receive, naturally they can realize buildings like this and a wide range of courses more easily than it is the case in Germany.
When participating in several guides tours through different parts of Tōkyō, we obtained a first view of the enormous dimensions and the accompanying diversity of the city. Standing between mirrored skyscraper in one second, a second later you will find yourself in a traditional park with temples or shrines, creeks laid out with care and accurately cut ornamental trees. This day, one of many exciting days, was rounded off worthily by a private invitation for dinner by Kunitachi professor Shintaro Imai, where he received us at his home and delighted us with his incredible cooking.
By now, it is concert day and within two hours, the dress rehearsal is forced through – this rehearsal was the only one for some of us, which by all means was a special challenge. For though the musicians were perfectly prepared, there are always some notes the composer would like to remark. However, this is hard to realize in the dress rehearsal shortly before the concert…
Nevertheless, the concert was an event of high musical quality, diversity and very interesting, especially since we were able to hear the new pieces for shō by the composition class at Kunitachi. After an accurately planned and conducted shortly after the end of the concert, we afterwards went to have a farewell dinner, with, how could it be any different, further expansive plays of the already mentioned and many more delicious Japanese dishes. Even the world famous shō star Mayumi Miyata did not hesitate to sit with us students after the dinner and have some nice talks with us. She is a remarkable kind and gentle person, who left a lasting impression with me, and I bet also with the others.
Finally, I can only say that I am extremely thankful. Thankful that Kunitachi College of Music chose our college in Karlsruhe as a partner for this project, thankful for being allowed to be part of it and thankful that we could realize it with this many kind, sincere and active people.
そのような体験をどうもありがとうございます！- Many thanks for this experience!