Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (20)

Shinnai Overseas Performance Tours 11: France – Part 5
Bordeaux, the City of Wine, Drunk on Shinnai

After a comfortable train trip through an unchanging rural landscape, we arrived in Bordeaux.
The hotel was located near the train station, which was convenient. The rooms and other facilities, and also the hotel staff, were about the same quality as in Paris. We were used to this by now. Bordeaux has trams running through the city, which was very helpful. We could get around easily without having to use taxis.
Bordeaux is world famous for wine. Although my main purpose in going to Bordeaux was for a shinnai performance and not to drink great wine, I had high expectations for the wine. But first, of course, we had to perform.
The venue was about 30 minutes’ drive from the city. It was a kind of public studio stage where the performances that were held were aimed mainly at young people. I thought that it wasn’t particularly suited to the Japanese traditional performing arts, but even so, the place had an interesting atmosphere.
The performance in Bordeaux had been arranged by the Japanese Embassy in Paris, and we were accompanied to Bordeaux by two staff from the Embassy.
Actually, it was the Honorary Consul of Japan in Bordeaux who first contacted me about performing there. But the Honorary Consul didn’t seem to be particularly interested in Japanese traditional performing arts, perhaps because he didn’t know much about them or perhaps because he didn’t understand them. In the future, if he is the contact person in Bordeaux for cultural exchanges with Japan, that might be a problem.
After the performance and curtain calls, the audience had questions, as they do everywhere that I perform. However, perhaps because the printed program included an explanation about shinnai and notes on the works to be performed, we didn’t get as many questions as usual. But one young person in the audience asked, “I know about rakugo, so what’s the difference between rakugo and shinnai?” I was taken aback. How could I answer such a strange question? I explained that shinnai has music. The audience was interested in the shamisen and also in the kimono worn by the dancer. Audiences in Bordeaux hadn’t had much opportunity to see traditional Japanese performing arts. It seemed to me that they were more curious than impressed.
The next day, our group joined a bus tour so that I could realize my dream of visiting some chateaux. The tour took us to two small, family-managed chateaux. All of us concluded that we should have gone to the five major chateaux.
That evening, for the last dinner of this performance tour, we went back to Gabriel, the French restaurant that we’d gone to when we were in Bordeaux in June. The food and wine at Gabriel were wonderful, and I was quite satisfied.
But our trip to France did not have a happy ending. Our return route took us by TGV from Bordeaux to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Again, we had a hard time.
What happened would be impossible to imagine happening in Japan. When we got to the Bordeaux train station, we found that the track that our train would depart from had not yet been announced. The five of us, with our suitcases and other belongings, waited at the entrance to the train platforms. The train was late, and there was no notification as to when it could be expected to arrive. As soon as the track for our train was posted, we ran to the train, but it was difficult to find the car where our reserved seats were. Dragging our big suitcases, we went back and forth. We couldn’t find any station staff to assist us, and I got very upset. Even the youngest members of our group were in a sweat. Again, I’m complaining about France.
Well, wherever I’ve gone in the world, this kind of problem is ordinary. I wonder whether Japanese society might be too kind, too polite, too clean, and too nervous. Maybe life here is too convenient… And I suppose that the food is too delicious. It’s possible that it would be easier to live in a place that was somewhat less controlled. Thinking about this, I wonder whether it is difficult for us Japanese to tolerate any inconvenience and lack of a sense of responsibility because we are always living in surroundings that are too comfortable. Maybe all that comfort weakens us mentally and physically… But there’s a limit as to how broadminded a person can be…
Still, I think that Japan is a wonderful country. Many Japanese have a world of complaints about life in Japan, but if you look at life in Japan overall, I think that it’s the most wonderful country in the world. I’m proud of my country and of the talented people in it. I always have that feeling whenever I come back to Japan. I love Japan, which is such a good country, and when I return home in an exhausted state, I feel fed up with foreign touring. Even so, definitely, I want to perform overseas again.

(From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, June-July 2016, issue #86)

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