Friday, April 30, 2004
Concord-Carlisle High School Concert Band Travels to Japan . . .
The 80-student Concord-Carlisle High School Concert Band traveled to the city of Sapporo and the town of Nanae on Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, during April vacation. They were accompanied by 11 chaperones including band director Al Dentino, guidance counselor Tom Curtin, and Principal Art Dulong. The trip included a joint concert with the Sapporo-Shiroishi High School Wind Ensemble in Kitara Hall, a world-class concert venue. This was the same group that visited Concord-Carlisle High School in January of 2003 and played a joint concert with the CCHS band at Symphony Hall in Boston. In Nanae, the sister-town of Concord, the students played in two joint concerts with the Nanae High School and Junior High School bands.
Never had anyone in the audience heard the song "Hey Baby" played in Kitara Hall before, and certainly not from a sea of the black and red coats of the Concord-Carlisle High School Concert Band and the Sapporo-Shiroishi Wind Ensemble; but there was something about it that was magical. With a filled auditorium of 2,000 people, how could anyone in either band not feel an adrenaline rush playing on that stage? This moment is only one of the many fond memories the Concord-Carlisle Concert Band will treasure from their ten-day trip in Japan.
Tuesday, April 13
The band members and parents groggily met at the high school at six in the morning, and buses departed the school promptly at 6:30, leaving behind a sea of parents and friends. Although it was early in the morning we were all excited, yet we still couldn't believe that we had a four-hour bus ride and a thirteen-hour plane ride before we would reach our destination.
After thirteen hours of fragments of sleep, movies, reading, homework and walking up and down the aisles admiring the view while flying over Alaska, the plane landed at 4:10 p.m. Japan time, and we prepared to take another flight to Sapporo. At this point Tuesday had morphed into Wednesday, April 14, making it even more confusing for everyone on the trip who was already tired from the long plane ride. The minute our second plane went up in the air, everyone was fast asleep.
Arriving at the New Chitose airport outside of Sapporo in northern Japan during the early evening, we boarded buses again, and to our surprise had to squeeze our luggage into the aisles because of limited storage space. Arriving at the International Youth Hostel later that evening, everyone either rushed off to bed or took a leisurely Japanese-style shower and bath before going to sleep.
Thursday, April 15
Some members of the band, who are also members of the CCHS track team, woke up early to get in some training time. Running around the hostel would serve as a workout for that day. Afterwards, we got ready to visit Sapporo and the Shiroishi High School. Now that everyone had had a good night's sleep, we admired with open eyes the city of Sapporo. One of the first things we noticed was that the streets were incredibly clean, and on every block there was a vending machine full of American and Japanese drinks. The colorful signs and billboards with comical cartoons amazed the group as well; everyone clicked their cameras to try and catch the signs as the bus sped down the streets.
We arrived at the high school, and walked down a hallway to their auditorium to find ourselves in a tunnel of Shiroishi students, clapping and cheering for us. Students who visited our school last year rushed up to us and pelted us all with hugs. I was so thrilled to see an older version of my home-stay pal from last year, Yuka, who also tackled me with a hug half-way down the tunnel.
After the opening ceremony with introductions from the school's principals and student representatives, we rejoined our Sapporo friends for lunch. Conversing in simple English with the addition of charades in many cases, both schools intermingled during the lunch hour, and some partook in a short tea ceremony. Soon after lunch, everyone rushed onto the buses once again for band rehearsal. Struggling through the jet lag, our conductor Mr. Dentino assured us that we would rest well tonight and sound better tomorrow. Mouths all opened when our band witnessed the Shiroishi band packing up their equipment, dozens of students running around, completing their tasks like clockwork; and this was only a taste of the diligence of this band.
After returning to the school once more, students split up — into singles or pairs — and went to their home-stay and met their home-stay families. The majority of the students did home stays, while the others stayed the night at the International Youth Hostel. Some of us went out to dinner to restaurants or sushi bars, while others went to their families' homes to a home-cooked feast. My home-stay partner Carrie and I went to a western-style restaurant in a hotel where my home-stay father worked. Although the food was similar to an American restaurant, it still had a Japanese flavor, and portion sizes that I could actually finish. When we returned to their house, we were impressed by its simple size and charming appearance. The family kindly welcomed us in and showed us our room. Still tired from the trip and the lingering jet lag, we collapsed onto our futons and went to bed.
Friday April 16
After a breakfast of salad, eggs, bread, yogurt and fruit, Yuka, Carrie and I headed off to Kitara Hall. After a busy morning of unloading crates, rehearsal, a quick lunch, and a wardrobe change, both bands were ready for the one o'clock concert. No one at this point really knew how big this concert was to be until we were lining up at the doors, with cameramen filming us, and Shiroishi students coming in waves, giving us all thumbs-up and good-luck signs. The percussion section forming a huddle seemed especially pumped for this performance. As the lights backstage dimmed and the lights of the stage gleamed, we walked out in line formation, looking out into the audience of 2,000 that filled all the seats. After finishing a great performance, we were all reassured by Mr. Dentino's smile that we had come a long way from our rehearsal the previous day.
But the best was yet to come; after waiting backstage for the Shiroishi band to finish their portion of the concert, we joined their band on stage for a joint concert. One of the most memorable pieces we played together was "October," composed by Eric Whitacre, which inevitably brought some people to tears. Followed by a Barry Manilow original, "Copacabana," and Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," our band was given an encore, in response to which we launched "Hey Baby" into the seats of the hall.
In celebration afterwards, both bands rejoined at the Kirin Beer factory. Sitting at tables with groups of Japanese and American students, everyone tossed their lamb meat and vegetables onto "hibachi-type" grills on the table. After eating, the whole group of students, chaperones, teachers and parents joined in a game of charades and bingo. While I was sitting next to my Japanese friend Yuka, laughing at the performances on the stage, I realized how similar we were, and how even language can't become a barrier in these new friendships we had made. After departing the hall and returning once more with our home-stay families, everyone went their separate ways for various activities. Carrie and I drove with Yuka's family to see the night-lights of Sapporo on the side of a steep hill. The view was amazing, and made me wish that I could see these in my own town.
Saturday, April 17
After a whole day with home-stays, one can only imagine the stories. From visiting Sega World, the Chuo Wholesale Market, the famous Wheeler Clock Tower, and the Hokkaido Historical Museum and other sightseeing interests, to shopping in the huge mall at Sapporo, everyone had a very busy day. I went with my host family to Otaru, a city by the coast of the island Hokkaido. There we visited the Otaru Music Box Museum, filled with beautiful handmade music figurines and boxes. Many Disney characters as well as traditional style music boxes filled the store. Afterwards, we all went out for lunch, ordering bowls of "oodong" and "soba" noodles, with rice cakes wrapped in seaweed on the side. After making a monumental stop to the Sapporo Mall, we returned to the hostel to say our goodbyes. Our goodbyes, however, would take two hours. Flooding the common room of the hostel, students of both bands took thousands of pictures, making peace signs and various poses. Finally when the last pictures had been taken and everyone had exchanged their e-mails and addresses, our new Japanese friends left, and we returned to our usual routine.
Sunday, April 18
Sunday was our long travel day; we left early in the morning to head south to the small town of Nanae, our next major stop on the trip. From the beginning, we began to notice that Nanae was going to be different than Sapporo; it was more country, less urban. The drive was gorgeous, surrounded by mountains on one side and the ocean, with Mt. Usa continually coming into our view. Once we arrived in Nanae, we were again greeted warmly and met our second home-stay families. After a performance of "wadaiko" drumming and traditional Japanese dances, the group split up to go home with their families.
The first night, we had our new hosts to ourselves. My new family had five kids; two girls in high school, Yuzuki and Muzuki. My partner Katie and I went to some batting cages with them, after they learned that Katie played softball. We had dinner at their house, and after searching through dictionaries and a performance of hand signs, the girls explained to us that they would be taking us to a public bath. Both Katie and I had heard about public baths before, and we were both a little apprehensive. After taking the quickest showers of our lives, we realized that we had just experienced an ultimate culture shock. We both felt excited that we had agreed to go to the public bath and not be afraid of the new experience, no matter how foreign it seemed.
Monday, April 19
In the morning we prepared for our two concerts of the day, one for the Nanae High School and the other in the evening for the whole town. After finishing a joint performance in the morning with the Nanae High School Band, the group had time for cultural activities. Some of us learned Japanese games; others learned dance, language, instruments and calligraphy. Moving on to a picnic-style dinner in the hall at the Bunka Center, and then quickly changing into our uniforms once more, we were ready for our final concert of the trip. At this concert, we would not only be joined by the Nanae High School, but the Nanae Middle School as well, who played from the balcony. The audience was filled with families and friends from Nanae, and we couldn't have hoped for a warmer crowd.
Tuesday, April 20
Again, the band members met at the Bunka Center early in the morning to prepare to leave for the nearby Matsumae Castle and an Edo Village. Although it was raining, it did not take away the beauty of the castle gardens and graveyards, surrounded by newly blossoming cherry trees. We went on a guided tour through the castle's property, admiring the ancient architecture of the gates and towers surrounding the castle. Now it felt like we were really in Japan.
After lunch we left for the Hakodate Bay Area, which is best described to be like Quincy Market and Haymarket Square. At this point, we were free to explore and shop, searching for souvenirs and gifts for families and friends at home. After finding soft-serve ice cream and melon-flavored Kit-Kats, we also found a ramen noodle shop to have dinner. We regrouped after dinner to go to the Mt. Hakodate ropeway to see a night view of the city. We went up in a gondola and were welcomed by strong gusts of wind; however, it did not keep us from exploring the incredible views of the city from the mountain.
Wednesday, April 21
In the morning we had a great opportunity to partake in some more cultural activities. Our group started with learning how to do flower arranging, after which, we learned how to play "taiko" drums, a traditional kind of drum whose surface is made of cowhide. We ended with a traditional tea ceremony, where we ate Japanese sweets and cake whose purpose was to even out the bitter taste of the tea. After learning how to hold the cup and drink the tea, some students learned how to make tea. After a quick lunch, our group left to visit Esan, a live volcano. Beforehand we had learned that many Japanese people make urns and bring them to this volcano. We walked around the volcano's base, observing the steam rising from sections of its surface, which reminded some of us of our earth science knowledge we had obtained during our freshmen
year. Its view was amazing; we were able to see the rolling mountains at a closer look beside the ocean. We left Esan after an afternoon of exploration and headed back to meet our host families for our last night in Nanae.
Thursday, April 22
We left Nanae during a very tearful morning of goodbyes to our home-stay families. Although my family didn't speak any English, they struggled to look up "we'll miss you, come again" in the dictionary for the last time as we boarded our buses for the airport. That day we took our short flight to Narita and stayed at the Nikko Hotel outside of Tokyo. Before dinner, we were able to visit a Buddhist temple for an hour, at the courtesy of some volunteer tour guides. We visited the huge modern temple itself, as well as the older version of it that had been moved recently. Everyone in our group wished we could have had more time to spend in this amazing place.
That night, we concluded our trip with a huge banquet with Japanese and American food options. After we had eaten, speeches and remarks on the trip were made. The overall mood was joyful and everyone felt a huge sense of gratitude for all the work we had put into this trip, and especially the amazing experiences we had had.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito