Sakura, Sakura…… Japan topped my bucket list

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I love travelling to new places, meeting new people and exploring different culture. I have a very long bucket list, China, Russia, Greece…..the list goes on forever! Top of the bucket list until 2016 was Japan. I had always wanted to go there. It seemed to me that Japan was so different to the UK that going there would be the closest thing to visiting another world!

I decided that I was going to stop waiting for life to miraculously make a trip to Japan happen for me. I did not want to wake up one day, an old man, thinking “I should have gone to Tokyo.” I decided to make it happen for myself. I thought I would combine a holiday with some gigs. I did a bit of research and found a Japanese music promoter. After a lot of communication via email and Facebook, I finally had real actual dates to work with. I was so excited. I was going to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom (Sakura) season. Oh…..and i was going to rock of course!

I think once the flights to Tokyo were booked, I started counting down the seconds. In preparation for the trip, I did try to learn a little bit of Japanese, but I did not manage to learn much because I just didn’t have a lot of spare time. I do recommend learning a few key phrases if you are visiting Japan, it might just save you a lot of stress. Where is the train station was very useful! Eki wa doko desu ka? You can get around the most popular Japanese cities such as Tokyo and Osaka without knowing Japanese, but knowing some Japanese is useful. Japanese people learn English in school, but there are so few foreigners in Japan that most of them don’t get a chance to practice, hence why they are shy about  speaking it.

I can’t put into words how much I enjoyed my trip to Japan. As the plane landed in Tokyo, “Sakura…..sakura” and Bon Jovi’s ‘Tokyo Road’ was playing in my tiny brain. Even the simple things were an experience for me, a memory I will never forget. I had for example seen on TV and Youtube the zebra crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo, where traffic seems to come from all directions. I remember the lights went green and suddenly people crossed the road in every direction. I started crossing the road and I could feel I had this really dumb smile on my face. I had seen this online so many times……..and here I was in real life.

I remember walking into a Japanese restaurant for the first time and struggling to eat with chopsticks without looking totally stupid. At least I wasn’t dumb enough to drink the bowl of water meant for hand cleansing! My senses were assaulted on many levels. Everything was so different. There were temples, more temples and a gazillion other things to see. I walked so much that the blisters on my feet had blisters. It was no joke, towards the end of the trip it was very painful to walk!

I was very impressed with the trains and train stations in Japan. They were very organized and the trains were very punctual. The only negative thing was that some of the stations were so big that it could get confusing and getting lost was easy. The best thing about Japan for sure were the Japanese people. The Japanese are the nicest, friendliest, people I have ever met. I remember my friend Mark and I were trying to find an ATM, a cash machine in a huge train station. We asked a young lady (always best to approach young people as they would have studied English most recently), for help. She not only tried to explain where the cash machine was, she went way out of her way to show us and took us right there.

A lot of people find Japan and Japanese people very interesting because their own countries and people are so different. A lot of Japanese also find us foreigners interesting for the same reason. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the time Japanese people really want to talk you but they don’t really speak English and they are shy. I know there were many times I wished I could speak more than a few words of Japanese. Meeting the music promoter, Takakshi, in person, was great after speaking to him many times online. I also met and rehearsed with some Japanese musicians because we were going to do a show together.

The funny thing is that some of my new Japanese friends didn’t speak English, but we not only communicated, we had a great laugh with a few words of English, a few words of Japanese and some hand signals. My new Japanese friends’ dedication to getting the performance just right, the attention to detail, the effort, was impressive. At the end of the day, I think rock musicians are pretty much the same anywhere in the world. I had a great time rocking on stage with my friends Roger Takahashi, Kaz Itoh and Hiroshi Saito. I’m sure we’ll get together again some time. I’m sure I had that same dumb smile on my face when I stood on the stage at Music Duo Exchange in Shibuya and asked “how you doing Tokyo?” Another thing ticked off the bucket list.

I met a lot of nice people on that trip, Manabu, Ogawa, Mari, Chiai, Yutaka, Yasuhiro, Sumi, Kumiko, DIO Ken…….so many. Then my promoter friend, Takashi, brought a Japanese band to London in December last year to do some shows, so I made more friends, Izuru, Takashi Uematsu, Toyoki, Hideaki and Yamasan. My bucket list is screaming at me to go to many different places……but my heart is telling me I need to go see my friends in Japan again!

 

George

 

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