14 April 2010 A Great Day for Shakuhachi and Photography
I don’t usually get much culture beyond poopy diapers and Thomas the Tank Engine, so sometimes it’s refreshing to go into Kyoto and indulge myself. As I had last year, this year I went to my favorite shakuhachi-busking corner at Kiyamachi below Sanjo, right beside a babbling brook and under a bunch of cherry blossoms, to play for everyone and hopefully make some change. That last is of course ancillary to the whole enterprise, but adds an element of fun and chance human interaction.
I played just to the left of where you can see in this photo. Lots of people stopped on this bridge to watch me play.
These next three photos were taken by my friend Jeffrey, who dropped by with his son Anthony to watch and take photos before going to a photography exhibit (shown below).
One of my favorite things about doing this is talking to people. This time I met three old ladies, in their 60′s or 70′s. At first they stopped and listened for a few moments, then each gave me a 1000 yen (about 10 dollars) before moving on. This was remarkable for its generosity, and I gave them a bow-while-playing. A while later they came back again, and started requesting certain songs. At this point it was obvious that, although they spoke decent Japanese, they were definitely from somewhere else. I asked and they said they were from Korea. So, I played them the two Korean folk songs that I know by heart. It was very nice, although the entire experience was tinged by the knowledge that most likely the only reason we could communicate at all was because they had grown up in Japanese-occupied Korea, and had been forced to learn the language at school.
Just as I was putting my flute away an elderly Japanese couple approached and started talking to me. The lady said that she really liked shakuhachi, so I took my flute out again and began to play a simple song. At his wife’s urging, the husband began to sing along with me. It was a nice little impromptu duet, and I was glad to have Jeffrey there to capture the moment. Afterward, as I was packing up again, I learned that the lady likes exactly the kind of classical shakuhachi music I specialize in, which is pretty remarkable. It’s the kind of esoteric genre that only those who actually play it make an effort to listen to. (All the songs I play in situations like this street performance are purely shakuhachi arrangements of well-known, 20th century songs.)
After that we all went to a photography exhibit by Sawa Kenji (佐和賢爾), a Buddhist priest and my photography teacher (although that implies a more formal relationship than actually exists). I had seen one of the photographs before, laid out on the floor of his temple, so I had lured Jeffrey out with the promise of an incredible show, and he wasn’t disappointed. I’ll let the photographs below speak for themselves, but in case it’s hard to tell each scene is covered in three or four exposures, which are combined to make unified images. We got there at the very end of the last day, and I just happened to have my flutes with me, so I gave a short impromptu concert there for him and everybody else before they turned on the lights and started taking the photographs down. It was a nice moment.