Impressions of Japan
January 1998

     It was unlike any other tour that we have experienced in almost two decades of being on the road. It wasn't just the sights, though they were more than stimulating; nor was it the sounds, though they were exotic and foreign. It wasn't just the gigs, though they were, all of them, fantastic and memorable. It wasn't just the people, though they were the most charming I think any of us have ever met; nor was it the culture, though we found it to be the most unique aesthetic mix of past and present. And to be honest, it most definitely was not just the food, which received mixed reviews from various band members, ranging from being thrilled to eat something that we never before tasted to being put off by the mere look of it. After all, "squid on a stick" is not your typical American childhood treat! As we have found to be true wherever we have traveled, new friends are an integral part of what makes a tour satisfying and inspiring. This was more than true during our brief visit to The Land of The Rising Sun.

Japan was all of the above and something more. Something rather subtle that cannot be explained by words. Like many wondrous events and places, Japan has to be experienced to fully grasp what makes Japan Japan. We have traveled throughout the U.S., Canada and all over Europe and had yet to experience the beauty and grace of The Land of The Rising Sun. Forget the stereotypes. We were loaded down with “warnings” to “watch-out” and “be-careful” until we were afraid that no matter what we did, we were going to step on someone’s toes somewhere, or make some unintentional rude remark that would get us thrown out of the country. What we found was that, although others may have had different experiences, ours were such that depended solely upon our courtesy and awareness of those around us. You can go very far by simply being polite and observing.

We performed for four days on an outdoor stage at The Kurashiki Tivoli Gardens, a European style theme park, fashioned after the original Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Our opening sets, on New Year's Day, were hampered by rain, but the Japanese were determined to enjoy their first holiday of 1998. The following days the weather was much better and we had huge crowds, filling the square in front of the stage.

After Kurashiki, we traveled for a week through central Japan. Our performances included two folk clubs, Uncle Pen and Cafe Caledonia, both near the city of Nagoya. A few folk fans showed up with original copies of  "The Boatman's Daughter" on LP, to get our autographs and to show us that they have been Golden Bough fans for years! The Celtic Folk Club of Nagoya had its own music group, whose Japanese name translated to mistletoe. When we explained that Golden Bough was also the mistletoe, the reply was, "We know. We are the Japanese Golden Bough."

Our third concert was in the city of Kanuma, a few hours north of Tokyo. This concert was held in the Community Theater. As we arrived in Kanuma, we were greeted by the first snows of the season. It was the most snow they had experienced on a single day in 20 years. Because of the amount of snow, the city was slowed down a great deal. The concert organizers were concerned that the attendance might be very low. As it turned out, the Celtic music fans were not about to be denied our music, even if they had to brave the weather. The theater was almost sold out and most every fan went away with either a CD or an autograph. The audience clapped along and even joined in on the chorus of "The Rattlin'Bog".

After we were back home, we received a fax with translations of quotes form the Japanese fans:

"Harmonies are splendid. I enjoyed myself very much."

"It was heart-warming music. The sound was lively and it made us happy. I want to play like this myself."

"Harmonies in vocals are truly beautiful, and each member has a high qualified technique in playing various kinds of instruments. It also reached to the bottom of my heart. I felt a power of the Celtic race." "Warmth was left in my heart. Thank you very much."

"I got goose skin with excitement."

"Thank you so much for a wonderful Friday night. I am happy to come here. I will drink Guinness and go to bed tonight."

"Paul's guitar was energetic and dynamic. I will buy a new guitar and start to play again. Margie's voice charmed every listener's heart. Alison's fiddle fit to the dance tunes. Utterly great!"

Our tour to Japan will remain one of our fondest memories. We were touched and moved by the respect and care that we were shown by the Japanese people and will always have respect for them and their culture in return. In our hearts and worthy of our thanks are the following:

Nina, who believed in our dream and made it happen.

John Fox, Toho Entertainment Agency, whose company brought us to Japan;

Mr. Hirate, owner of Cafe Caledonia and the cornerstone of Celtic music in Nagoya;

Hiroko Okabe, Celtic music lover and a dear, long-time friend, who had the original dream that Golden Bough would one day perform in Japan.
 She also organized the second week of our tour - travel, hotels, meals, concert performances and anything else that we needed;

Makoto Okabe, poet and sake expert;

David White, traveling companion, opening act and Nashville singer-songwriter;

Matt Striech, sound man, bodhran player, roadie and all around good guy.

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