22.09.2011 28 °C
We all knew it was coming...a dreaded journey which would take 3 days, involving 3 shows, in 3 different cities, with a total drive time of over 15 hours. It would begin in Okayama, peak in Fukuoka, and end in Saga. Our story begins in Okayama....
On tour in Germany, we would plan in advance to always allow ourselves a maximum of one hour before our performance time, to unload the van at our new venue, and prepare for our show. Here in Japan, they like us to be there one and a half hours before. In Okayama, they wanted us there three hours before the show...slightly excessive perhaps, but none of us wanted to argue; when we had met our contact tutor, she seemed, well, of a nervous and possibly slightly psychotic disposition. She had a tendency to say something and then repeat it using a different voice, whilst staring wildly into our eyes and laughing somewhat hysterically to our responses.
We have learned to smile here in Japan. Always, always smile. Smile, laugh, giggle, be merry as often as possible, its just a Japanese thing, part of their peace culture, so we always abide by it, even in the face of diversity. So we smiled and laughed with the lady, and agreed that 3 hours was absolutely fine by us.
Anyway, we set off in the morning looking like this aaaaaaaaaaand ---- we got lost.
It was at this point that I realised, we are really just hanging by a thread here. If one small thing goes wrong, a problem with the sat nav, a wrong phone number, a miscommunication, then everything falls to pieces.
So far, my experience of this culture, and its my personal experience, it may not be a reflection of the culture as a whole (disclaimer there)......but its that the Japanese are very measured people. They perform each task with care and precision, in exactly the way they are supposed to, and how they always have done it. When something comes along which is a surprise, and has no clear instruction or method in which to solve it, things seem to fall apart, calm and collected people flap and panic, and proceed to discuss every possible option and outcome instead of taking quick action.
This was much the case in Okayama, as we called our tutor many, many times, each time telling her where we were, asking her to come out in her car and meet us, pleading with her to give us an alternative address or phone number... it all fell upon deaf ears. She couldn't give us directions, wouldn't come to meet us and show us where to go, and she was generally becoming hysterical that we would be late as a result of all this. What was supposed to be a twenty minute journey from hotel to venue, had, at this point, taken us 2 and a half hours. People on the street whom we asked for directions didn't know the way, but gave us bogus directions anyway (so as not to be rude), and after much more of this despite feeling like this we pleaded with her one more time to come and get us, or we would most certainly be late as we had no more options, and then suddenly, BOOM! we hit a curb, and bust a tyre.
It was due to this final catastrophe, that finally someone from the venue came and met us, and took us individually, with 3 cars full of props, scenery and costume, to the venue – which was on the other side of town and a further 30 minutes from where we had been. Being in the car with these people required more of this despite feeling a little frustrated...
Upon arriving at the theatre and setting up for our show in record speed, our sound equipment broke, and we had to perform our show in complete silence, realising in moments of sheer panic that a whole scene and its dialogue depended heavily upon sound cues.
A personal favourite moment during the show was this;
How it should go;
'Alright, we will fight against your dragon'
'Great, now ring the bell, and the dragon comes'
(sound cue: bell ringing and scary dragon roaring)
How it went;
'Alright, we will fight against your dragon'
'Great, now...ummm... errrrm.....click your heels three times, and then...errrrmm...yeah, the dragon comes'
(cue : high pitched female voice behind the curtain, saying 'roar, roar')
Although we were late on stage, and a bit worked up, we did our best to stay like this and at the end of the show, Hamish and I went back to the car with a nice (and much calmer Japanes lady) to wait for a some kind of AA man to change the tyre for us.
When he arrived, he asked for the car manual in Japanese. I somehow understood his request, and went into the car, feeling rather smug, pulled out the book and handed it to him, with a sort of 'I believe this is what you are looking for' sort of look across my face.
What I actually handed him, was a phone book. At this point I think he, and our nice Japanese friend, lost any kind of hope that I was a fully functioning human being, and the AA man took it upon himself to find the manual alone. He asked my colleague to get into the car and start the engine, moving the wheels into a straight line. This is it! Our chance to prove we are not English idiots after all! Hamish leapt into the car and threw his hands onto the steering wheel... which let out a long, loud blast from the horn, which echoed around the quiet streets. It actually took a few moments for him to realise it was in fact our car making that sound, so it went on for more than an awkward few seconds. After he straightened the tyres, we decided to keep away from the situation, as we weren't really doing ourselves many favours. Round about this moment I remembered that I had left my purse in the theatre, and didnt have a penny to pay this man. Cue an embarrassing converstaion with the lovely Japanese lady, who said she'd pay for us and we could pay it back later.
Anyway, with the wheel fixed and payed for, we started off back to the theatre. I decided to stay outside the car until we had gotten away from this small tight street, so I would walk ahead of Hamish in the van and let him know if he was too close to the walls. The nice Japanese lady drove ahead in front, and when I was finally confident that the road was getting wider and Hamish no loner needed my assistance, I turned to face forward and stride happily and confidently into the road....what I didnt realise is that the Japanese lady had in fact stopped her car just infront of me, as she was letting a pedestrian cross in front of her. So I walked directly into the back of her car with such a force it made me squeal.
Our reputations in tatters, I hopped back into the van and we drove to the theatre, packed our things and left very quickly. We drove 4 hours to Yamagucchi, where we couldnt find our hotel for a further half hour, but finally were in the right place and we wore these faces again for our hotel check in.
We got up at the crack of dawn to fix our tyres, and drive a further 3 hours to Hofu City.
On the way we bought new sound equipment (relying on pointing, sign language and pictionary), and eventually arrived, meeting the lovely Nitta san, an English teacher who was in charge of organising our show. After a lot of driving, quite a bit of stress and very little sleep, our faces were beginning to hurt under the strain of the smile.... never did we imagine the day we had ahead of us.....
To be continued........