Organ’s Melody in Yamaguchi

We hustled into the train station, me with newly streamlined luggage, and purchased tickets for the Shinkansen, the famous Japanese bullet train, that gets you where you are going FAST. It doesn’t stop at all that many places, so it can reach a velocity of nearly 200 miles per hour. We had to take a bus from Karatsu to Fukuoka to get to its nearest stop.

Touring by train is a science. You have to be able to carry everything you need for the gig and to keep yourself together, up a set of stairs if necessary, since not all train stations in Japan have elevators or escalators.

I need two guitars for my gigs, because I play one in an open tuning and one in concert tuning. I carry my laptop for selling my products, setting up gigs and publicizing them, reading the news, doing vocal exercises, listening to music, broadcasting the karaoke version of my last CD onstage, political activism, research, correspondence, shopping, photo editing, writing this blog, and working on other writing projects. I also need performance costumes and other clothes, toiletries, and my bag of natural supplements and immune-enhancing herbs, because travel is the immune system Olympics. Everywhere you go, someone is sneezing. For an almost 58-year-old, 105-pound woman, carrying all this by train is a marathon. But I am a muse-driven specimen of my age group, and I will do whatever it takes to get my art where it needs to go.

The Shinkansen looks like a large, dangerous snake. Inside, it’s much more comfortable than the local trains. We ate rice crackers and peanuts from the station kiosk and chatted the time away amiably.

We took a local train from the nearest Shinkansen station to Yamaguchi, a town so blessed with hot springs (on-sen) that there are public foot baths in the parks. Right next the train station stood an on-sen with a giant white fox in front, exuding the advertising cachet resulting from the Japanese national passion for cute animals. The Grateful Dead dancing bear does lots of business here.

Eizo, the owner of Organ’s Melody, a small night club (in Japan it’s called a “live house”) picked us up at the station, and he and his wife Yuki made us comfortable with a room above the club with futons and a bathroom. Nowhere to wash up, though. No problem; Yamaguchi is hot springs heaven. We even strolled over to a nearby park and had a VERY hot foot bath before the show.

The poster for the evening (May 9, 2007) featured the cover of Living on the Earth and a photo that Yuko Tsukamoto took of me performing last year at her club Yukotopia in Tokyo. There’s my name again in Katakana, starting with the letter P. Next to the photo of Sachiho playing her lyre is her name written in Kanji, Chinese characters.

In typical urban hipster style, the entrance to the club was practically unnoticeable. You had to know it was there.

Inside the club, the walls were black, the bar was stocked, and a bunch of little tables and chairs welcomed the patrons.

Up a narrow, kinda scary staircase, the dressing room displayed Eizo’s wild poster collection. This was my fave.

It was a pleasure to soundcheck with Eizo. His system was fantastic.

The opening act, a local musician known as Sensei because his day job is teaching school. He sang original songs; his friend played drum, and you had to love his traditional old style Japanese clothes.

Sachiho and I both enjoyed ourselves playing at Organ’s Melody. It’s always fun to play and sing through good sound system with an excellent technician at the controls. Afterwards, one of the patrons, who was celebrating his girlfriend’s birthday, took us (me, Sachiho, Eizo and Yuki, plus his friends) out to an expensive and fabulous Mediterranean style dinner at the restaurant next door. It was all I could do to stay in my body, between the gourmet cuisine, the happy, flowing conversation that I couldn’t understand, and the overwhelming presence of a large screen TV playing a dreamlike performance by Cirque du Soleil. After that wild meal, Sachiho and I walked in the rain to a large, nearby on-sen, and soaked for an hour. We slept well that night in the room above the club.

We Visit the Lottery Shrine

The next morning, Sachiho, Yoko, and Hiromi (the all-woman trance trio, Amana) and I awakened at the Yoshimori’s elegant house overlooking the bay in Karatsu, where we’d been brought by host himself after the party. He and his wife had spent the night at yet another of their homes, and the Amana ladies and I had this gorgeous, brand new house to ourselves. Yoko and Hiromi took an early plane back to Okinawa, and Sachiho and I had breakfast at a table with a splendid view.

Right across the bay stood an old castle on a forested hill. Karatsu lies at the westernmost point of Japan, and is the port through which Korean and Chinese people have visited and traded with Japan for centuries.

Yoshimori and his wife came over to see us after breakfast, and his wife took us out for a walk around Karatsu.

We were joined by her friend, a hat designer, and the two of them decided to treat me and Sachiho to a boat ride to Takashima island, home of the lottery shrine.

We passed the house where we had slept, which Yoshimori personally built, as we motored toward the island. It’s the second one from the left, light gray with a gray roof.

And we could see the mountains where their cabin is, at Saga, the site of last night’s concert.

Takashima island has a mystical presence.

We approach the harbor. Most of the residents are fishing families.

We walk up the quay toward a colorful shop.

At the harbor, we bowed at a fishing shrine with a statue of Ebisu, the fishing diety…

…and studied a map of Takashima outside the general store.

A lottery ticket store, quite close to the shrine. I didn’t buy any tickets, but I did pick up a brochure…

…that explained clearly how to win the lottery.

Here’s as close as you can get to the lottery shrine with a camera. We went in and thanked the Great Spirit for the amazing good fortune we already enjoy in our lives.

After we left the lottery shrine, Sachiho lead us to another shrine higher up on the mountain. She’d been here before.

At this shrine we also said thank you to the Divine Spirit.

Then we headed back to the harbor, well pleased with our journey.

Of course, I had to photo the Takashima man hole cover for my collection.

Then we sped back to Karatsu to tour the clothing store, ship my suitcase to Osaka, and catch a bus to the bullet train (shinkansen) to Yamaguchi. We just barely made it.

Concert in a Meadow

Our next venue, at Saga, also in the prefecture of Nagasaki, and also hidden in mountains, turned out to be a barbeque (I mean, hibachi) party at the country cabin of Yoshimori, an architect and builder, and his wife, who owns and runs Raku, a natural fiber fashion boutique in the nearby city of Karatsu. Yoshimori had bought the land very reasonably after all of the trees had been destroyed by a major hurricane. He planted all of the trees that you see in these photos, and he began raising bees for honey and to help pollinate the trees.

The elegant interior of the cabin Yoshimori designed and built on the land.

Our stage and concert hall, in the meadow below the cabin.

We got to work right away doing our sound check.

I sound-checked the karaoke of the original recording of What Living’s All About (minus my voice) which I output into an amplifier from my laptop. I’m singing Floozy Tune.

Yoshimori’s candle lanterns. Now there’s a clever way to recycle plastic bottles!

The audience, mostly friends and neighbors in the area, really enjoyed the show.

Amana, plus ghosts from my camera. I promise, next tour, I’ll bring a tripod.

After the show, we all warmed ourselves around a campfire with more food, drink and good stories.

Concert in a Sculpture Studio

The coordinators for the next event, a concert in the studio of reknowned granite sculptor Hiroto Sakamoto, drove us from Issahaya to Saza, both in the prefecture of Nagasaki. I was dazzled by the beauty of the coastline.

Sakamoto-san’s studio is a huge, airy barnlike building, and beside it stands yet another of the Matsui’s handmade tipis.

Inside, timbers had been set up as benches for the show.

Amana’s sound check, backlit by a beautiful afternoon.

Naomi, the coordinator, and some friends making wristlets of hemp string and one bead each, for attendees to wear after paying admission to the show.

The book booth, featuring many works on Native Americans, outside of the studio turned theatre. Soon craft and food booths would join them, including one where I sold my books and CDs.

The sculptor Hiroto Sakamoto, laughing while I photograph him. Later we would see albums of photos of his large public works, including a whale fountain in a city square, a grieving mother and child for a war memorial, and some abstract pieces.

The Sakamoto home, where Hiroto lives with his wife and two children. The Amana band and I were guests there that night.

Hiroto’s wife made the carp windsocks outside their home, one for each family member.

Near their home and studio stood a Shinto jinja (shrine).

The members of the jinja commissioned Hiroto to make this traditional style monument outside of the temple.

Hiroto showed me the dragon he’d carved into the back side of it.

In the evening, candle lanterns made from glass bricks lined the path to the studio.

About seventy people came to the show, enjoying the booths outside as well as the performances.

Miho, a beautiful young vocalist, played first with her band. She offered powerful spiritual chants to the earth and the heavens.

I was on next, with songs from my three CDs. When I first got on stage, everyone giggled, and, for a moment, I couldn’t figure out why. Then I saw the Sakamoto’s small dog standing beside me, looking somewhat bemused. I said, “Where’s your drum?”

A friendly lady named Teresa, who had lived in California, volunteered to translate to the audience for me, as long as she didn’t have to stand on stage.

Last up, the Amana band, with Sachiho radiant in white.

The Two Hundred Disciples of the Buddha

The next morning Hiromi, Sachiho, Yoko (the Amana band) and I had breakfast in the cafe on the temple grounds at Issahaya. The sky was clear, and we decided to take a walk after we packed. The temple is famous for its rock carvings, and the forest and river are lovely. I love to walk each day, and my two favorite destinations are shrines of nature and shrines of culture, so I am in heaven.

Chef and kitchen of the cafe. Really good food at the temple cafe!

Sachiho had a flier about the landing of the Hokule’a in Nagasaki. Already she had sung at a ceremony honoring the Hokule’a in Okinawa just before flying to Kumamoto for the Rainbow Festival.

We begin our walk up a steep trail beside the temple, bowing before shrines as we went.

We pass what is probably a small cemetery, with rows of standing stones, but they are shaped more like Shiva lingams from India.

There’s a monument of a warrior or guardian spirit.

There’s a sort of obelisk.

And a stone monument with a candle lantern on top.

We see the first of a series of rock carvings, the Two Hundred Disciples of the Buddha, said to have been carved as a memorial after the Tomikawa River flooded, killing people who had been farming along its banks.

During our walk, we see many more of the Disciples:

We consult a map posted in the forest of the trails in the area, showing the location of the temple and the rocks carved with images of the Disciples.

We walk to a small, old temple deep in the forest said to contain hidden art treasures.

We walk across the suspension bridge and look down on the gorge with the river rushing below.

We are astonished to see a tiny land crab crawling in the forest floor.

The dam near the temple, and its waterfall.

Before we leave, we thank Miso Tachibana, the monk who cares for the temple, for inviting us to play at the festival, for arranging for our supper and breakfast at the cafe, and for lodging us in the comfortable bungalow where we spent the night. We even got to bathe at a nearby hot springs after our supper. Altogether it was gorgeous!

To Issahaya With Love

Dawn on the day after the Rainbow Festival at Aso Mountain ended. It had rained hard all night.

Miraculously, Sachiho and I managed the day before to find two saints with automobiles willing to convey us, Yoko Nema, Hiromi Kondo (the harmonium player/vocalist and the percussionist/vocalist of Amana) and all of our instruments and belongings, all the way to our next gig, at a mountain temple in Issahaya in the prefecture of Nagasaki, four hours drive from Aso Mountain, including a ferry ride from Kumamoto. After carrying my gear through the mud to the car in my rice planting boots (with some powerful help from Sachiho’s son Laki and some others), I thank Tako and Rokuro Matsui profoundly and wish them a fond farewell.

Mikiko and Kanako, who had done so much to make sure I was comfortable throughout the festival, come to say goodbye. What wonderful friends. I am very grateful to them both.

We drive down to Kumamoto and board a ferry for Nagasaki…

…and leave stormy Kumamoto behind.

Mizuho, a musician who traveled to the festival with Chiboo (aka Chikao Fujimoto), the generous hospital administrator who translated my song introductions for my set at the festival, bought a stack of my merch, and then elected to help drive us to Issahaya, blows his pianica on the deck of the ferry.

Issahaya’s temple, in the forest at the headwaters of the Tomigawa river, is hosting a music festival featuring me, Amana and Sayako’s group, organized by Miso Tachibana, the monk who cares for the temple.

The photo of me in the poster appears to have been taken last October at my show and booksigning at Kurkku in Tokyo. I’m wearing the same shawl for today’s performance.

Some of the audience is seated in the old temple…

…and some in a tipi, undoubtedly handmade by Tako and Rokuro Matsui.

Beside the big temple is a smaller temple…

And a row of bibbed funerary statues.

I am thrilled to see avant-garde singer Azumi of Rabirabi and her husband again. They had already performed before we arrived.

Azumi’s drummer Nana, with her girlfriend. We all danced together to Sayako’s band.

I played a set by myself.

Then Amana played…

…and then I came back to play some songs with them.

I was happy to see Sayako and her band perform again.

Sayako’s daughter Ariwa read aloud the famous Amazonian environmental fable of the hummingbird who carried water to put out the forest fire one drop at a time because that was all he could do.

After the show, Sayako and I swapped CDs. Sayako told me that in the days when she and Sachiho worked together in Zelda, “Sachiho was like elder sister. Much respect!” Sayako was still in junior high school when she began singing professionally in what became Japan’s first and most famous girl band. Sachiho was no more than 21. They toured Europe, made lots of records, wore Doc Marten boots, and created a trend in Japan. Now they are priestesses, and mothers of young musicians.

Rainbow Festival, Fourth and Fifth Days

The night of my performance, it rained, but not during my set. The set after mine was Amana’s, when it not only poured; thunder and lightning shook the sky. I couldn’t even take photos. None of this deterred the audience at the Rainbow Festival. No rain, no rainbows. Just lots of umbrellas, and barefoot dancing in the mud. I wore a pair of Japanese rubber rice planting boots I’d bought the day before in Aso town. Always well prepared, the Matsuis erected a tent under the lodge poles of the stage.

In the morning, I cleaned and warmed myself at an elegant hot springs bath house (above) in Aso town, in the company of Satomi, Toshi and Sola, who I met early on in the festival. While we soaked in the warm water, I sang “Lullaby” from Music From Living on the Earth for baby Sola, and I was dubbed Alicia Obasan (Auntie Alicia). Toshi’s four wheel drive got us through the mud lake that had formed in the Rainbow Festival parking lot. Not everyone was so fortunate.

A band with didjeridoo, hand and trap drums, dancers, vocalist and bassist performed in the drizzly afternoon.

The act before my band was a retro rock band with a singer in an Elvis suit. Droves of small children climbed onto the stage, and danced and clowned.

I wore a wonderful dress made for me in 1971 by Charlotte Lyons, a fellow artist living at Wheeler Ranch in the late ‘60’s and early 70’s. She has gone on to become a reknowned and successful maker of high end patchwork quilts, often with storybook characters and scenes on them. She lives in the mountains north of Santa Cruz, California. It’s a special ceremonial dress for me, and I felt that playing with a band for 1000 people at the Rainbow Festival in Kyushu certainly qualified as a special ceremony. Keeping it mud-free that night required extreme care, but I succeeded. I’m playing my Pro Series Traveler Guitar in this photo.

Futaro played lovely, delicate lead guitar parts that fit perfectly with my intricate folk fingerpicking, and Daisuke’s bass guitar completed the sound with style and grace. Rokuro Matsui, the festival organizer, played trap drums and percussion!

Our audience was enthralled and cheered us wildly between each song.

The last day of the festival I didn’t get a chance to get to the stage and take photos of the other acts. I hardly had a minute to get dressed, wash, eat or go to the outhouse! People were literally lined up outside my cabin all day, and I sold and signed books and CDs from the moment I woke up until after dark, when I ran out of the Japanese editions of both books and all of the Japanese edition of my first CD. I didn’t have many left of the other two CDs, either! Domo arigato gozaimashta (thank you very much), everybody.

While signing over and over, I memorized how to write my name in Katakana, which is one of the three Japanese writing systems, the one used to write foreign words, because the characters are phonetic. The “P” is the sound “ah,” the upside-down check mark is a “B”, the upside down “Y” sounds like an alphabetical “y,” the box is “Lau,” and the LIL is, well, the other half of my last name, with no R sound. My customers were amused and pleased at my efforts to learn their language.

Rainbow Festival, Third Day

Clear blue skies blessed the third day of the Rainbow Festival at Aso Mountain. Here’s a better view of Tako Matsui’s fabulous handpainted giant carp windsocks.

Coming back from my morning walk, I could see how much the camp had grown. It covered almost the entire meadow.

I put on my festival t-shirt and a gauzy skirt handmade by my friend Mayumi Hirai, and went out in the sunshine to meet new friends.

Mikiko lettered signs for my window, so people would know when my performance would be, and what I had for sale in the cabin. In Japan, the adopted English words used to mean “performance” or “show” are “live” and “stage,” as in “When is your live?”

Most of the European-descent people I met at the festival were from Australia and New Zealand, including Andy and Jen, who come to the Japan for the music festivals each summer. I coveted Andy’s t-shirt that says “I’m a legend in Japan.” He told me I could find them online at American Eagle. I couldn’t.

Drum circles now formed both day and night, all over camp.

Rows of gift and clothing shops, cafes, bakeries, tea shops, and restaurants of many ethnicities lined the meadow.

The bamboo geodesic dome housed a shop selling treats made from hemp seed. The proprietor and her child posed for me in front.

Yu was dancing in a loin cloth printed with cannabis leaves, and his friend wore the dread locks of the Jamaican ganja culture, but I did not smell a whiff of pot anywhere at the festival. Japan has very strict laws about drugs, and no Japanese freaks want to arouse the interest of the police. And, for their part, the police politely stayed away from the Rainbow Festival, which was not the case at Burning Man or the Rainbow Gathering in the USA recently.

Indigo tie-dying and printing has an ancient history in Japan. Modern crafters like this one apply it to t-shirts as well as the traditional banners and kimono.

My hostess for the concert and workshop I am planning to do in June in Morioka, a beautiful forested community in the north of Honshu island, makes hemp rope sandals, and she silk screens t-shirts.

At mid-day, people began to gather around the main stage for the day’s performances.

Futaro (in the orange pants and black hat), a lead guitarist, singer and songwriter who lives near the site of the festival, and who will play in my band the next day, fronted a band including Daisuke, the bass player for my band, and Auta, the drum prodigy son of festival organizers Roku and Tako Matsui. Another child, younger than Auta, played hand percussion with them, and well, I might add. They put on a great show and the audience danced like crazy. Futaro cracked jokes in between songs that made them roar with laughter, and made me want to learn his language.

The audience, with the tent village and Aso Mountain behind them.

I had Thai food for lunch again, this time from another booth. Both had delicious curries, not at all similar.

Sayako, former lead singer of Zelda, the all-girl punk band that Sachiho lead for 17 years, has her own band now, and a forest spirit look, vibe and message. She wears a headdress in the ancient style of the Haida tribe from Hokkaido. She dances, drums on a djembe, plays a whistle, and conjures respect for the earth as she sings.

The stage, lit up at light.

The Minami Masato band, with a cast of thousands.

Rainbow Festival, Second Day

This way to the Rainbow Festival at Aso Mountain!

On the second day of the festival I met the silkscreener who had licensed the cover of Living on the Earth to print on the festival t-shirts, and he offered me my choice as a gift.

The hemp-organic cotton camouflage tank top caught my eye.

On the back, the moon and the lovers from the back cover of Living on the Earth, plus a tipi and a puffing volcano drawn by someone else, nicely summing up the scene here.

Roku and Tako, the festival organizers, who also manufacture tipis, had just put up one of their largest tipis in back of the stage as a combination dressing room and shrine.

They created a shrine inside the tipi, in the most ancient Japanese style, according to Sachiho.

The big tipi made a gorgeous backdrop to the stage.

On either side of the stage Roku and Tako added their huge handmade and handpainted carp windsocks floating from bamboo poles.

And, I learned that, in addition to making superior tipi poles, bamboo makes a fine geodesic dome.

I was gifted a delicious meal at the Thai curry stand by the chef.

Back to the hot springs for a bath, this time with Kanako, the koto player. In this very natural bathhouse, there are no showers; you pour warm water from the springs over yourself from a bamboo bucket.

Kanako (on the right) doing a card reading with Doreen Virtue’s Goddess Cards for the owner of the on-sen (hot springs bath house), who is in the middle of having her hair coiffed.

Back at the festival, a troupe of dancers performed a ritualistic modern dance.

The children were fascinated.

After sunset, my favorite group of the festival played: Rabirabi x Piko, with electronic avant garde improvisational vocals and synthesizer by Azumi, and percussion by her husband and by her friend, Nana. The percussion got the crowd dancing, and Azumi’s wild vocals (some electronically processed and some not), her skillful synthesizer playing, and her joyous dancing took them to an ecstatic frenzy. I’d never seen a crowd react this way to electronic improvisation before. I wish I had a better photo. Sorry!

After the stage show, the nightly drum circle began, this time with fire dancers!

Opening Day of the Rainbow Festival at Aso Mountain, Kyushu Island, Japan

A Japanese carp windsock flies from a tipi on the opening day of the Rainbow Festival at Aso Mountain.

The festival information booth is manned by the children of the organizers and performers. When Sachiho, Kanako and I returned from Kumamoto, we offered them rice crackers, which they happily ate.

When you pay your admission to the festival, you get a necklace made of cotton cord and your choice of nine stone pendants, all shaped as a curved teardrop, like half of a Taoist yin-yang symbol. Each stone is noted with its healing qualities. I dowsed with a pendulum and chose the blue sodalite stone, for clearing the mind and communicating.  Good idea if you are in a country where you are illiterate.

Daisuke, now the honcho of the information booth, made a special necklace for Sachiho, weaving together several colored strands of cotton and using three stones.

The festival programs and t-shirts all bear the art from the cover of Living on the Earth.

I returned to my cabin, and was met there by my first customer for books and CDs. Her name is Sakura (cherry blossom) and she played me some songs on her ukulele.

I went out to see the newly erected food, clothing and gift booths that the festival attendees had constructed. At Garammasala, an import and beer stand, I bought myself a longsleeved cotton t-shirt from India.

Rokuro Matsui, the organizer of the festival, chose a stage design reflecting his love of tipis. Here he is about to open the festival with a solo vocal/guitar performance…

…appropriately attired in a rainbow sweater over a tie-dyed t-shirt.

At this festival, children are allowed on stage during the performances, and these little ones were so pleased to join Rokuro.

On the first day, the audience is sparce, but, since the festival occurs during Japan’s Golden Week, when just about everyone goes on vacation, soon there will be up to one thousand people watching the shows.

I met Satomi, Toshi and their baby Sola. Toshi goes yearly to Arizona to attend Native American dance events.

I bought vegetables on my way back to the festival, and, since tonight was the last night the pre-festival community kitchen still stood, and I took the opportunity to prepare a huge California style salad as a gift to the people at the festival.

Peace activist author Takashi Masaki (known to his friends as Maisa) sang with two friends at the festival. The latest of his many books is called Flying Buddha. He recently organized a very long peace march called Walk Nine, which is to protest the proposed end of Article Nine, the part of the Japanese constitution imposed by the USA after World War II declaring Japan shall not have a military, ushering in an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Maisa’s group is also speaking out against Japan’s nuclear power plants, which plan to begin releasing radiation into the air starting next November.

Next we heard an Okinawan group presenting traditional music.

After that, a very avant garde jazz singer, accompanied only by bass guitar and bongos, performed for us.

I was happy to meet so many new friends.