At the weekend I paid my first visit to a Kamogawa-kai event - their Annual Cherry party. This year it was hosted by Mr and Mrs Oyagi in their huge beautiful old Japanese house on the banks of the Kamogawa River, one of the most spectacular spots for blossom-viewing. The weather was gorgeous, and so was the buffet laid on by the "twenty-four ladies" of Kamogawa-kai, but even more amazing was the chanson concert, which I'll tell you about in a minute.
Kamogawa-kai is a non-profit international friendship organisation established in Kyoto in 1984. Among their many projects, they arrange monthly cultural visits in the Kyoto area to (in their own words) "deepen your appreciation of different cultures and peoples".
Of the 49 people there on Sunday, about one-third were from outside Japan - there was a space-scientist from India, research-doctors from Malaysia, students from all over China, and many other countries represented including Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Chile, UK and US. It's not always easy to talk to strangers but the program made it so, with greetings by each language speaker and a funny round of self introductions, Mr Oyagi's song in four languages, and plenty of time and space to mingle under the weeping sakura.
But I must tell you about the chanson. This was all Japanese, some songs peppered with French refrains. A pianist accompanied four singers who took turns and made flamboyant costume changes for each set: Mrs Setsuko Okuzawa sang 'Paris', 'Se-shi-bon', 'Jolie Momu', 'Adieu' and 'Sorezore no Table', variously in black evening dress and red trilby, silver flapper wig and mauve boa, and blue velvet sheath; Ms Sueko Yokoyama sang 'Kanashii no Venice', 'My Way' (in Japanese) and 'J'aime Paris au mois du Mais', sporting a blue music hall dress and My Fair Lady hat followed by a QE2 blue beaded frock with medieval sleeves; Mr Kiyohide Okuzawa sang 'San Francisco no rokumai no kaiha', 'Watashi no kodoku' (my loneliness), and a song about whales and another of a kamikaze pilot thanking his mother in his will - he wore a pale pink sports jacket which matched the blossoms perfectly; the MC, the Kamogawakai comedian, sang 'Bon Voyage!' and 'Ikanaide!' (Don't Go!) with all her heart.
The concert was brilliantly put together so that wherever they were from, everyone in the audience could empathise - sorrow, seduction, loneliness, broken hearts, lost time - the sadder the song the more the melodrama, so that strangers from all around the world found themselves beyond language, laughing and crying together. A hilarious, profound, generous and delicious day.
1. KAMOGAWA-KAI 加茂川会 (国際交流グループ): firstname.lastname@example.org (take out the *s)
2. The SINGERS are all members of ITC (International Training in Communication) in Kobe.
3. There will be a big CHANSON CONCERT in Osaka 21st August 2008 - I'll try and get details to post.