6am and I’ve made it down to Tokyo Bay as an icy light rain starts to fall.
I’ve got a new favourite bench and I take my seat, for a good view of both the water and the sun worshippers should they choose to make an appearance. It’s a bit chilly to sit and do the mantras here today. There’s something I want to write about, so I do that instead. Bowing my head to my phone I start tapping away, and breathe out when I hear them starting up in the distance, the now familiar Insen scale resonating with the waves beating on the seawall in this final moment of dark before she rises. Then just as soon as they enter, they stop. Silence. I look up and I’ve missed them!
I curse this piece of glass stuck in my hand, blocking my view, sucking me in and pulling me out of my surroundings. It’s really cold now and I stand up to walk, heading towards the Pacifico Yokohama Conference Centre – standing for 22 years it’s one of the oldest buildings here in Minatomirai and, together with its neighbour the Grand Intercontinental Hotel, plays host to the conveyer belt of international corporate guests, who sprout up at the bay as joggers in brand new, spotless sporting attire.
What’s this? I can’t believe my luck, I’ve found them! The sun worshippers have relocated due to the rain, seeking shelter under the concrete canopy Pacifico offers. It’s been 7 months since i’ve shared in their sound and I’m excited and keen to capture it to share with you but didn’t want to intimidate them by sticking my glass in their face. I did capture a short something, to show you how dedicated they are to their practice of honouring the rising sun, come rain or shine!
Once the sun has risen and they’ve concluded singing, the group engage in a 10 minute exercise routine, guided by the voice on a portable transistor radio one of the members brings along. This is a long running tradition called Radio Taiso Practiced daily across the island in nurseries, schools, offices, parks, wherever folks gather.
Today, a kind gentleman in black courderoy trousers and grey leather brogues smiled at me and invited me to take part, translating the instructions as we went along… It was fun, and my body felt grateful of the stretch. I was touched by the gentle kindness shown to me by this stranger this morning, it left me with a sense of belonging which I rarely experience here. Thank you, Mr Brogues.
I’m here and trying to dive in and experience the culture as much as possible. I’ll do a test in a minute. I’ll leave my laptop out on this café table as I venture off to the toilet. Sounds crazy but it’ll be fine. People leave bikes unlocked here. I once left my wallet on a park bench overnight, only to find it the next morning, complete with all the cash inside. Hard not to love that.
Another part of Japanese culture i’ve found myself exploring is cycling. I’m working on a project called Black Country Bikes – a song cycle that will celebrate the rich heritage of cycling in the area. The spinning wheel of cycling is rising up within me as an area of creative inspiration, the seed was sewn upon discovering that the hallowed turf of my beloved ‘Golden Palace’ Molineux football stadium was once a cycle race track! Alongside the multitude of cycle local manufacturers this made Wolverhampton the beating heart of cycling in Europe.
And I had an experience here yesterday that has re-assured me I am on the right track with this new creative thread …
Keen readers will note I mentioned in an earlier post my son is a footballer and plays for Liverpool FC Academy here in Tokyo. I was watching him play a training match yesterday afternoon at the Kawasaki training centre when I over heard music and announcements in the near distance, just over the fence behind the pitch. I asked another football Dad what all the commotion was and he explained “oh! that’ll be the Keirin racing!”
Japan is the home of Keirin racing – a highly popular form of track racing; followers of the sport bet billions a year. Large tracks, under floodlights watched by a crowd of 17,000 plus, a scene probably not so far removed from what it must have been like to watch Major Taylor racing 120 odd years ago. For the uninitiated, Major Taylor is a legend of cycling described as the fastest man in the world, a figure that intrigues me and I feel inspired to write a song about.
My Dr Cycling friend David Viner had recommended I check out Keirin racing whilst i’m over here, but I had no idea where to start in terms of uncovering it and it felt a bit out of reach to be honest. But here it is, next door to my son’s football training centre, so close you can hear the roar of the crowd… great inspiration for a song and confirmation this new path is the right one.
Five minutes later I return to my table and my laptop’s here safe and sound. A group of 30+ children wearing identical green caps line up outside the window, ready for their guided walk down Minatomirai high street, they excitedly jump and cheer as the final member of their party joins them and they can begin their journey to the park. The brightly coloured hats they wear are so cute. I’ve seen them before, but these appear to have developed to include a bright orange bow tie on top of their heads. Big kids at the front of the line, smaller ones in groups of 4 in large shopping carts at the back of the parade.
What a sight to behold! all that playful energy, innocence and sense of adventure.
I wrote a poem inspired by a similar sight but at a local park a couple of years ago, where the colourful heads of the children blended with the local insects
The hoverflies hover,
with matching yellow and black capes,
mini super heroes with no one to save.
The children flutter,
their colourful heads,
red blue and yellow,
marking them out as new.
They stand in a line,
fall silent as they’re drilled into place.
The party’s over,
time to get back to learning how to be straight.
Hand in hand they march across the grass,
but as they pick up pace, a rhythm emerges,
their colourful heads bobbing like a flock in flight.
They wheel and dart,
with no idea how beautiful they are.
DAN WHITEHOUSE NOVEMBER 2023