symphony, carp, ohatsu tenjin

08Aug05

On July 16, Richard and I took the train to Amagasaki to see the Osaka University student symphony (three of my students are members: violin, violin, viola). We stopped off for lunch at a “Chinese” restaurant that had terrible steamed buns, but an absolutely delicious mango custard that made up for everything. Afterwards we walked over to the concert hall, which was full of parents, grandparents, and siblings — including an incredibly annoying mother/son combination who were crinkling their Uniqlo bags so incessantly that Richard and I actually had to get up and move.

The stage was backed by a really interesting wooden orchestra shell that was covered with complicated wooden cubic relief-work that was intended to produce some kind of beneficial sonic effect, though the visual effect was just as remarkable. Three pieces were played — Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites No. 1 and 2, and Beethoven’s Symphony No.5. The students played very well, and especially during the slower movements they had a really nice sense of delicacy that kept coming into play. The more bombastic stuff sounded a little muddy — either because of the acoustics in the hall, or because the students could only maintain precision up to a certain point. In any case, I love Peer Gynt, so it was a delight to hear it live, and I was also reminded of how lovely the second and third movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 are (the first movement, of course, is almost impossible to listen to any longer, since all I see is Gary Oldman’s withered eye from that atrocious Immortal Beloved movie).

After the concert was over, Richard and I walked back to Amagasaki station and, as we were crossing over the river, saw the disarmingly strange sight of hundreds, if not thousands, of river-carp staring straight up at us while opening and closing their gaping-wide mouths.

Luckily this small moment of strangeness was disarmed by the matsuri that we came across at Ohatsu Tenjin shrine as were walking through Umeda later in the day. There were festival stalls, of course, as well as some kind of traditional dance, and several participants wearing what looked to be ethnically Thai clothing, though I suppose it could have been Indonesian as well.

Ohatsu Tenjin is one of the most well-known shrines in Osaka because of its central role in Monzaemon Chikamatsu’s famous Bunraku play Sonezaki Shinju (曾根崎心中), or The Love Suicides at Sonezaki , which was first staged in 1720. Ohatsu Tenjin used to be located on an island and the basic story is that two lovers, Tokubei and Ohatsu, decided to commit suicide on the shrine grounds rather than separating. A memorial tower is located at the sight of the suicide and is apparently visited by many couples. The shrine is also dedicated to the deified spirit of Sugawara no Michizane, the patron saint of scholarship (needless to say I’ll be making a stop here before I get started on my dissertation again).

My sleeve is soaked with dew formed by the tears I shed recalling Kyoto. — Michizane

They’re all staring at us.

Traditional dancing at Ohatsu Tenjin shrine.

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