A whistlestop two week tour in 2009 saw Isabella Acappella again performing in very diverse locations and venues, supported by a number of very generous hosts. We were accompanied by David Nielsen, a photographer from local newspaper The Northern Star, whose photographs appear below. We are always warmly received at hospitals and aged care homes and have witnessed the powerful effect of music in these environments. Dr Jitsuhiro Yamada, a longtime supporter of the group, hosted us at the Kizawa Memorial Hospital in Minokamo City, where he is the Director. It was a very moving experience to sing for the patients and staff at this wonderful hospital.
A visit to the beautiful Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto gave us the opportunity to see the pink weeping cherry blossoms called Benishidare in flower. From here we moved on to Hiroshima, where we were hosted by Mr and Mrs Shimada and the Hiroshima Hiki Rotary Club. The devastation wrought by the atomic bomb, which we saw documented at Hiroshima’s War Museum, stood in stark contrast to the bustling and vibrant city Hiroshima is today. We performed at the luxurious Hotel Granvia for a Rotary Club dinner and were wined and dined in style. The delicacies included Deep-sea Urchin Jelly with Caviar.
A highlight of our stay in Hiroshima was the chance to perform on morning television, broadcast to an estimated two million people. Japanese TV tends to a lot more animated and fast-paced than its Australian counterpart and it was fun to watch the show unfolding before us (and being broadcast live). We provided a quieter moment with a rendition of the Sting song Fragile.
Travelling from Honshu to Shikoku Island, we traveled by train across the Seto Ohashi bridge. At 13.1 km long, it is the world’s longest two-tiered bridge system, combining road and rail. It straddles five small islands in the Seto Inland Sea and is a spectacular trip. Some sightseeing and a concert at Niihama National College followed.
Back on Honshu, we performed concerts at Takarazuka and Yamato Takada. Once again Yamato Takada’s mayor hosted us at his favourite karaoke bar, where we sang, ate and drank into the evening. Japanese hospitality is surely the best in the world!
Every day saw us performing at a different town or city: at universities and colleges, nursing homes, city halls and the Australian Ambassador’s residence in Toyko, to name but a few. Travelling back through Kyoto, we performed and stayed at the beautiful home and workshop of Yusai Okuda, who specializes in the art of Korozen fabric dying. The 130 year old building in Arashiyama is formerly the site of the inn ‘Chidori’, where famous author Yasunari Kawabata wrote his novel entitled The Sound of the Mountain. It was an amazing experience to perform within this exquisite example of Japanese architecture situated in such a beautiful natural setting alongside the Ōi River.
A particularly fun concert was one we performed at a children’s music school in Yama-zato, Nara. This was hosted by the Soprano singer and music teacher Atsuko Arai. Lack of a shared language didn’t stop lots of interaction and laughs between the kids and us. It was the closest we’ll ever get to feeling like rock stars!
One of the best aspects of all the Isabella tours is the opportunity to stay with Japanese families along the way. Members of the group are billeted with local families and this is a fantastic way to really experience Japanese culture and hospitality and gain an insight into Japanese life most tourists are not afforded. We tried taiko drumming, sampled natto (fermented soy beans) for breakfast, were gifted with personalised haiku poems and kimonos, ate the most delicious food and were looked after like family throughout the tour.