Day 1/2 – Friday/Saturday – (due to time difference)
We arrived at Heathrow airport to catch our flight to Japan via the aptly named Japan Airlines. It was one of those half-term tours when most of us go straight from school on a Friday afternoon to the airport or via the coach which picks us up along the way from South London. The usual check-in and security measures were passed through with only moderate queueing, and unlike our last US tour, we were allowed to speak to AN human* person, and did not have to check in with a machine. One partly good thing with coming straight from school is that many of us have already been up since 6 30am, so there is a chance that we might actually go to sleep on the long flight – and indeed, that did happen for many of us. Not very soon we touched down in Tokyo – which I have recently discovered is a perfect anagram of the old capital Kyoto. After checking into the hotel, we went for dinner in an American buffet restaurant in a nearby mall where we thought we had mistakenly arrived in New York on account of the large pretend Statue of Liberty outside. The lights twinkled outside on the decorated trees and we realised that Christmas had already begun in Tokyo.
* Notice that I said ‘an’ human, not ‘a’ human and ‘an hotel’, because when a word starts with an ‘h’ I have found out that in proper grammar English the little word before it should be ‘an’ not ‘a’.
And – this is really extremely interesting – when you say it in old proper English, you should drop the ‘h’ and say ‘an ‘otel’. Maybe that might sound a bit weird nowadays, but I shall now say it a lot.
Day 3 – Sunday
Our first full day of the tour began with a delicious breakfast which energised us for about 15 minutes of our two hour rehearsal which followed brekkie; first mornings after long haul flights can be rather sleeeeepy – then we did some shopping. Sad story time – once in the UK there was one of the greatest companies ever to exist; it sadly went bust earlier last year but – hurrah! – was very much alive and kicking in Japan. This company was Toys’R’Us. Now this is an interesting title for a shop in a country where people do not speak much English because even English people can’t all work out what should be in a capital letter and where the upside-down comma thing should go. Anyhow, we spent some time in the shop I just mentioned, and then went to the arcade and other shops in the mall buying essential trinkets and gifts. We then headed back to the hotel for lunch after which we proceeded to further shopping, as voted for in a referendum of boys, as opposed to spending time on our mini-thumb-treadmills. Later we filmed some interviews for our exclusive fan club in Japan while those on break from this watched a movie. After which we retired to our beds, for night time had come, but, shock horror! – I did not have my toothbrush (I blame my negligent parents). However, the hotel came to my aid with a complimentary dental accessory and also a hairbrush, though in my case this is a pretty pointless tool.
I have spoken at great length before about the Wonder of the Japanese toilets, but every tour there are new boys who have not encountered these before, and do not know what button makes what go up where. Add to this the optional music or toilet noises and it can prove a magnificent new experience and an entertainment for all those within earshot.
Day 4 – Monday
After breakfasting ’twas time for a rehearsal of the music for the concert – and this time we were awake and full of life. We then boarded our chariot of burning gold and received our ever-beloved finger treadmills – we are all game addicts and should be given some kind of treatment. We arrived at our first venue – the Bunkamura Orchard Hall where there is in fact no orchard or apples etc. After donning our white garments, we had a rehearsal with the Japanese orchestra. Although the written down music for Japanese players is of course the same as in other countries, we have a translator to say what we are practising and any musical things. Like many of our orchestras they are amazing players and sit down and play our music straightaway, even though some of it is quite difficult and often in keys with many sharps and flats; for some reason our songs are often in keys like G flat, if you know about that kind of thing. We then retired to the changing room where we read novels written by the great masters and mistresses of literature. After filling our bellies with special chaperone approved pre-concert food we performed a wonderful first concert to a very appreciative crowd with a fantastic standing ovation at the end. We then signed programmes and copies of our new album ‘Christmas Carols with Libera’ which became Number 1 in the Japanese Classical chart (and also in America) after which we were treated to a Starbucks for, we thought, a well-earned drink and snack. Usually if you go to a Starbucks you do not think that you want to buy a £1000 fountain pen. But this one not only had a massive posh pen shop that looked a bit like Harry Potter’s wand place, but also about 30 million CDs, DVDs and books. And thus ended the fourth day.
Day 5 – Tuesday
Today was a special day not only because we had a concert but also the new Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, was enthroned in a special ceremony and also everyone got a bank holiday (yay). This concert was a matinee (fancy word to denote a show held in the afternoon.) When we arrived at the Bunkamura Hall again we did a quick sound check and then Sam C and Luke showed us how they do the sound and lights at our concerts. Luke demonstrated how all the lights move and change colour controlled from his computer. It even makes 3D digital models on the screen showing the cathedrals and halls we perform in and then what the lights will look like when we get there – he showed us one of Ely cathedral where we have a concert soon. After which we had some quiet time and did the second concert; we had a great audience and a big standing ovation at the end. AND THEN – for the first time we took a photograph with our audience. But this was no ordinary photograph, it was a giant selfie, with us at the front and all the audience behind us. Koji explained to the audience what we were going to do and they were very kind to be in our ginormous selfie. It was an amazing photo and back in London the famous newspaper, ‘The Times’, printed it with a story about us.
Day 6 – Wednesday
After a good night’s sleep, we ate the most important meal of the day, even if it did contain chips or fries depending where you live and tomato ketchup; an interesting fact: the reason that it is called tomato ketchup is because ketchup was originally a mushroom based sauce and the 57 on Heinz ketchup actually means nothing, it’s just that Henry Heinz thought it was a lucky number.
Aaanyywayy back to actually relevant things, sorry for waffling (mmm waffles…….) after eating we boarded the high-level train and a few of us spotted the Tokyo Skytree, cue Dominik and his ever-present camera. We then arrived at an interactive art exhibition which was no ordinary art exhibition – we knew this, because the first thing you have to do is to take your shoes AND socks off. It was the Team Lab installation which had many rooms of weird and wonderful art with dark passages between them so you lost sense of where you were. It had many things including : a room with white water in and fish were projected onto the water; a room which caused an odd sense of falling through an endless universe of flowers; a room with huge balloons in it; a dark room with massive soft cushions on the floor which gave way as you walked across – the adults kind of rolled across it, but us youthful people nimbly scampered across; and best of all a weird twisty bench maze thingy and after doing some parkour on that, we had some sandwiches.
Later we sniffed out a field next to a sort of beach where we played footy next to an interesting clock with an array of bells attached to it. I noticed that the not-football people were holding a memorial requiem for a grasshopper and having an argument about the leaf wreaths that were being laid in its memory, but then they discovered the grasshopper was not dead anyhow. This is quite an ordinary kind of thing in the world of the not-football people. After a good and fair match which took place next to some local people playing rugby leading to some ball confusion, we headed to a fan gathering at a hall in town. Because of the serious traffic jams owing to the Enthronement, our coach was delayed a lot, so some of us got off the coach and dived into the underground and got to the meeting quickly to start answering questions ahead of the main group. It was a fun event which ended with us demonstrating our artistic talents and making some Christmas decorations.
We went back to the buffet place in the mall for dinner which had something very exciting: two chocolate fountains! Into which a variety of little puddings could be dipped. We headed back to the hotel looking like some kind of chocolate vampires (it was actually Halloween after all) and slept.
Day 6 – Thursday
Our last day in Tokyo commenced with another lovely brekkie with many, many chips. We then set a course for Osaka, well I say set a course but we did nothing but sit on our bums, on the rather spiffing bullet train seats that rotated around, but we weren’t allowed to turn them “mutter, moan, grumble, moan”. Shortly afterwards we arrived in Osaka, and once we had checked in to our rooms we departed to a bowling alley with a very shouty man and some vending machines. Then we had food at the wonderful hotel buffet, during which we had a conversation about multiverses, quantum mechanics and the bootmakers or bootstrap paradox which is essentially, a man learns how to make a certain type of boot but he also has a time machine so he goes back in time and invents that boot. My question is: where did the idea for that boot come from because he learned it from a design which he invented based on the design in the future which he took to the past to invent. Discussions on the intellectual table are never dull – although not everyone seems to want to join us…
Day 7 – Friday
A short visit to a science museum followed breakfast at the new hotel. The planetarium was unavailable at that time so instead we decided to play football. At the time of deciding, the weather was drizzling. But by the time we reached the place of football, the rain had got much worse and there were puddles all across the pitch, but we carried on with our plan and played a very muddy, very wet game of football and all got absolutely soaked and covered in mud.
We returned to the hotel to have showers and then lunch in the restaurant before we did the final concert. We then had a bit of downtime before embarking on a great and treacherous journey across mountains and deserts and enchanted evil forests with bear people between the hotel and the venue. Actually, the hall was about 10 metres away. In the sound check we did some recording for our new music video of Carol of the Bells and we then went back to the not very faraway hotel for quiet time before the concert. Our last concert was amazing with a lovely audience and a snack afterwards.
Day 8 – Saturday
And so beganeth the last day. A running tradition is that on Japan tours we often go to USJ (Universal Studios Japan) with VIP passes and go on all the great rides there and not just us, Rob and the Chaps (short for Chaperones, in this case Barbara and Eleanor and Angelika) also came on the rides with us. My group started with the Harry Potter section of the park before heading to the huge log flume in the Jurassic Park area, we then headed to some Virtual reality/3D rides. Ciaran has a phobia of Minions (small yellow creatures from Despicable Me) so he suffered hugely in the Despicable Me area of the park especially when confronted by a park employee dressed up as one. We calmed him down with some nice camomile tea. We then proceeded to Hollywood Dream, one of the most extreme rides in the whole park. It has one of the biggest ascents and as you know that a huge drop is approaching this naturally results in lots of nervousness. As we did not have another concert to sing, screaming was allowed. We ate at a buffet where they had a candyfloss machine which we used so much that it seized up and needed a rest. Then we made the long journey home, well and truly knackered. I was looking forward to getting home so I could finally be reunited with my own toothbrush!
To see lots more pictures from the tour visit the Gallery