Today we left Hirosaki for Lake Towada, a tourist resort about an hour away, stopping in the small town of Kosaka for a tour of the mining museum and an afternoon of Kabuki theatre. We’re here until Monday afternoon, capping off the WFAE conference before heading back to Hirosaki to connect to Aomori, where we’ll fly to Tokyo in the evening. Our short stay here will include a sixty-minute soundwalk in the morning and a musical workshop that we may or may not sit in on. In the meantime, some catching up on what we’ve been up to:

  • On Thursday evening, after a soundwalk from Hirosaki University to the city centre, we enjoyed a yummy dinner (including three kinds of sake – this is an important point; the sake available in Montreal – Hakutsuru, I think – stinks compared to the variety of flavours we’ve sampled so far) at Anzu, a Live House featuring local folk music performances and yarn spun by a Japanese storyteller. The musicians each played a shamisen, a three-stringed instrument played with a giant pick in a harsh, staccato manner.ShamisenThe music, as you can tell from a video I’ll post as soon as we get somewhere with decent bandwidth, is not the easiest to get into, but is catchier than you would expect. We sat with colleagues on soft mats and ate around rectangular tables, enjoying some sashimi and a whole cooked fish (don’t ask me to specify…), as you can see.

    Anzu live house

    Anzu musicians

    Anzu food

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  • On Friday morning we visited a Shinto shrine known for its impressive five-story pagoda and giant bell, which we had the pleasure of ringing more than once. The thing is so powerful that you can feel the air around it vibrate even when its sound has been reduced to a low, quiet hum. We then visited Hirosaki Park, which was more populated than Thursday, owing to it being Culture Day in Hirosaki, whatever that is. There were musical performances in the botanical garden and around the castle, but we decided to take a pretty quick walk around and then have some lunch. We returned to the hotel in time for Lisa to catch the afternoon sessions and me to stretch out for a bit, before enjoying what I’m pretty sure was some grilled tongue.
  • Lisa presented – wonderfully – yesterday; the enthusiasm of her international colleagues was palpable. Her project seems to be able to transcend language, distance and culture. In fact, earlier in the morning a student from Kyoto presented his own proposal, to create a “sound-seeing” audio guide of his own city. As someone who’s been around academics (but isn’t one himself), I was impressed by the passion of the WFAE attendees; the conference was both accessible to a real layperson and stimulating for those who’ve spent a lifetime working in sound. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed hearing about the projects, and touched by the sense of community that developed so quickly among the participants (who number about 65).

    Lisa presents

    Saturday was also a student festival day at Hirosaki University. Like all student events, it featured cheap food, booths set up on campus, kids in funny outfits and rock music. Throw in some Middle Eastern shouting and you’ve got Concordia’s Hall Building mezzanine.

  • After the WFAE closing reception (only about a third of the conferencegoers are at the retreat in Lake Towada), we headed out for some drinks at the Yamauta Live House, where we chatted with some Japanese colleagues. The local folks were a blessing during the past few days, helping us find the right room, order the right food and sample the right beverages. Their hospitality, even as conference guests – many in a city far from their homes, has gone a long way.
  • Today’s excursion to Kosaka was a blast. We went to the drag-show-by-any-other-name that is Kabuki theatre, which featured a tale of brotherly deception (or something – who the hell knows what was going on?) followed by some short comedy numbers, some garden-variety drag queen dance numbers and a Samurai demonstration featuring a member of our group from France.
  • Don’t get me wrong, we have had nothing but great meals since we arrived (even the cheapo lost-in-translation-what-am-I-eating? meals have been dynamite), but today’s supper was a stretch. It was a multi-course meal served all at once – two kinds of soup, two items cooking at each place while we ate, sashimi, tempura and more. But, aside from the shrimp and the sushi (and I guess the soup), the only thing I could identify was the tiny tempura fish (a small fish dipped in batter, fried and served on a little plate) – and I have no idea what kind of fish it was. Generally speaking, the food was great, though a couple of dishes tasted quite different than they looked (or smelled, for that matter). Before we ate everyone was advised to state their allergies, the assumption, I guess, that somebody was bound to react to something. Fortunately, it all (more or less) went down smoothly. After dinner we checked out the hot spring infused Japanese bath, and are enjoying a quiet evening in the country. Tomorrow promises to be a long day, with many three bus rides, one flight, a monorail trip and a short hop on the Tokyo subway. Sayonara!