3 February 2013

I'll not lie, it was took quite an effort to drag myself out of bed on Sunday morning, as I'd had more Guinnesses the night before than hours of sleep! But after a quick shower I packed and headed to the lobby with a sense of purpose. I was forgoing breakfast for a walk under a cold, cloudless sky, and headed towards the Motoyasu River and the Peace Memorial Park.

If the brisk walk in the crisp air hadn't completely calmed my slightly fuzzy head, being in that place certainly did. I moved slowly amongst the memorials, statues, trees and ponds. There is a Flame of Peace, which will only be extinguished once the last nuclear weapon on earth has been destroyed. And just north of it is the Children's Peace Monument, inspired by a 10-year old leukaemia victim, Sadako Sasaki. When she fell ill she vowed to make 1000 origami cranes, in Japan a symbol of longevity and happiness. She died before she could complete her task, but her school friends finished them for her. To this day, children make paper cranes in her memory.

Needless to say it was deeply moving.

Once back at the hotel, we embarked on one of the toughest touring days anyone in the orchestra can remember. The first day after a long haul flight is usually ok. There's excitement and adrenaline on tap to get you through. Day Two, however, is a very different story - the body clock realises it has been severely thrown, and there's nothing you can do about it. In an ideal world, one designed by musicians (imagine that!), day two of a tour would involve bed, room service and a dip in the pool. Not a chance!

A coach took us to the train station, where we grabbed a coffee and bite to eat before boarding a superfast Bullet train to Shin-Kobe. Another coach then deposited us at the Hyogo concert hall where we rehearsed Beethoven's magnificent Fourth Piano Concerto with Leif Ove Andsnes and the sprightly King Stephen Overture. At this point most of us were wandering around with glazed faces, pouring caffeine and sugar down our necks to try and stay awake. There was just time to gobble down a bit of rice before we were back on stage for the concert.

Given the circumstances, I think we did remarkably well. Esa-Pekka was his usual flowing self, and the soloist played with crystalline clarity and beautiful tone, especially in the extraordinary second movement. Mahler 1 truly took Titanic efforts to overcome fatigue, but it was worth it as, for a second successive concert, we were given a tremendous reception and standing ovation. But boy were we knackered after that one!

Unfortunately, we were far from done. Back onto the coaches for another journey, this time to Osaka airport, from where we flew two hours north to the island of Hokkaido. The nearest country to Japan at this point is Russia. Once we'd disembarked and collected our bags we dragged ourselves outside feeling, and most probably looking, like extras from an orcho-zombie movie (hands off Simon Pegg, my idea). We noted the huge snow drifts with exhausted interest, before collapsing onto (yes you guessed it) yet more coaches, before finally arriving in Sapporo around midnight. That, dear readers, was a long day!