Monte Nordstrom in Japan: 2001
copyright 2001 by Monte Nordstrom
from issue # 74 - Cosmic Debris Musicians Magazine - July, 2001
"From Sun To Sun"
It's a big jump from Crofton to Kyushu,
But I'm looking for a diff'rent point of view.
But it won't be long before,
I gaze into the rising sun;
With my rock'n'roll'n'boppin'
blue suede shoes.
I played Rockabilly last night with the Pythons,
Now I'm 30,000 feet up in the blue.
I can't believe I'm on my way, with my guitar too
All the way from Crofton to Kyushu...
From Memphis & the cradle of the blues;
To Whitehorse & the midnight sun.
Me & my guitar, have been on the run
Now I'm crossing the Pacific & when this day's
done... I'll be rockin & rolling
in the Land of the Rising Sun!
(Chorus:) Hey, hey, Fuji! Fuji, Boogie Woogie!
(c)2001 Monte Nordstrom/Northstream Music/SOCAN
I settled into the 11.5-hour flight of
my ten-day busman's holiday to
Japan with my bottled water &
hooked into the in-flight movies.
Every so often the flight's progress
was illustrated on the screen with a
map of the Pacific Rim, along with
ETA, altitude, temperature &
airspeed. Our course was over the
Queen Charlottes & the Gulf of
Alaska then down the Kamchatka
Pennisula & North East China. We
flew the length of Japan before
landing at KIX in Osaka.
With all the excitement of
travelling, I was unable to sleep. It
got a bit tedious telling the
attendents "no thanks" everytime
the drink cart came by, but my
bottled water insured that I wouldn't
be lacking exercise.
Arrival - Osaka / Fukuoka /
My first glimpse of Japan was
from 30,000 feet. The world looks
barren from this altitude. Very
misleading. The pilot told us we
were over Tokyo, but from my seat,
it was hard to see much of it.
Minutes later I got my first photo
op... Mount Fuji rising through the
clouds. Within half an hour I was in
Osaka. I took my first step into
Japan, got in line for Customs &
breezed through without even
opening a bag.
I took the shuttle to the domestic
terminal & acquired a cart. I now
had a 3-hour lay-over. I picked up
my connector ticket; went through
domestic security & wandered
down the airport, checking out
shops. I bought a phone card &
called the Pite's number in
Kitakyushu. Dave's daughter, Julie
answered & told me that he was
with a private student & that her
mom was teaching a piano lesson.
I said I'd be ar-riving in Fukuoka
soon & would call again.
At this point I started practicing
Japanese. I had 3 hours. Might as
well be prepared, right? I pulled out
the "Japanese In 10 Minutes" book
that I had borrowed from my
daughter. To my dismay I noticed
the fine print below the bold title,
"per day". It didn't even specify how
I had my pocket translator &
helpful sentences from the
language manual to start. Dave had
primed me with a few phrases. The
most helpful was Sumimasen: (Sue
me my son) or "Excuse me", which
doubled for "I'm sorry". A clod can
go along way with this & if you look
a little dangerous, people are eager
to help you move along...
I had a few words already:
Konichi wa -
hello; Biru Kudasai -
beer please; Domo
arigato - thankyou;
Sayonara - goodbye.
I would soon be in Fukuoka
where I would find a local bus & get
to a specific stop, somewhere on
the island of Kyushu. A little
daunting for a jet-weary verbal
My pocket translater suggested
that "Kono basu wa Hichino guchi
he ikimasuka?" would get me to
where I would
meet Dave. Of course I had to rely
on gestures & goodwill. I was now a
"gaijin" in a strange land. I went to a
kiosk & asked a one-word question,
"Biru?". I was thirsty & I needed to
practise my Japanese.
On the way to Fukuoka & I got to
watch the news with a plane load of
business people. I couldn't
understand much, but it looked just
like the daily news back home.
When I arrived at Fukuoka Airport
I noticed I was the only non-Asian
in sight. My blonde hair, newly-acquired blue sunglasses & 6' 3"
stature, no doubt made me an
oddity. I felt like a mobile landmark.
The next tallest person I saw in this
crowd was a young woman with 5"
stacked soles on her hot pink
boots. This footwear is big with
Japanese girls, pardon the pun...
I called the Pite's number again.
Masako told me how to find the bus
wicket; that Dave anticipated
picking me up; and that everyone
was excited about my arrival. I
couldn't understand whether the
bus trip would take a few minutes or
My next move was to the bus
wicket. Mmm, diesel fumes. I tried
my first complex sentence in
Japanese. "Hichino Guchi?" The
woman looked at me quizzically. I
felt like an idiot. "Hichino Guchi?", I
repeated with a bigger question
mark. She punched
out a ticket & helpfully directed me
to a stern man in a uniform.
The passenger attendant looked
like a no-nonsense kind of guy. I
squeaked, "Hichino Guchi?" & he
pointed to the first bus stop. I stood
A few minutes later I asked again.
He squinted at me & talked to the
ticket lady. "Lost Gaijin" was the
body of their inter-change. He
gladly put me on the next bus.
This bus was jam packed. I
stowed my heavy bag & tried my
handy phrase on the bus driver. He
looked at me blankly as I was
compelled to the rear of the bus by
eager commuters behind me. I
spent the next 45 minutes trying to
read the roadsigns, as they
whipped by in the invisible
landscape. My co-passengers were
all nodding out, or
deeply engaged in conversation. I
had no idea how far I was going on
The first stop appeared & half the
riders disembarked. I got a chance
to approach the driver & repeat
"Hichino Guchi?" He indicated that
it was either the previous, or one of
the next three stops. I decided it
was an upcoming stop & kept my
I kept my mouth shut at the next
stop, just to see what would happen
& nothing did. I considered getting
off & taking my chances, but I
resisted the urge. What if there was
no phone? The driver then turned &
repeated "Hichino Guchi", as if I
were hearing- impaired. I grabbed my bag &
exited, suddenly becoming fluent,
"Hichino guchi! Domi arigato,
The bus disappeared around a
corner. I was standing in the dark in
a rundown, semi-industrial area
with three-story wooden buildings &
narrow streets. It looked like East
Vancouver. No sign of Dave at this
point. I had travelled over 4000
miles in 24 hours & was in a
strange land, with my suitcase in
Before panic could settle in, Dave
appeared from around a corner. He
looked impressive with his 3 piece
suit, red hair & full beard. I was less
dapper in my rumpled travelling
suit. Here we were, two old school
mates from the Cowichan Valley
meeting on a street in Japan.
Amazing. We dragged the luggage
to his car.
Dave brought me home to his
apartment in Chuo-machi. I brought
out the omiage (traditional
presents). Masako, Julie & Cana
were excited to see me & happily
opened their gifts. Dave was
pleased to receive Aberlour Scotch
& Jack Daniels. We cracked the
single malt & had a toast or 2...
I told Dave that I had to see some
street level life. We excused
ourselves & went for an evening
stroll. We found a little
restaurant/bar that was still open. A
good opportunity to taste the
culture. Wise? We decided we
would gambatte (do our best).
More biddoo & some outrageous
with a big ginseng root floating in it.
This deadly concoction was sitting
in a jar on the counter & the
hostess insisted we try it. It looked
like an aquarium without fish. Mmm.
That was the perfect end to the first
ex-tended day (27+hrs) of my
I awoke in a comfortable fog & it
took a while to realize where I was.
Dave brought in a coffee &
chocolate croissants (tres western).
He told me to get packing. We were
off to see his friend Hosan
(Jiho-san) the Bosan (Buddhist
priest) at Saganoseki-machi, some
four hours away by car. We hit the
Kitakyushu has a population of
about a million. As Dave & I
travelled out of the city, I noticed
how heavily the area was
developed. I wondered if it would be
like this all along. (A few days later
Dave showed me the green side of
his city. Impressive.)
The sensation of being a
passenger while driving on the left
was disorienting. I kept looking
down to my left for a rear view
mirror. There wasn't one. It's like
forgetting your wristwatch & looking
at a blank arm. This odd feeling
was compounded by the unusual
little cars & trucks, endowed with
poetic or silly names. Over the next
few days I would giggle like an idiot
whenever I saw one new to me.
The Japanese have a way with
making rules & getting around
them. Car owners in major cities
are required to prove ownership of
a parking spot before acquiring a
licence. A micro-mini car has been
developed that is smaller than the
criteria for the definition of a "car".
These "non-cars" have special
yellow licence plates & are
extremely popular. You see them
wedged in doorways & parked on
sidewalks all over the place.
Amazing. As was the frequency of
toll boothes on the various routes
that we used. I guess you have to
pay for roads somehow. I didn't ask
Eventually we moved into
agricultural areas with terraced
hillsides & smaller townships. We
travelled through the seaside cities
of Beppu & Oita & eventually
arrived at Saganoseki.
We spent the next two days at
Hosan's beautiful Zen Buddhist
Temple on the side of a small
mountain, while my jetlag kicked in.
Dave knew that this would be a
perfect location to regain my
composure, in comfort & serenity.
Hosan is a fantastic host. We met
his mother in the kitchen when we
arrived & visited with her. Lucky for
me that Dave is fairly fluent in
Hosan arrived a bit later, greeting
us warmly. He is a well-travelled
man, no stranger to Victoria & has
a great sense of humour. We had a
good chinwag & in the evening he
took us out for a Sushi feast at a
I have never had such varied
seafood in my life. There was too
much for us to finish. Cuttle fish,
Sea Anenome, Shark, tuna,
abalone, seaweed & many things I
could not identify. These were
consumed with draughts of Asahi
beer & sake. Mmm.
After our feast we returned to the
500 year old temple & continued
our visit. We listened to music & sat
on the tatami mat flooring. It was an
inspiring situation for deep
conversation & sampling of our
host's massive collection of single
malts, including Aberlour (the
winner). Hosan brought out a bowl
of chocolate almonds & believe it or
not, they complement Scotch
Later on we retired to the upstairs
rooms, with their thin sliding walls. I
enjoyed a deep sleep, awakening to
the crowing of a local rooster,
accompanied by the singing of
frogs & wild birds on the hillside.
One of the things that impressed
me in Japan is the plumbing. The
concept of a two-stage "big flush /
Little flush" is eco- smart; & having
the water that fills the toilet, first
pour out of a spout into a basin on
the cistern lid - so you can wash
your hands - is brilliant. No need for
a separate wash stand in the
cubicle! I had seen traditional
Japanese plumbing (squat toilets)
in public washrooms enroute.
Intimidating for the inexperienced.
Imagine my delight when I found
Hosan's American-style commode
with a heated toilet seat. What
That morning Dave & I had a lazy
morning listening to the symphony
of sounds outside in the bamboo
forest. I played music & did some
recording with the Mini-disc for
posterity. Then to breakfast with
Hosan's mother. We were allowed
to enter the inner temple, where I
was inspired to play more guitar.
Dave took some handi-cam footage
of the exotic surroundings.
Later we hiked up the hillside.
Scattered across the north face
were dozens of rows of gravestone
shrines to ancestors. These date
back hundreds of years. The
sunlight filtered on the moss
covered stones through the trees.
Large raptors called kites circled
lazily overhead on the updrafts.
Magical. Dave & I walked down to
the seashore & back along the path
to the restaurant. I had to retrieve
my camera which had been left
behind the night before. We
wandered through the little fishing
village, which used to be a busy
steel mill town. The mill closed &
left dozens of blocks of empty
apartments behind. It was strange
to see these ghost buildings.
The lush vegetation was a far cry
from my first observations on the
plane at 30,000 feet. Bamboo
forests with wild cherry trees
blanketed the hillsides & the locals
all had thriving gardens around
their homes. Beautiful.
We sat on the seawall &
speculated what direction
Vancouver Island would be. How
many times have I been on Long
Beach & thought about Japan. Big
ocean, small world.
Later that day we drove to Beppu
& lunch at a Ramen & Gyoza cafe.
I was getting very ill at ease from
the jetlag by this time.
We then proceeded to an unusual
little museum dedicated to things
carnal. Hosan told us that this was
a popular place to bring your date.
Hmm. From this erotic exhibit we
headed for the Onsen (hotsprings /
mud baths) which are located all
over this seaside city. Steam
emanates from the ground
At the Onsen we checked in &
traded our shoes for these
impossible little plastic slippers. We
wandered in & disrobed in the
changeroom. Our belongings were
placed into a little open cubicles & a
small towel was issued by the
attendant. Nudity is not an
embarassment in Japan,
For the next couple of hours we
moved from pool to pool of hot grey
mud, alternately showering off &
soaking in the sulphury muck. It
was healing but exhausting. Finally
I was parboiled & had to quit. But
my jetlag seemed be abating.
As I was leaving I saw a middle
aged executive type man, stark
naked but for a folded towel on his
head. He was talking a mile a
minute into his cell phone, as he sat
in the mire. Talk about incongruity.
Later that day we enjoyed a
traditional Japanese dinner
prepared by Hosan, back at the
temple. There were many things
that I didn't recognize but it was
interesting to give them a try. I love
the Japanese cuisine, apart from a
couple of textures. We had several
types of seaweed, tempura
vegetables & fish, squid, octopus,
tea & biru. Later on we retired to
Hosan's room for another evening
of conversation & single malts.
Another great day!
After our two days of visiting with
Hosan it was time to take our leave.
The next morning we drove to the
local fish market, where I
purchased a fish to take home to
for Masako, back in Kitakyushu.
This was a special gift for her, since
I had taken off with her husband for
a couple of days.
The market had about 20 huge
concrete tanks with live fish in
them. You just had to point at your
choice & the fishmonger would net,
bonk, clean & pack it. This one cost
7500 Yen. Masako later told me
that this species cost twice as much
We made our goodbyes to Hosan
at this point. I am looking forward to
returning his generosity when he
visits Vancouver Island in October.
At Beppu we grabbed a quick
McTeriaki Burger for the road. (Not
Dave selected a different route to
take us back to Kitakyushu. It was a
rising road through the mountains &
offered views of the surrounding
valleys & small agricultural
communities, as we moved north in
a light rain. We listened to Leonard
Cohen's "the Future". Perfect for a
rainy day & discussion of the two
concerts that we had planned.
Tomorrow would be the first event
at "Jack's Emporium", a curio shop
converted to a party venue. It would
be Jack's first "live" event. We had
to do some preparation for the
show, which incuded picking up an
amplifier from the second venue,
"Murphy's", in Onga, where the
Saturday show was scheduled.
Imagine travelling to Japan to
perform in an Irish Pub. Now I want
to go to Belfast & play a Sushi Bar
We finally got back to the
apartment & tidied up, before
heading downstirs to Masako's
parents' suite for a special
Japanese supper. I had brought
some smoked BC salmon, that my
wife, MaryAnn had purchased for
the Kobayashi's gift. We enjoyed
that, along with the fresh fish we
had just delivered. It was sliced
paper thin, raw & delicious.
Masako's father, Takashi,
(Oto-osan) & mother, Chieko
(Oka-asan) were lovely hosts & it
was a treat to make their
acquaintance & enjoy their
After dinner Dave & I retired to
Mr. Kobayashi's den where he
showed us the lastest software on
his computer. He had prepared the
tickets for the show at Jack's. My
shoulder was still bugging me, so
Mrs. Kobayashi took me into
another room & got me to try a
massage machine. I felt like a car in
an autobody shop, getting a dent
taken out of my fender. It did help a
We made our exit while the kids
were playing with their
grandparents. Masako kindly
allowed Dave & I to take to the
street for a quick brew. We had
some ideas to work on.
We went to a funky beer joint,
with a sliding wooden door. The
inside looked like a set for some
far-east Bogart movie. There was a
coal shuttle beside the kitchen door
& the walls were black from years
of smoke. This was an inspiration to
I've been working on a fiction
piece for a few years & I asked
Dave If he'd be interested in
co-writing a screenplay by email.
We went over methods to this
process & agreed to give it a go.
We've been tossing it back & forth
for a couple of months now & it's
Masako & the kids were waiting
when we got back, so we had a
nice visit before the kids turned in,
followed by their dad, who was
getting sleepy. Dave was still on his
early morning work schedule & I
was on some Martian time zone by
now. So Masako & I stayed up &
talked til the wee hours. It was great
to catch up on things with her.
Masako grew up on the north
island of Hokkaido before moving to
Tokyo. She & Dave met in Kobe &
married there. They relocated to
Kitakyushu (her mother's
hometown) after the big
earthquake. Masako still gets
nervous when tremors occur. I don't
blame her, having seen video of
their Kobe experience.
We discussed her musical friends
in Tokyo. Masako wondered
whatever happened to her friend,
Keizo, who was a
successful musician that she had
lost touch with. (Jaco Pastorius
used to hang with Keizo when in
Tokyo) I suggested she see if he
had a website. She searched the
web & managed to find his site &
send him an email. He responded
in a couple of days.
At this point Masako wisely told
me to head off to sleep, in
preparation for the next days show.
I bid her goodnight & left her
checking the stock market on her
laptop computer. She later emailed
Keizo about my music & as a result
of their reconnection, Keizo has
agreed to contribute some bass
tracks to a project that I've been
working. What a blast! Hands
across the water.
On my next trip I will have two
reasons to visit Tokyo. Firstly, I look
forward to meeting & playing music
with Keizo. (We've been emailing
about the project.) Plus, my first
album, "ptarmigan" has been
selling through an outlet in Tokyo.
How bizarre! I went off to sleep with
a sense of wonder about it all.
The next two days we were
occupied with the concerts. The
show at Jack's came off well
despite his pre-game jitters.
He & his wife, Yamazaki-san &
their bartender, had stayed up all
night decorating the venue. It was
like another movie set, with curios
covering every bizarre square inch
of wall & ceiling.
As the guests filtered in, a
Japanese duo, "Colours" was doing
a sound check.They were sharing
the bill with me. I set up my CDs
display & placed promo on the
tables, while meeting with the
audience. Dave took video &
promoted the CDs, while Masako
introduced me to Dave's ESL
teacher friends & a couple of his
private students, inluding Mr. Urano
& his assistant Tomoko.
CD sales went well & my one hour
set of Canadiana was warmly
received. "Colours" finished off the
evening with their set of acoustic
originals in Japanese, so it was a
bi-cultural event & very satisfying all
Mr. Urano told Dave that
he would like to have me perform at
his venue, "Rin-Rin's" on my next
visit, so groundwork for a future
trip was laid. We packed up &
headed back to the apartment in
anticipation of the next night's show
In the morning Dave & I went for
a drive to a couple of surfer
beaches & checked out some spots
in the country. At lunchtime we went
out for Okonomiaki (cabbage
pancakes) with the family. Mmm.
Then Dave & I headed over to
Onga for a sound check with Bob
Bob's venue is also an ESL /
Computer School / Italian
Restaurant. Talk about
multi-tasking / multi culturalism. He
has a first rate sound system & we
enjoyed a "Funky Chicken" Pizza
(with lettuce & Vietnamese hot
sauce on a tortilla) while waiting for
the audience to arrive. We were
joined by Dave's friend Paul Gayle,
who had also been at Jack's.
The first set was to a small
appreciative crowd. During my
break Bob asked me to kick it up a
notch & dispense with the
between-song patter, since not
many could understand it.
I plugged in my Zoom FX pedal &
cranked out a set of high energy
blues guitar/harp & howling. This
got the growing audience warmed
up. By then some young Japanese
blues musos had arrived & were
anxious to jam with me.
So the third & fourth sets were
full-on rocking blues. Hiroaki Kuroki
& Masaki Teshima are fine players,
who would do well on our local
blues scene. It was a pleasure to
share their enthusiasm.
Dave & I hung in after the main
show & I did a little acoustic set at
the bar for the later crowd. Once
again the evenings' CD sales were
decent & combined with the gate
from the two shows, I covered more
than half the cost of my trip. We
celebrated with Tequilas & caught a
The next day we took the train
back to Onga to pick up the car &
watched a "Blues Guiterist", Nakao
Kaoru doing a sound check with his
sextet. He had a big Gary
Moore-type sound with Santana
overtones. They were joined by a 3
female vocalists. We hung in &
listened to them do a nice
(phonetic) version of "I Feel the
Earth Move", before heading back
That evening we enjoyed a special
Udon noodle meal with roast duck,
prepared by Masako. Julie beat me
at a dozen games of
"Gomokunarabe" (a simple form of
"Go"), til I cried uncle.
My trip was winding down
already. The next morning Dave
took me on a hike up the mountain
to get a view of Kitakyushu's
harbour. It was beautiful & in some
ways, reminiscent of Vancouver.
In the aftenoon we went to Julie &
Cana's Shinto birth shrine, with the
whole family, including the
grandparents. After we paid our
respects at the temple, we went to
the adjoining park for a traditional
Hanami (cherry blossom) picnic. It
was beautiful to see all the trees in
bloom & enjoy a meal in the
sunshine. The park was full of
people enjoying the spring
Later on, Masako took me into a
Pachinko Parlour, for a quick
introduction to pinball gambling. I
think I'm better at "Gomokunarabe".
We caught the bus back to
Chuomachi & had more family time.
Dave ran off a copy of the video
that we had amassed, before we all
called it a day.
The next morning Dave took me
up Sarakura mountain & around the
scenic Kawachi Reservoir, the
watershed for Kitakyushu. We also
visited the school where he teaches
ESL, where his daugther Julie
attends. I was on my fifth roll of film.
Then back to the apartment for
tempura. The food was incredible
throughout this trip & I did return
home heavier than when I'd left.
Couldn't have been the biru.
The afternoon was spent doing
some last minute shopping with
Masako and visiting her folks in
Chuomachi. They all sent presents
home with me for my family. Very
sweet! The evening was spent in
conversation with Dave, Masako,
Julie & Cana. I can't believe how
much living had been crammed into
the past week & a half. I was really
made to feel part of the family. Very
The last morning, Dave & I were
up at 5:am & off to Fukuoka airport,
for my marathon trip back to
Vancouver Island. I won't go into
details, but I used my 9 hour
layover in Osaka to debrief & make
notes of my whirlwind visit. I now
have many vivid memories, an
album of photographs & a video of
my travels, to accompany this
telling of my first trip to Japan.
I look forward to seeing the Pites
when they arrive for their yearly
summer vacation, here in the
Cowichan Valley, & I'm planning a
future trip to the Land of the Rising
Sun. Domo Arigato & Sayonara!
Note: Monte Nordstrom has produced over 75 demos and has recorded 9 albums to
date (Dec '2000). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
Email Monte at:
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