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Beethoven visits Japan: On Tour with the Vienna Academy Orchestra (Part 3)

A last fantastic breakfast at the Osaka hotel and the orchestra is off to travel from to Tokyo on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. If you like your trains, let’s specify: It’s the N 700 series that runs on this, the busiest railway line in the world, which the newest in the family of Shinkansen trains. It’s one of the ones that look vaguely like a platypus. (On the way there the rarest of all sights: A delayed Japanese train. Ten minutes! Someone brought shame on their parents.)

Even second class is astoundingly comfortable in this train: You would think that Japanese trains, what with the Japanese being an average of two, three inches shorter than central/northern Europeans, might be tight affairs – at least as tight as the TGV speed trains… but nothing of the sort. Despite having the same gauge width, they are a good deal wider (apparently this is possible because of thing called “structure gauge”), and even with five seats across, there’s no feeling of being packed in too tightly. Rows are also luxuriously far apart. The city flies by; the Japanese countryside flies by. About three quarters of Japan are mountainous and not inhabited.

This isn’t scientific, but looking at about myself, I sense that the Japanese—at least in the Kinai- (Osaka) and Kantō- (Tokyo) plains—are really not keen on living in the mountainside—at all. At the foot of the meekest hill, civilization seems to end. That’s in stark contrast to the famously densely populated urban centers. Leaves me wondering if one couldn’t squeeze another 20 percent habitable area out of Japan, by transplanting some South Tyroleans.

Suddenly a collective Uhh! Ahh! The musicians leap to the left and crowd the windows. One second I fear the train might tilt (it doesn’t, no doubt thanks to structure gauge), the next I’m right with them, pressing my nose against the window; pushing other onlookers gently out of the way and fumbling for the camera: Mount Fuji proudly gleams in the distance—solitary and beautifully—with a wisp of smoke wafting out of its top.

After two and a half hours, Tōkyō is reached—another hour or so later the new, humbler hotel in the western district of Musashino is reached. It’s a heavily residential district, with tons of little hole-in-the-wall eateries, and at the next best—a friendly little place oozing authenticity down to an alleged cockroach-sighting—the first groups of the orchestra found themselves enjoying delicious Gyōzas, delicious Japanese pork-cabbage-garlic dumplings that are both steamed and fried at once and which are irresistible with a beer or two.

The orchestra rehearsed; and eventually they found themselves dispersed in restaurants again, differing, shifting little groups invariably bumping into each other. Largely balmy weather and good food—especially for the culinarily curious ones—help raise the mood. More pictures below ("Read more").

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