Saturday, 23 October 2010

Otsu and All That Jazz

The Japanese love their jazz and it seems that just about every weekend you can listen to some wonderful live performances in and around the city. We have run into several by accident, but on the weekend we decided to visit a small jazz festival in a town called Otsu just a few miles out from Kyoto.

The‘Otsu Jazz Festival’ is quite a new one and this year is only the second time the event has operated. After about a 45 minute train journey, we walk out of the station to be enthusiastically greeted by an English speaking promotion volunteer who thrusts a program in our hands and starts to direct us toward the many venues in the town. Otsu is a relatively quiet place, perched on the banks of Lake Biwa and the jazz festival was obviously originally designed to inject a little bit of life into the town and provide a focus for the community.

As we wander around the streets we come across some terrific performers who are all surrounded by small enthusiastic groups of jazz lovers, wildly applauding each number.Not surprisingly we seem to be the only foreigners there, although do we come across a food vendor from Turkey selling yiros at one of the venues near the water. In the same spot our eyes catch a glimpse of an Australian flag, where to our surprise, there is a Japanese man selling Aussie meat pies! Our patriotic duty meant that we simply had to have one! As we continued to move around to see the various acts, we are ushered into a traditional Japanese house by a kindly old gentleman uncharacteristically wearing a jazz festival t-shirt. The interior is typically Japanese with its wooden screens and as we pass an ancient interior water well (that is obviously still in use) we see and hear a young guitar duet playing some lovely jazz standards in a large tatami room. We respectfully remove our shoes, pull up a pillow and join the handful of spectators sitting on the floor enjoying the music. Near the performers the sliding screens are open, revealing a picturesque Japanese courtyard. It was just perfect and sitting there listening to some soulful jazz it all seemed quite surreal. I must say that Jules and I have never listened to live jazz quite like this before!

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