I was feeling so good this Summer that I put my hat in the race and auditioned for a play with PHAMALY Theatre Company, a creative home for theatre artists with disabilities! My audition resulted in four plays: The 30th Anniversary of PHAMALY’s History, CHICAGO, COME TO” YOUR SENSES, a series of one acts, and HONK! This letter is my account of HONK! HONK! took me across the seas to Shinjuku, Tokyo in Japan as part of the True Colors Festival supported by the Nippon Foundation in Japan.
First, the plane ride was 12-1/2 hours long and after riding the aisle chair to my seat I vowed I would not ride that to the bathroom during the flight! Remember, I have no legs. So balancing from the aisle chair to the toilet would have been a dangerous feat. One I was not wont to do. So when the stewardesses came around offering drinks, I politely declined. I watched the video display on the chairback as the flight progressed. I did pretty good until we got about 10 hours into the flight. Then my eyeteeth were flooting. It would have helped had I had a seat neighbor to pass the time with. Instead my partner-in-flight was petrified of flying. She firmly gripped a rosary in her hands the entire flight, and kissed it it seemed every 15.2 seconds. I tried making conversation with her. She was from the Phillippines and her Englis was hit or miss mostly. I got that she was 23 and still had 3 more flights to catch to finally make it home. My bladder thanked me then for not visiting the Phillippines.
My other partner-in-flight was too far away for me to hear (I’m hearing impaired) and English was also his second language. He was from Bulgaria. Very nice man, but we did holler too much.
Before the flight, I jumped through hoops to bring my pain medication to Japan, as oxycontin is illegal in Japan. I exchanged four faxes, four overseas phone calls, and was told at one point that I “just can’t bring them. It’s too late!” When I mentioned I had no legs, suddenly they wanted to help me. I don’t know why that should make a difference, but it sure did. They got me my certifications emmediately!
I printed them out and brought them on the flight with me. When I got to Customs in Japan, I had my ducks in a row. One the flight I signed the Customs Form and marked the box that I had illegal substances. I gave the form to the Custom’s Officer and he immediately gave it back to me, saying, “You filled this out wrong. You marked the box that says you have illegal substances.” “I do,” I said. He gave it back to me and to me to take it to the desk. They said the same thing. I explained I had medication that is illegal there and that I had Certification from the Embassy. I handed them the Certification and they asked me what they were supposed to do with it (!) Soooo… They gave it back to me and sent me on my merry way!
When we got off the plane and successfully made it through Customs we were met by our guides, Ken and Louie, two gracious young men that stayed with us for the entire 10-day trip and assisted us with travels and anything else we needed.
We stayed at the fabulous Sunroute Hotel Plaza Shinjuku. We each had private rooms. Because of injuries to my hip I cannot recline flat and have to sleep sitting up. I was planning to get a bunch of pillows from the front desk and make a little chair on the bed for me to sleep in, but much to my delight the bed reclined! Both the head and the feet raised!!! It was called a “Dream Bed” And Boy! what a dream it was to sleep in! So comfy! I had a lot of pain this trip, so it was good this was such a comfortable bed.
Next came the bathroom. Huge, to accomodate the wheelchair! And there was a bidet! There was a lovely, very deep bathtub that I would have died to take long soaks in. But I was afraid I couldn’t get out of it by myself. So I settled for spounge baths on the side of the tub.
The hotel provided guests the most thorough breakfast to guests. Because they cater to guests from all over the world, dealing with all time zones, they must serve every meal: breakfast, lunch and dinner in the morning.
So they had things like fresh pizza margherita, coconut chicken curry and rice, pho, pumpkin soup, beef and beansprouts, a salad bar, greens and tofu,prosciutto croquettes, strawberry rhubarb plum tarts, and mini croissant that melted in the mouth.
When we weren’t rehearsing, I went visiting the city of Shinjuko, where we were stayinging. The others visited outside of the city, but I couldn’t push my manual wheelchair very far. I decided to bring a manual chair for two reasons. One: for choreography for the show. Two: United Airlines has a bad record of damaging wheelchairs inflight. I’m used to a power chair, where all you do is push a joystick to go. So I was horribly out of shape!!! And the process of pushing by moving the body forward and back made the pain in my hip worse. So I couldn’t go far. Getting from the lobby to my room on carpet was a struggle. I was in great pain on this trip. Thank goodness I could bring my pain medication.
Tokyo is a very clean city. Everyone is expected to pack their trash and not litter. Trash itself is meticulously sorted at your home and at the theatre they had bags for burnable, nonburnable, and food waste.
The second day we went to visit our theatre where we would perform HONK! I was taken there in a wheelchair accessible coach with one of our guides. We were in a brand new theatre called Brillia Hall. It has approximately three levels of 2,000 seats! We were one of the first, if not the first to perform there! It was such an honor. It was fully wheelchair accessible.
Our dressing rooms were amazing! Spacious, clean, comfortable and well lit.
The staff fed us very well every day with delicious bento boxes, chinese style lunch boxes, tuna wraps and more tiny Japanese sweet cakes and cookies than one could dream of as well as pizza with corn, ham and asparagus. Coffee was MJB brand (haven’t seen it much in the states recently) and Army Green.
The bathrooms at Brillia Hall were really marvelous! They were bidets, of course. But these bidets were high tech. The washed front and back, played white noise, provided a heated seat, and then dried you off! I went into the bathroom a couple of times to check it out properly.
They had technicians follow us backstage to make sure our microphones were functioning properly. Meghan worked on mine. She was as professional and fun to work with as the techs at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I had such a great time with all of them! All of our technicians were spot on precise with every sound and lighting detail. Most of the mics were held in place with a metal band that clipped to the underside of people’s hair at the back of the neck. This band had hooks which went over both ears like are on eyeglass frames. Very proficient… unless you have hearing aides! So I had to go back to the old tried and true cord taped to the face bit.
The acoustics of this particular hall are very warm and rich. It was as if it was built for big soprano voices giving those higher notes more roundness and less sharp tinniness. Treble was certainly no trouble there.
The stage itself was so spacious they added another level to the height of our USA barn setpiece. The wings and backstage area were also quite roomy with plenty of chairs in which to catch a quick breath between scenes.
The audiences were polite but very appreciative. I brought a bubble gun on stage during a song where we sing as fish. The audience loved the bubbles!
It was thusly that my cast, crew and self became international actors and crew.
Our hosts The Nippon Foundation, and the Brillia Hall crew treated us like rockstars. They too were rockstars.
Some of us got a cold while we were there and we were amazed by Japan’s cold/headache medicine. I even brought some home with me. It sure beats anything we have here in the State’s Wonder what it was? And wish I could get more.
Tokyo is a city that exemplifies balance in form and function. It is a metropolis where over 13 million people reside, yet it doesn’t feel crowded. Of course that being said I did not ride the trains at rush hour where they literally pay people to push the crowds into the trains so the doors will shut.
There are even businesses in the alleyways there. Every square inch of space is used to it’s utmost capability. It is mindblowing to see how many different shops, bars, restaurants, gaming lounges, karaoke joints, and hotels there are per every city block.
By day the signage on every level of every building is a little harder to see for me because of all of the other sights and distractions that daylight has to offer. However, at night the signage is well lit and I could find my landmarks much easier. I walked a ways to find an Exchange facility for my friend Amber. Google Maps was absolutely useless. It would have us go 1 kilometer,one way, only to turn around and go back the other direction again! I finally asked Amber to take me back to the hotel and finish the treasure hunt on her own
Amber stopped off at “Makudonarudo”, which is Japan’s McDonald’s! She bought me a chicken sandwich for dinner that night that was served on a “gohan,” or rice bun! This was so delicious! It reminded me of a potato cake. Absolutely delicious! The United States should offer it at McDonald’s here. I believe it’s healthier too.
On one of our outtings Amber and I visited Takashimaya, a department store across the street from our hotel. Takashimaya is a renowned Japanese department store chain of 16 stories that traces its history to the opening of a small kimono shop in Kyoto in 1831, and has a large outlet on the south side of Shinjuku Station. We were given a generous per diem, but with the breakfast provided at the hotel, and the lunches provided at the theatre we had some money to use for souvenirs. So I bought some Japanese fans for friends back home, a mini Japanese food service for my friend, Lucy’s dollhouse, and for my boyfriend, three very nice shirts. And I didn’t forget myself! I bought two new blouses. One of
them has barnyard animals on it, such as ducks, hens, and geese! My new HONK! blouse! So not only do I have a Japanese memento, but I have a HONK! memento as well! I also bought Richard and I matching chopsticks. My grandson got two new shirts and some origami paper. He’d begun practicing origami skills while I was gone and was getting pretty good at it. He’s since tried some new patterns resulting in some very nice pieces. I also bought a supply of Japanese KitKats. Do you know they have more than 200 flavors of KitKats?
Takashimaya means “Thanks!,” “International Interest” and “T is for time you give to friends”. Amber and I visited a lovely little garden on the 13th floor of the mall. It had a nice, restful quality to it that was welcomed after hours of shopping. And I definately enjoyed the time I shared with Amber.
Also, vending machines are very big in Japan. Japan is currently home to 5.52 million vending machines. That’s 1 vending machine per every 23 people. And if you’re thinking of jumping on that band wagon, forget it. There is not a square inch available that isn’t already being used by an existing machine. And you can buy some interesting items in a Japanese vending machine.
- Electricity (mobile device chargers give you a small locker where your phone can be charged.)
- Hot Meals
- Toilet Paper
- Hot Drinks
I did eat more than my Makudonarudo Chicken Sandwich. One night, my son and I joined one of our friends at the Dancing Crab, serving a mix of robust, country-style Cajun seafood and the distinctive richness of Creole cuisine. We were given Crab Leg headdresses to wear right away. Then the waitresses danced. Then we each ordered. Then the waitresses danced. I ordered their original combo, which was crab and sausage, with a lemon garlic sauce. Delicious! Your waitress covers your table with a wax paper cover and serves your meal in a plastic bag and promptly dumps it on the table! Then the waitresses danced. You are not provided any utensils! I know Mom taught me not to eat with my hands! But they insisted!