While Yugo was off talking with some of the other patrons at the bar, a woman sitting next to me asked in simple Japanese if I liked Blues. She was just being friendly and probably didn't expect me to know much Japanese at all. At that point I was feeling a lot less awkward, so I let it all out and told her all about my history, how I was a music major at Yale, played percussion in the orchestra, played in different bands, etc. She was very surprised and told me that she too was a musician. I asked her where she played and she said she was a harpist with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. I was totally blown away. There I was at a dive bar in Tokyo, sitting next to a woman who played in one of the premier ensembles in her country. Her talent and musicianship must have been extraordinary.
In an effort to flex my Japanese and make conversation, I asked her who was their current conductor. She replied Kazuyoshi Akiyama. This was a surprising coincidence since Akiyama was the music director for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra about 15 years ago. I vaguely remember attending his concerts as a child. She also found this amusing. I told her I was looking for work in the music world in Tokyo and I asked if I could email her questions sometime.
Here is where things start to get weird. She wrote down all of her contact information and I saw that her last name is Kataoka. I asked her if perhaps she knew my percussionist friend from Yale, Ayano Kataoka, whose family I stayed with last time I was in Japan.
Now Kataoka is a fairly common Japanese last name. Basically, this was a stupid question. It would be like asking your neighbor Mike Smith if he is related to the John Smith you met skiing in last weekend.
When I asked her the question however, she became completely aghast, grabbed my arm, and yelled at me in Japanese, "You're Lying!" Apparently both Kataokas were schoolmates for some years at the Tokyo Arts University and were good friends.
So what are the chances that I travel thousands of miles to a foreign country, head to a hole-in-the wall dive bar in the biggest city on earth with literally 12 million people, and then meet a woman who knows well one of my close Japanese friends from Yale? I don't even want to think about it.
Having an in at the bar was a great thing. For the rest of the night Yugo, his wife, and all the patrons wanted to include me in their conversations. I was feeling a million times more confident with my language so I dived in and yapped away. What started as an 8:30 concert, ended up keeping me at the bar till almost 1:30 am.
On the way out, I grabbed my backpack, a Northface hiking model, and was on my way. Yugo's wife stopped me and asked if I liked hiking. Of course, I replied. She then invited me to join them this weekend on a mountain hike outside of Tokyo. I'll be joining them tomorrow. Music may be useless in your book, but somehow in my life, it has lead me everywhere.