WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY, APRIL 14TH AND 15TH:
This the first time I’ve taken a trip and not had one second to write a journal about the daily happenings. I am writing this “road kill” report on the flight back to Nashville. When you consider that I will be “in the air” (3 days) longer than we will be on the ground (2 days), it’s not surprising that there’s not a lot of computer time.
We (as in Mila Mason and her band) departed Nashville early Wednesday morning. Trip did not get off to a good start as when I arrived at the check-in counter, I learned that I was not in business class. I assumed that I had paid the additional cost and everything was set. However, upon calling my travel agent in LA (4 am for her!), I found out that she had used an upgrade coupon and that my flight from Nashville to Dallas had not cleared. Needless to say, I was not happy. She spoke with the ticket agent who was obviously not having a good day and was extremely rude both to me and my travel agent. She informed us that first class was completely sold out and they were overbooked by one person. I gave up and concentrated on getting Mila and the musicians checked in.
When I arrived at the departure gate, my travel agent called to say that she had paid for an upgrade and to check with the ticket counter. A miracle had occurred! Not only were they NOT oversold in first, but there was an empty seat just waiting for me.
Flight to Dallas and then on from Dallas to Narita/Tokyo was uneventful, except that we were traveling at the wrong time of the day and I couldn’t sleep at all. I watched 3 movies, worked, read, and ate. Landed in Tokyo and our promoter met us there. We had to change terminals for the flight to Fukuoka and had to take a tiny little airport bus. Just the 8 of us completely filled it with our luggage and band gear. Flew from Tokyo to Fukuoka and then had an hour and a half bus ride to Kumamoto, arriving around 11 pm. I managed to get 3 hours sleep and then got up to run sprints. My first half marathon takes place in one week, so I have to train while I’m in Japan. (Photo left: The “Welcome” sign at the Coca-cola plant).
When I was in New York City last week, I got up early my first day there to jog in central park. I KNEW I would get lost, so I turned my head to try and locate a tall building to use as a landmark. When I looked back around, there was a trash can right in front of me. I dodged it, but went face down on the pavement. My hotel room key sliced into my palm. But, it was the beginning of my run, so I kept going for 5 miles, bleeding all the way. Knew that I probably needed stitches but just didn’t have the time to try and find a doctor. So, I decided to wait until I got back to Nashville to have it looked at. Big mistake. I didn’t know there is a “time limit” on when you can have stitches. There was nothing the doctor in Nashville could do except put me on antibiotics and told me I had to keep it bandaged (gauze and tape!).
Mila wasn’t feeling great when we arrived and thought she might be losing her voice. So I had to give her a couple of my antibiotics because I didn’t want to come all the way to Japan and not have a concert! When we checked in the hotel, I saw a guy who was there last October from Australia. He brings tour groups over and seems to be there at exactly the same time as my two festivals each year. He knew nothing about the country music concerts until last year. I encouraged him to make the concerts a part of his “tour group.” (Photo right: Mila Mason, band, Charlie Nagatani visit with Deputy Mayor).
FRIDAY, APRIL 16TH:
Got up at 5 am and got in my sprints along the river. An older Japanese lady stopped me and started speaking to me in Japanese. I kept answering her in Japanese telling her I didn’t understand her. Finally she pointed to my legs and said something. I think she was telling me it isn’t appropriate for women to go out in public in shorts in Japan! (Photo left: Mila and Jason in their “Japanese attire” at the Suizenji Park). (Photo right: Mila Mason enjoys feeding the pigeons at the Park).
Today we visit with the Deputy Mayor, then sightseeing at the castle, lunch at a Japanese restaurant, tour the Coca Cola plant, sightseeing and shopping in Suizenji Park and finally a welcome party at Charlie’s nightclub. It’s nice to travel with people who truly enjoy taking in all the sights and learning about the culture of the country they are visiting. Mila and her group were tremendously impressed with how warm and hospitable the Japanese were to us. We figured out that this was my 27th tour of the castle and park! I could GIVE the tours. (Photo left: Jason and Ed Smoak check out the ducks at the Park).
One of Mila’s musicians is from Texas and he’s a “meat and potatoes” kind of guy. But, he was determined to eat some of the local food and we initiated him at the Japanese restaurant. He did pretty good and ate about half the meal – not a lot for him as he’s a big ole Texan. I think the highlight of the day was the visit to the Coke plant. They gather all the employees in the conference room and there are lots of speeches. Mila, Charlie and I are presented with beautiful flowers and then we tour the factory. We have to put on white hair nets, green plaid coke caps, and those little paper booties like surgeons wear. Mila had a heck of a time getting all her hair tucked into the net and three of the guys couldn’t get the booties over their big feet. They had to bring out some special booties just for our guys. (Photo left: Group shot before the Coca-cola Tour). (Photo right: “Lovely” hats for the tour of the Coca-cola plant.)
We went out for “shabu shabu” for dinner. You sit around a table with a pot of boiling water in the middle. When the water begins to boil, you drop in vegetable and paper thin slices of beef. When these items are cooked, you dip them in either a soy based sauce or a peanut based sauce. Everyone loved it. (Photo left: Mila and Jason at the Kumamoto Castle).
At the welcome party, Charlie was losing his voice and couldn’t sing but a couple of songs. Mila and her guys got up and jammed for quite a while. I left as soon as she finished so I could get some emails answered. Had to get at least 4 hours sleep because on Saturday I had to run for 2 hours to “train.” (Photo right: Mila and her band “jamming” at Good Time Charlie’s)
SATURDAY, APRIL 17TH:
Up at 5 am again to run my 2 hours. I saw parts of Kumamoto I’ve never seen in the 16 years I’ve been coming here. Nothing like running that far and then being on my feet for the rest of the day working. I was pretty sore by the afternoon.
Today was sound check and then the show. I took everyone shopping for some traditional Japanese items but all the stores that sold that type of merchandise in the past were closed down. Even my favorite “100 Yen” store was gone. We did find some funny t-shirts. The Japanese will write information on a shirt that makes no sense at all in English. There was one with sneakers all over it and it repeated over and over, “Walking, HOGGING, Jumping!”
There was a problem with the sound system this year. We think there was a power surge. Mila and Charlie were both having to sing at the top of their voices and the monitors were never “right.” Plus air conditioning does not exist at this time of the year in Japan. It felt like it was about 150 degrees in the hotel rooms and in the venue, reminded me of June in Iraq.
I think this might have been the largest crowd Charlie ever had at Country Sunshine. The venue holds 1400 and I think he had 1300 in attendance. Mila had to go out and sign autographs before the show and she sold all the cds she brought with us and could have sold a lot more, over $2,000 worth! I got to see all my friends I’ve made throughout the years. Lots of photos taken, of course. Charlie has great t-shirts printed each year and gives all of us one as a souvenir. All weekend, the Japanese had been calling Mila “Mira”, they always reverse their “r’s” and “l’s”. When we got the t-shirt, the back of it said “MIRA MASON.” She loved it. (Photo right: Tim, Aimee and Keiko at Country Sunshine).
Both Charlie and Mila’s shows were great. Announcement of the artists for Country Gold was made and got a great response from the audience. Hope we will have our largest crowd ever in October. Charlie has lost a lot of sponsors and he needs to have a good year. (Photo right: Mila performing at Country Sunshine).
After the show we went to my favorite Italian restaurant. Everyone loved the food. A lot of Mila’s group went over to Charlie’s nightclub but I went back to the hotel to work, of course. Stopped by the 7-11 to purchase some more Pocky for gifts. There was a really drunk Japanese man checking out and he was falling all over me. He stumbled out the door then turned around and looked back in. He started yelling “mister, mister.” One of Mila’s musicians was with me and he answered him. The Japanese guy yells, “so rong!” (Photo left: Mila, Hiromi Chida and Judy).
SUNDAY, APRIL 18TH:
Up at 5 again to get in one last run before we flew home. We had to drive from Kumamoto back to Fukuoka for the flight to Narita. On the way to the airport, the “big Texan” admitted that he put on the kimono in his room and the little slippers and went to visit one of the other guys. Evidently, it hit him just at the top of his thighs and the buttons barely closed. He could only get the slippers on as far as his toes. I can’t believe no one took a photo.
Arrived at the airport and I had everyone’s airline ticket, except mine! Could not find it anywhere and had no idea what happened to it. Thankfully, the international ticket was an “e-ticket” but I had to buy another ticket from Fukuoka to Narita. I’ve never done anything like that before. Before we got on the flight, the hotel called and said that they had found my ticket in my room. So, at least I get a refund! Went to have one last sushi fix before we left.
Flight was fine except when we landed. There was a lot of wind and we kept dropping even as we were landing. Did some last minute shopping in the airport and tried to get a massage but there was a 3 hour wait. (Photo right: Jason, Mila, Toshiko, Charlie and Judy).
Got on the flight and the audio wasn’t working on the movies. Took them over an hour to fix it but at least they got it to work. When we landed in Chicago, we found out exactly why it’s called the “windy city.” We were thrown all over the sky as we tried to land. Everyone was pulling their seat belts tighter, crossing themselves and praying. The flight attendant came on and said that the pilots did an excellent job of getting us on the ground because the wind was gusting at 50 miles an hour. I still can’t believe they were allowing planes to land in that kind of condition. (Photo left: Last group shot, Mila and her band pictured with Toshiko, Seiya, Charlie and Shoji).
There were 3 security personnel waiting in the jetway and they immediately took the First Officer in for drug testing when he deplaned. Never seen that before. Took us forever to get through immigration, collect our luggage, have it re-screened and re-checked and then get to another terminal and clear security for our flight. The take-off was about as exciting as the landing in Chicago. It was an old American Airlines jet and the flight started out with the flight attendant announcing that she didn’t have very many varieties of beverages on board. She didn’t even offer peanuts or pretzels, even Southwest Airlines does that.
We all arrived back in Nashville with all our luggage and equipment. Seems like we were gone a lot longer than 5 days!