Japan in Edinburgh
Mac was recently invited to see Japan’s Ground Self-Defence Force Central Band perform in the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh, the first time the country has participated. He shares his experience, talks more widely about what an amazing place Edinburgh is in August, discusses Japan at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and in the process makes us all very jealous!
During a recent business trip to the UK, I was lucky enough to be invited to witness the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
For those that are unfamiliar with it, the Tattoo is an incredible spectacle now in its 68th year, held on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. The word “Tattoo” is used to describe military performances which typically involve music. We actually have our own Tattoo here in Tokyo – the JSDF Marching Festival held since 1978 at the Nippon Budokan.
Participating in Edinburgh this year are military bands from France, the US and India alongside Japan and a plethora of branches of the British Military. In total there are 1,200 performers in the 90 minute show. The theme for this year’s event is a “Splash of Tartan”, celebrating Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Part of this year’s Tattoo pays tribute to the Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS The Prince of Wales. The former has just entered sea trials, and the latter is still being built in nearby Rosyth.
Edinburgh Castle itself is a spectacular backdrop to proceedings. Situated on the imaginatively-named “Castle Rock”, a spectacular crop of granite formed 340 million years ago, the castle towers above the centre of the city. The rock has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and the castle itself has many claims to fame, my favourite being that it is the most besieged building in British History and one of the most attacked buildings on the planet.
The spectacle kicked off with two Typhoon fighter jets flying overhead in incredibly close formation. These flyovers are only held on a few nights each year and although the sight of the planes overhead is brief, the feeling is electrifying. I highly recommend trying to time your visit for a flyover night.
Needless to say, it was Japan’s participation which I was most anticipating and the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force Central Band did not disappoint. I do not want to give away too many spoilers but expect samurai fights, taiko drumming and the angelic voice of Leading Private Michiko Matsunaga to entertain you during their roughly 8 minutes in the limelight.
During their performance the side of the castle was lit up by a number of famous Japanese images drawn from Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, with Mount Fuji and tsunami images inspired by Hokusai… and of course no Japanese performance overseas would be complete without some sakura!
The penultimate and most moving act of the show features Leading Private Michiko Matsunaga and the choir of Erskine Stewart’s Melville Schools, accompanied by the massed bands, performing the incredibly moving “Hallelujah” by the late Leonard Cohen. This was followed by the “Sunset” Bugle call from the Royal Marines proudly resounding from the lower fortifications of the castle. Finally, we all looked up to the highest ramparts of the castle where the Lone Piper played “Lochaber No More”.
Having been asked to remember those we have lost – military, civilians and indeed all those who have gone before us – the finale is a celebration of life. Fireworks herald the beginning of the end as the bands exit in incredible formation, playing world-famous Scottish bagpipes and marching music, starting and culminating with the uplifting refrains of “Scotland the Brave”.
I highly recommend that visitors to this historic city check it out. Edinburgh in August is an incredible place to be. Front and centre is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts and culture festival on the planet. Alongside that runs the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival and of course the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Despite the brevity of the trip, I was able to catch some shows at the Fringe. I highly recommend “Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour”, Richard Herring’s “Oh Frig I’m 50”, and Tim Vine’s “Sunset Milk Idiot”.
Several Japanese acts have performed at the Fringe over the years, the more well-known among them being Gamarjobat, Siro-A and Frank Chickens.
Frank Chickens first appeared at the Fringe in 1984. They were a music group based in London, formed in 1982, made up of Japanese musicians who sang mainly in English. Kazuko Hohki, one of the founding members, named the band after a brand of Japanese pencils. They were more recently made famous by Stewart Lee. In 2010, Fosters, the beer brand, were sponsors of the Edinburgh Comedy Award. They decided to hold a “poll of polls”, the “Edinburgh Comedy God Award”, and asked the public to vote for the best act of the previous 30 years. In an email to the organisers of the award, Stewart wrote “Think about the logic of it for a moment. Who among those you are asking to vote has even heard of [1985 nominees] Frank Chickens, who for all anyone under 30 knows may be the best act on the list? It is not possible for the outcome of this vote to have any credibility.” They actually did win, as the public sided with Lee and piled in to support them!
Wherever we are, we also like to show our support to Japanese performers who, like us at Maction Planet, are sharing their love of the country and its culture – good or bad – with the world. I was lucky enough to catch Shoko Seki’s “Deadline”. Shoko hails from Dazaifu in Fukuoka, Kyushu and has brought her debut solo show to the Fringe. Part-choreographed and part-improvised, she explores karoshi, death by overwork, through the medium of contemporary dance. If you are in Edinburgh I strongly suggest you catch this powerful and topical show.
I am pleased say the trip, both from a business and personal perspective, was a great success. Maction Planet Travel guests and Apparel customers can expect exciting developments to be announced over the next year. While I have led tours around Edinburgh in the past, sometimes it is nice for the tour guide to become the tourist. Thank you to our business partners and friends for showing me such incredible hospitality.