Last night our close friends, Dr. and Mrs. Minami, took us to Gonpachi, a swanky restaurant in the Roppongi district, after the Boston Symphony’s successful concert at Suntory Hall. Surprisingly, a lot of restaurants close by 9:30 in Tokyo and this one was recommended by the Minami’s son because the combination of rustic and frenetic apparently inspired a scene in the movie, Kill Bill. I never saw that so I can’t say yes or no.
The food was great, the ambiance way too touristy, but what was interesting were the servers. They all spoke Japanese like natives and had the proper manners, but not one of them was ethnically Japanese. In the US we wouldn’t blink twice at someone who doesn’t look “American” (whatever that is) but who speaks English. In Japan, one expects people who speak the language fluently to be Japanese. It was curious that the servers at Gonpachi seemed everything but: black, Caucasian, middle eastern. You name it. It made me wonder about living in a country where you’re recognized as an outsider no matter how long you’ve lived there. (Having lived in Utah for thirty years among an eighty percent Mormon population has given me a mild dose of that awareness.)
In a way, playing with the BSO evokes a little bit of that as well. I’m touched by how respectfully my colleagues have embraced my now-and-then participation with the orchestra, but as someone who plays with them only for the Tanglewood season and on the occasional tour, my perspective is being on the outside looking in. Not a big deal, because the view is great from whatever the angle.
Gonpachi is also famous because former President George W. Bush had once been feted there by former Prime Minister Koizumi. I found this out after the Suntory Hall concert, which was attended by none other than a Crown Prince (not the one who cans the sardines, but Crown Prince Naruhito and the Crown Princess Masako of Japan.)
As a matter of protocol, we had been instructed to stand when the pair entered the balcony. Personally, I felt like taking a knee because I don’t believe that anyone, either an individual or a group, has a claim to superiority by birth. That’s the basis of what our Founding Fathers was trying to tell us, wasn’t it? For me, the notion of bowing to royalty is bris(t)ling, to continue the sardine joke. And in a touch of irony, better overlooked for this particular evening, the main work of the program, the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, is a musically graphic depiction of the horrors of the 1905 Russian Revolution inflicted against the common people by royalty. Out of respect for the Japanese people and the members of my organization, however, I stood with my fellow musicians and kept my protest silent. The prince and princess do seem like a nice couple, and they truly appeared to enjoy the concert, so I applaud their good taste.