Philadelphia Orchestra in Asia: Japan and the Underwear Stipend


For the next couple of weeks, from time to time, ArtsWatch will host Inquirer music critic David Patrick Stearns, who is on tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Here's his first blog post.

TOKYO - They bow to their buses here, or at least to those in them. That arrestingly genteel custom - bowing to people the way Americans would say “hi there,” as well as to the vehicles that whisk them away - greets jetlagged travelers arriving off long flights to Tokyo and is a pleasant harbinger of what’s to come in the Philadelphia Orchestra current 2010 tour of Asia.

Particularly in Tokyo, you need it. There’s a reason you don’t hear many love songs written about Tokyo ( at least in comparison to Paris or New York): Though one of the world’s great metropolitan areas, it’s daunting, a bit of an urban rainforest, with buildings of every kind mashed together, construction cranes towering everywhere because they’re still building more, expressways stacked on top of each other in triplicate, and a sense that every square inch has been put to optimal use.

What a relief that everybody seems so respectful and helpful. Of course, the Japanese have a reputation for never saying “no,” which initially can make you a bit suspicious if you’re truly trying to accomplish anything, particularly in such vital matters as retrieving lost luggage.

At least you get an underwear stipend. Sometimes. Yes, if your luggage is lost and it’s the airline’s fault, you get money to buy new underwear. My lost bags were the fault of Philadelphia’s stormy weather on Monday, which delayed my flight to Dulles Airport in Washington so much that I had 15 minute to make the connection to Tokyo. I’m a runner, so that’s possible for me, but not for my luggage. Thus, when I left the Tokyo baggage carousel empty handed, it was gratifying that, at least superficially, the lost-baggage office seemed more upset about my situation than I was. I explained the importance of retrieving my bag by the following day since I was following the Philadelphia Orchestra to Korea and then China: If the bag didn’t arrive by Wednesday, it might never catch up to me.

“Philadelphia Orchestra” turned out to be a fairly magical pair of words. They were impressed. But when asked about identifying contents of my bag, they were even more impressed when I said that there was a shopping bag from the Juilliard School of Music bookstore. Lord knows why that meant a lot, but it did. And yes, the bag finally showed up, but I believe that it had been stored in one of those fish ponds that are part of the many little parks around Tokyo. It was all quite wet. Luckily, the suit is still wearable. Even more luckily, journalists (and especially music critics) are expected to look a bit rumpled.