Music Boxes in Otaru Hokkaido, and an old tale about the taming of the harp that would not play

The sun rises in Sapporo at 3:58 in the morning at this season.
By 4:30 in the morning, it is so bright, you would think it is midday.

We decided to take the train to the seashore town of Otaru.
But first, we went for a morning stroll at the Nijo fish market, in Sapporo.

It seemed to me that this famous and once teaming market, is no longer a market used by the locals… Maybe because it has become a bit pricey, but it seemed to me as if most vendors were selling to the tourists.

The convenience of modern supermarkets had replaced these smaller markets, where the supermarket chains compete for the loyalty of customers by offering good discounts…
Plus, you do not have to schlepp from market to market, to buy all your daily goods…. you can buy all that you need under one roof….

We took the train to Otaru and enjoyed a wonderful day at this interesting seashore town.

It has some old warehouses by the canal, which were converted into restaurants and shops.
The streets has some old buildings, dating from the Meiji era, that are now very cool stores, museums, cafes and places to eat.

We loved the chocolate shops, the glass shops, and many of the lovely and creative craft shops and cafes.

One of the shops that stood above the others, had a very large collection of old and new and most interesting music boxes.

I am adding some photos from this store that was more like a small music box museum.

Some of the dolls you see in these photos, have a music box inside of them, and they sing a sweet vocabulary of old nursery songs.

If you wanted to listen to the music from a certain box, you had to ask the white gloved attendance to wind it for you.

Some of the music boxes that I saw were inlaid with intricate wood designs, and performed a whole movement from a Baroque symphony.

Some of the larger music boxes, looked like a piano, a harpsichord or a harp, and I even saw some which were clocks, or sculpted as big wooden tables, made from a single large block of ancient wood.

It was a fabulous day, strolling around Otaru and we left Sapporo the next day.

Tonight, we are staying in a hillside Hot Spring resort, in the remote Gorge of Sounkyo, at the edge of the Daisetsuzan National Forest in Hokkaido.

We have no Internet access here and the no cell signal, so I am not sure when I will be able to post this post.

I had a long soak in one of the three of the wonderful sulfurous hot springs that this hotel has, and I am feeling very relaxed and a bit poetic tonight….

Looking at the dark sky and the moon above, hearing the roar of the river nearby and remembering all the wondrous music boxes that I saw today…. I feel inspired to share a very old tale, about the taming of the harp that refused not play…

I read about it in the “Book of Tea,” written by Kakuzo Okakura.

I have not touched the soul of the story, but I have changed some of the words, so I can tell the tale in my own words, as most storytellers always do…

Here it is:

Once upon a time…..In the olden days, in the Ravine of the three Gorges,
Stood an ancient tree.

It was so majestic and beautiful, that it was veritably the king of the forest…

It reared its branches to talk to the stars…..
Its roots struck deep into the earth,
Mingling their bronzed coils with those of the silver dragon,
That slept beneath the earth…

And it came to pass that a mighty wizard made from this tree a wondrous harp.
But the tree’s stubborn spirit could only be tamed by the greatest of musicians.

For a long time, this precious instrument was treasured by the Emperor,
But all in vain were the efforts of those who in turn,
Tried to draw melody from its strings.

In response to their utmost strivings,
There came from the harp but harsh notes of disdain,
ill-sounding tones, and discordant harsh melodies.
No matter how famed the musicians were,
The harp simply refused to recognize a master….

At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists.
With a tender hand he caressed the harp,
As one might seek to soothe an unruly horse,
And he softly touched the chords.

He sang of Nature and of the Four Seasons,
Of high mountains and flowing waters…….
And all the memories of once being a tree,
Held within the harp,
Finally… Awoke!

Once more the sweet breath of spring
Played amidst the tree’s branches.

The gushing streams and waterfalls
As they danced down the ravine,
Laughed to the budding flowers….

At once were heard the dreamy voices of summer
With its myriad songs of insects,

The mood of the melody has changed….
And the notes now sang of the gentle pattering of rain…
The wail of the cuckoo…
The roars of the tigers….
The valley answers yet again,
It is autumn now….

In the desert night,
Sharp like the edge of a sickle sword,
Gleamed the moon upon the frosted grass.

Now winter reigns….
And through the snow-filled air,
Swirled flocks of swans,
And you could hear the rattling of hailstones,
Beat upon the branches of the tree with fierce delight….

Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love….

The forest swayed like a passionate youth,
Deep lost in thought.

On came high and refined notes,
Dancing like an aristocratic maiden…

A cloud swept by bright and fair,
But as it passes, it trail a long shadow on the ground,
Black like despair….

Again the mood was changed,
Peiwoh sang of war…
Of clashing steel and trampling steeds…

And in the harp arose a violent and windy storm…
The dragon rode the lightning,
The thundering avalanche crashed through the hills.

In ecstasy and great delight,
The Celestial monarch asked Peiwoh wherein lay the secret of his victory…
How did he know what to play?….
How did he tame the harp?…

“Sire,” Peiwoh replied:

“Others have failed because they forced themselves upon the instrument…
Trying to play a sophisticated melody…
Trying to impress their talents upon others,
They sang about themselves….

I let the harp tell its own story, and to choose the theme,
I let it express itself….
To whisper to me…
Of the mystery of the place it grew in…

Where it stood as a tree….
What secrets it saw and heard…
What it witnessed and remembered….

And I had lost myself in it…
I knew not truly whether the harp had been Peiwoh,
Or Peiwoh were the harp…..”

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