Monday, January 4, 2010

Alyosha, O(r)chre, and more

Sho, Take, and Masa of Alyosha left Portland this rainy morning after an eventful two week stay in America. In that time, we completed the recording of an upcoming EP/demo, played a New Years Eve show that ended prematurely with a bloody finale outside (luckily I, or none of Alyosha was involved), and indulged in the many delights of Mexican, Moroccan, Italian, and American cuisine. It was a great time and I can't wait to be reunited with them in just a little over two months. I know they had a great time and I'm glad everyone they met loved them and treated them so well.

So what has happened in America between August until now? My old band, Ochre, had a reformation of sorts and have begun preparations to record in February. It'll be a full length of almost entirely new material written within the past 6 months or so. There'll be more updates on that as it progresses.

As March draws near, I am eagerly anticipating my return to Tokyo. I'm sure this time around there'll be many more reasons not to neglect this Journal as I have in the past months.

Look forward to it!

Friday, June 26, 2009


I had the pleasure of seeing Loma Prieta and Punch last Friday in Koiwa. To be honest, I havent had the chance to see much live music since I've been here. It's incredibly expensive, and I'm quite busy all the time.

Although, yesterday I ended up losing myself in the midst of it all.

Maybe its life in Tokyo, with all it's unwritten social expectations, or maybe just that I've been going full speed everyday for the past few months here. But when I got to watch those bands play, everything fell into place. I had shivers down my spine during their performances. Maybe I feel at home in those small, dark venues in corners of the city... The sweating, screaming, and forgetting about the condition of their equipment while guitars, mics, drums, oscillators, and synthesizers are being flung about. When Keith from Punch told everybody to run up onstage for their last song, I ended up there without a second thought. I must've been screaming too, considering how bad my throat hurt at the end of their set. I haven't totally completely lost myself in live music like that since I was probably 15. But it felt really good.

I think about what I've been doing here since the beginning of spring term. I feel like I successfully assimilated into University life. It satisfying in different ways. People wave to me on campus, I can hang out with friends in the 部室(I've been spending quite a bit of time losing at PuyoPuyo and Street Fighter 2 Turbo the past few weeks), and I always seem to have something to do. I feel like my presence means something here. My Japanese has improved, I think... but that's not the point really. I'm just grateful to have made friends with so many great people.

At the same time though, it feels constricting. People ask if I'm going on a certain summer trip or if I'll be participating in such and such event. I'm often asked 'how do you make the time, doing boxing, music and film club?' and maybe it feels a little invasive. Although, I'm sure no harm is intended, maybe I'm just not used to other people being so keen on my personal life. I sometimes worry if I'll offend someone by not prioritizing the club I'm in with them over other things I do. It's very strange when I say I need to go home to America instead of a summer retreat and they say "Oh well, that's important so I understand." I wonder, what if I weren't doing something important? What's their opinion on that matter? In America, I wasn't so consciously worried about other people's opinions of me. But it seems like the way things work here, I'd be better to pay attention to what I say and do because you really cannot do much here without the support of a group. The collective can be supportive, but also restrictive.

Don't get me wrong though, the negatives are in no means outweighing the positive. I always find the thought entering my head multiple times a day "Man, I do not want to go home yet."

Today, all the doors opened up for me. My transfer application was officially accepted. Despite not knowing all the details at the moment I'm flying on the fact that I simply have been given a chance. I think Tolstoy said something like chance was more important than genius. I don't know exactly how things will play from here on out, but I do intend to grasp this opportunity with all the vigor and intensity required to make up for my lack of genius. I do not want to feel the same sort of disappointment and self loathing I felt when I gave up before on something I really wanted.

I feel blessed. By the people around me who support me and want me to stay, the chances I've been given here, and the energy I have to continue working towards this simple dream that I have right now. I want to work hard, because I know I can be happier here than anywhere else right now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


It's returned. The dread and stress of the application process. Two times prior I've had this experience, and each time felt the same as now. At first, I didn't understand that money was the determining factor in what college you end up going to, more so than application decisions. And so, my worries are not so much about acceptance into this university's degree program, but how I am to acquire the funds to continue my education here.

How does someone go about doing what they want to do? Sacrifices are to be made obviously.

For me, deciding not to pursue music academically was the first sacrifice. Although, after making that decision I felt strangely relieved. The worries of auditions and playing up to the standards of teachers and judges disappeared, and music became my friend again. Somehow, that didn't feel like much of a sacrifice...

Maybe then, instead of sacrifices, choices are to be made.

So what kinds of choices will I have to make in order to continue my education abroad? All I really know is that, for the first time in a very long time, I'm not trying to escape the place I'm currently in. For me, by staying here I see opportunity and potential for the sort of future I want to have. Leaving so soon will effectively damage the possibilities in front of me. Other than that, I don't want to leave behind the things here that have become so important to me. In my life thus far I've never been so inspired, so focused, and so motivated. I attribute it all to what my life has become here. To go back to America, means going back to the feelings of wanting to escape. That is a future I don't want to imagine.

There's definitely a way to continue my education here. There's definitely a way to keep working on things I want to do. I doubt it'll be easy, but I'm confident that I'll find a way and grasp the chance for my success.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Old Boys

The new term starts tomorrow. I've moved into my homestay and prefer it much more than my previous living situations. I went to Kyoto, saw some old temples and rode a bicycle around the town. Springtime is perfect. I can understand why the Japanese dedicate a couple weeks to festivities during the beautiful weather and the blooming and falling of the Sakura. When a slight breeze picks up while you're sitting under the cherry trees, the world suddenly stops and everyone appreciates the gentle, uncertain fall of these tiny pink and white flowers. It's like a bizzarre dreamland. Japan is really a different place during this time, and it is wonderful.

What also comes with spring, for university students, are the club fairs. I decided to join a few more, and it seems like I've met a lot of great people in a short amount of time. I also went to an OB会 (Old Boy Party; a party for former members of a university club) for the boxing club last night. At that party, I realized the weight of my position and the history that exists in the club I'm apart of. They gave me a lot of encouragement, and I felt honored to be given the responsibility of carrying on something that seemed so precious to these people during their time at the University. It's funny, but when I see all these older Japanese men and women sitting together I like to imagine them in their youth fighting their hearts out in the gym. It must've been something really great back then, for after so many years they still get together and reminisce about who's hands were the heaviest, and who's were the fastest. The other clubs I joined, albeit younger, all have a lot of feeling invested into it. It's really something, University club life in Japan. I'm not sure if it works, or could work, in Western universities the way it does here, but it's something I am very grateful to be apart of. Finally, after more than 6 months, this feels like it's starting to turn into the experience I want it to be. To think I'd be leaving as soon as August is difficult to imagine.

In fact, I won't imagine it.
I intend to transfer to Sophia University. I've begun to make a life here and I simply cannot let this experience end so soon.

There's a lot that'll have to be worked out from here on. Applications, financial issues, etc. But I have great confidence that this is the correct decision.

So, here's to the next step!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm getting ready to move out of my guest house at this moment. Procrastinating while the cleaning lady who comes every Friday does her job. In two days time, I'll be back in Chiba with a family I have yet to meet.
This neighborhood I lived in and these past two months feel like a turning point in my experience. I started thinking about it when my friend asked me if I had gotten accustomed to Japanese life. 「東京の生活、慣れた?」This was after I was somehow appointed captain of the University Boxing Club (I believe it's very rare for a foreigner to be given this sort of responsibility) and had to attend a meeting for the Kanto region boxing clubs regarding some upcoming tournament that we won't be participating in. He came along since I don't have the comprehensional abilities to really understand the content of the meeting. Plus, Coach Tanaka told him to anyway...
Thinking back to the days when I first got here I remember the thick summer air, heavy typhoon rain, and all the other exchange students ready to take on Tokyo without abandon. It all seems like a dream back then. Remembering the state of mind I was in, you could say it was awe...
Time went on and I started spending a lot of time in various places. Band practice was always in Shinjuku, every morning I'd change trains at Akihabara, I spent a few late nights wandering around Shibuya until the first train arrived (Karaoke at 7:00am after a long night of revelry is a trial most men cannot endure), and going to campus in Yotsuya. Lots of time spent right smack dab in the middle of Tokyo.
But I feel like my 'awe' has... changed places so to say. Maybe it was that day I saw Buddha sitting on top of the hill while I was running, or maybe just everyday life here in the Tokyo suburbs. To me, the suburbs back at home felt disconnected. With big driveways, wide yards, and tall fences, everyone was effectively hiding themselves from their neighbors. Not only this, but each new development is given it's own name and special borders. It wouldn't be unusual to take a long walk and not see another soul on the road.
No matter what time of day it is here, I'll always see someone else walking somewhere. I see and hear kids playing outside constantly. Every clear day there is laundry hung up on the verandas. Walking through the convoluted streets inbetween houses, I hear someone practicing piano in one house, flute in another. Strange as it seems, you can tell there is life in these homes. I can't remember a time I felt that back in the states.I decided to meet that Buddha today. I walked around the Temple, took some pictures. Typical stuff you do as a foreigner. But what really got me were the houses built around the premises. Imagine everyday you get up for work, walk out the front door, and there it is: a giant Buddha. Always there every day to greet you with your morning coffee or whatever. After a while the surprise wears off, and it becomes a simple fact of life. I think there's some sort of beauty in that. Sometimes I'll walk by strange traditional Japanese structures and pathways and wonder if they're private property. The proximity between these things (be it relic or replica) and the houses of civilians is strange to me. Sometimes I wonder if it's really okay to be stepping where I am. But then I see someone walking with bags of groceries down the same path I am hesitant to cross. I wonder what I'm hesitating for, and remember that I always take a shortcut through a Temple in Shinjuku to get to practice...
In the midst of tall buildings and heavy machinery there remain pieces of a deep and humble past. The beauty is that it lives side by side with modern society, and continues to remain so.
Outside the city, but not quite the country, there are many people living quietly and very closely together. Although they may have different names and live in different houses, I have a feeling they recognize each other and say hello when they pass eachother on the street.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Five hundred and some odd steps

I've just passed the halfway point. A little less than 5 months to go for my scheduled stay in Japan. Right now is the interim break. I live in a guest house located in the suburbs outside of Tokyo, just a few stops from Ikebukuro. It's quite different from my previous location. The suburbs are like a maze, and the elevation varies from block to block as if it were confused. I feel minor earthquakes every so often and can hear my neighbors sneeze from inside their living room. The cramped suburban landscape really does make me feel like I'm another country though. The Tokyo Daibutsu (not very famous large Buddha statue) is also near my house. It was a little startling, during a typical morning run, when I spotted out of the corner of my eye a large Buddha sitting atop a hill. This place still manages to surprise me. At 4:30pm every weekday, a melody plays over all the neighborhoods. At 5:30 another melody plays, and then a short announcement follows, telling all the children playing outside to make sure their parents know where they are and that it's about time to go home for dinner. This would've seemed invasive back in the west, but being here it reminds me that there is a world of people in these buildings built so close together. It works in it's own way, and is reassuring. I am not alone.

Alyosha played it's first two performances at the beginning of February. One in Yokohama, the other in Shinjuku. Japanese venues are a lot more expensive than American. I believe admission for the second show was 2000yen (about $20.20 as of this posting). The sound is fantastic though (this goes for each Japanese venue that I've been to so far). The Yokohama show was all pop punk bands, and we were third to last. Despite being the odd-band out, it was an extremely cathartic and satisfying experience. I had a little difficulty at the Shinjuku show being able to explain to the sound guy what I wanted, so I ended up with a lot of bass and no guitar coming out of my monitor. None of us were too pleased with the outcome of the latter performance. Well, actually I had no idea how it really sounded since I only heard bass... The bands I played with were all very impressive. Compared to the lot of well-known live acts in the US, it's surprising to see 'local' Japanese bands play with the vigor and precision that usually had been reserved for big headliners. Maybe it's the fact that to play music in this country you have to make large sacrifices. You have to pay for each practice, if you don't choose to work as a salaryman directly out of college you cannot simply jump back into the workforce, there are no garages, no basements; even at it's most humble roots its still a significant financial burden. But the bands that do stick it out seem to get some attention overseas. It's a shame most of the west will probably never hear or experience the music that goes on over here. And I've only had just a taste...

Since coming to Tokyo I've begun to feel severe bouts of anxiety. Sometimes I become completely xenophobic. Maybe it's the buildings, the crowds, all the high fashion, advertisements, and solicitors. People yelling on the street "buy this! see this!" Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton everywhere. After a while I started feeling contempt towards these people, covered in these brands, and these stores advertising sales for $500 suits (that's the sale price) as if it were a simple necessity. Some old Japanese authors relate similar feelings during the period of modernization in Japan. It seems they were afraid of growing capitalism and materialism. I wonder how they'd feel now, wandering through the neon lit metropolis seeing people covered in their salaries. Everyone looks like upper middle class, despite Japan being in the middle of recession, with a growing number of people sleeping in parks and train stations. At 5am in Shinjuku on my way home from a long night, the stairs of the station in each of the hundreds of exits and tunnel ways looked like a makeshift hostel. Of course, during the day one sees no evidence of this; maybe just the lonely vagrant slowly shifting through the crowd. For me, it's intimidating. Sometimes I feel so small, so inferior to everything here. I unknowingly wear a scowl and try to fight some crippling self consciousness while walking in as straight a path as I can to whatever destination I may be headed at the time.

This is what I've been dealing with on a daily basis for some time here. I'm not sure when it began, but with the free time I've had in the past few months I've put to use a very valuable gift that only human beings have been granted; the gift of introspection. It's easy to tell yourself "clothes don't matter, it's whats on the inside that counts, etc etc" but to really mold the core of your being; to stabilize the matter that is constantly shaking your foundation has come to be a difficult task. Before I came to Japan I feel like the person I was then was someone much bigger than who I am now. Of course, the circumstances were different. I was in my comfort zone, had a very big adventure to look forward to; the future up to that point, albeit always uncertain, seemed very likely to hold wonderful things for me. I've come to understand that it is me, simply me, that allows this sort of thing to disturb my conscience. When I walk through the street trying to ignore the imaginary eyes constantly watching and judging me, I begin to think things like: What if I were pursuing a Master's in composition at Juilliard? What if I were a World Champion Boxer? Would I feel so afraid of every stranger that walks past me? I imagine feeling like a different person one day.

And maybe that is the simple driving force behind everything I do. The music, the fighting, the language. All of it so that one day I can say "I became the man I wanted to be." Although, when that day comes, what I really hope to say is

"I became better than the man I wanted to be."

I move in with a Japanese family on March 28th in Funabashi-ku, Chiba-ken. Until then, I'll fill these empty days with more reasons why I became better than the man I wanted to be.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In the meantime

As my first term comes to an end sometimes I wonder where all the time went, and sometimes I wonder why the days aren't moving.

As far as sightseeing goes, I went to Hiroshima and Miya jima for a couple days. It happened to snow during the first part of our tour at Hiroshima. I remember some mixed feelings. Shame, regret, and empathy. The atmosphere in Hiroshima some how feels heavier. There are very few spots in this world where human tragedies of such magnitude have occured, so there's something inexplicable about the feeling that invades you when you enter the 平和記念公園 (Peace Memorial Park). The falling snow and bitter cold added to the effect.

Aside from that, time itself has continued. I sometimes forget that I'm here, and sometimes remember that I don't look too much like everyone else.

From December on, I met and lost a girl, started talking to Bach again, and began putting back the effort into boxing that it needs.

My boxing practice is kind of a strange scene. Only on Saturdays do I have a regularly have someone to come and train me and recently none of the other members (including the club captain or whatever) come to train. During the weekday sessions, I pull out the equipment myself. Sandbag, gloves, etc... and do just about the same routine I worked on in the states. The only difference is I'm sharing a room with the girl's hip-hop dance team, G-splash. So, while I'm pounding away at the bags, getting sweaty as hell, there's anywhere between 10-15 or so Japanese girls practicing their dance moves next to me. I'm not sure how they feel about it, and I try to ignore them while I get to business. But every now and then I look over and feel somewhat bashful... I wonder if they recognize me around campus now.

I'll be spending the nearly 2 month long spring break in a Guest House for foreigners. From there on I'll be fighting the good fight against poverty, idleness, and the various oddities this country has thrown at me. I'll also be playing two shows in early February. I'll be getting a peek at the DIY scene here in Japan. I promise a long, book sized entry in the near future regarding that and other things...