I made up my mind to become a professional musician when I was eighteen living in Japan. I had imagined that the hardest thing to be one was to keep up better works by strengthening talent, which proved wrong. The hardest thing is money. Scraping up funds for activities as a musician without losing time and energy for music is most difficult. It’s equally the case for either an artist who has made a smash hit or the one who has been unsuccessful like me. And it has remained to be the case today after decades passed.
At the very beginning of my music career, I regularly rehearsed in a studio as a member of the band that strongly intended to become professional. It was the first serious band I had joined. I somehow managed to play well enough compared to other skillful members and didn’t get fired at the first session as I had feared. The band was based in Osaka that is a 45-minute ride by train from Kyoto where I lived. The studios the band used were all in Osaka, which meant I needed to pay the studio rental fee and the train fare each time. I was a college student back then, but barely went to class. Instead, I worked at the restaurant as a cashier and spent everything on the band. My time was dedicated to music and I came home just to sleep.
The studio was equipped with a synthesizer but I didn’t have my own although I constantly appealed my passion to become professional. It had gradually seemed odd that I used a rental synthesizer in every session while I tried to motivate other members to be professional as soon as possible. A thought that other members questioned my seriousness began to cross my mind as I continued to play with temporary sounds. Since we played our original songs, original sounds were necessary. On top of that, when I practiced back at home, I used the piano for a synthesizer that was quite ineffective as practice. I finally decided to get my own synthesizer. I chose the latest model at that time called Yamaha DX7 that was featured in almost all the pop songs and albums in the music business of 80s. It cost about 2500 dollars.
Before I joined the band, I had saved money out of my years’ allowances and was going to use that money to study English in England. The amount of my savings was about the same as the price of a DX7. I had put it in time deposit at the credit union bank for higher interest and for my friend just a few months before. That friend of mine had worked at the bank by giving up going to college because she needed to support her handicapped mother and two younger siblings when her father suddenly abandoned them. I wanted to help her in some way and set a time deposit through her with hope that it might raise her performance evaluation at the bank. Sadly, my rare good deed couldn’t last any longer. I went to the bank, apologized her a million times, and cancelled a time deposit. While she kept telling me with a smile “Don’t worry, don’t bother,” I was bathed in guilt, and yet I withdrew my savings and went on to get a DX7. I chose a DX7 over staying in England and being her friend.
After all, it was just the beginning of the long way that I have walked on until today. Since I decided to become a professional musician, I had lost my friends and my family not to mention a college degree as a dropout. What I gained instead are thousands of sleepless nights for worry about money. Even while I stay awake in the night yet again, I still believe that the happiest thing for a human is to fulfill one’s calling.
I was nervously looking at a passing view of houses and factories from the window of the express train that ran between Kyoto and Osaka in Japan. On that day, I headed for Osaka to meet for the first time the person who had posted a recruitment ad for the band in a music magazine. I was tense not only because I wasn’t good at meeting people, but also because my demo tape to be exchanged at the meeting had sounded terrible. When I recorded it, I couldn’t manage to make it as I hoped it to be. In the end, I was so frustrated that I aborted recording in the middle of one of my songs. And I was carrying that tape as the finished product for the first meeting. I was easily able to imagine the dumbfounded expression of the person who would have listened to this tape.
It had been three months since I started college life that had turned out to be a waste of time and I began to look for a band. Although I had determined to pursue music as my lifelong career, my band searching hadn’t been going well. I had felt I was at a deadlock. If I had failed to form a band again with this meeting, futile days would have gone on. I couldn’t stand it any longer. The train arrived at Osaka and I came to the meeting place 10 minutes late.
The young man was standing where the railway track ended as Osaka was the terminus. When I passed him by on purpose, he called me to stop though he didn’t know my face. We greeted and entered the cafe. He introduced himself along with his music career so far. Although he was younger than I was and still a high school student, he had a wealth of experience in music under his belt. He had formed several bands with which he had won quite a few competitions and awards. I wondered why he hadn’t mentioned them in his recruitment ad on the magazine. He of course had written much more songs than I had. Compared to his experience, a few gigs and my own songs were nothing. Inevitably however, he asked about me and my turn to talk about myself came.
After I heard about his glorious career, I didn’t feel like telling him mine. I just gave him snippets of information such as I started to play the piano when I was four years old since I had applied to his ad as a keyboardist/singer. And instead of my experience, I ranted and raved about my passion. I didn’t have anything else for self-promotion but showing how committed I was to make a career as a musician. I did so also because I had my poor demo tape waiting to appear. As I remembered the last line of his ad was ‘A band member with passion wanted’, I thought my passion was the best defense as well as selling point. I even told him how hurriedly I had pedaled my bicycle when I went to get a double postcard to contact him prior to this meeting. After he listened to me half amusedly, he told me that his band would start with me as the keyboardist.
As it turned out, we exchanged demo tapes not to listen there but just to make sure later. All he needed to find out at the meeting was passion for music. Through his rich experience in forming a band, he had been sick of Japanese musicians’ common attitudes that they wanted to be professional only if they were lucky. They would play in a band until they got a steady job at the office and quit. No matter how skillful they were, they would decisively lack intention to become a professional musician whatever it took. I happened to have that kind of intention more than anybody and got to show him. I joined a band and the meeting was over. When we were about to leave the cafe, I said to him “Don’t bother about my coffee,” because it was still a common practice back then in Japan that a man should pay for a woman. He answered, “I wouldn’t do such a thing.” He was a rare progressive person for a Japanese of those days. Along with the cool cafe in the big city and the new band, I felt like I opened the door to the future at the meeting.
I was relieved to have found the band and have broken a deadlock finally when I headed home. I took the train back to Kyoto again, which was running toward the future this time. In the train, I listened to his demo tape on my Walkman. On the tape were three songs he wrote and sang with his own guitar playing. I was astounded. His songs, singing, playing were all excellent. Even the recording quality sounded as if it were of a professional musician. I couldn’t believe what I had just found. I was convinced I had hit the jackpot. With this talent, the band would become professional and be a big hit in no time. Success was assured. For the first time in my life, I felt hope enormous enough to tremble. All at once, everything I saw looked different. The same somber houses and factories that I had seen out of the train window the way there were beautiful now. The regular train was gorgeous and all the passengers seemed happy. Among those happy passengers, a shaft of sunlight beamed only on me and shone me. I saw my wretched life with too many failures ending at last. A successful life that I should have was about to start instead.
I listened to the tape repeatedly on my way home feeling literally over the moon. The thing I couldn’t see was that this was the entrance to my adult life filled with sufferings and miseries that I would have endured as a musician to this day.
I chose music as my lifelong carrier when I was a college student. The first thing I got down to was to form a band. After I realized I couldn’t find band members at nearby universities because students played music just for fun, I expanded my search to the general public. Until then, the whole world I had been familiar with was the small hamlet where I was born and grew up and the schools I went to. I was about to tread on to the unknown, new world.
It was early 80’s when neither the Internet nor SNS had existed yet. The common way to find band members back then was recruitment columns on dozens of pages in a monthly music magazine. When you found someone appealing to you, you would contact him or her by a double postcard to receive a reply. I narrowed down to two postings for a candidate band. As I couldn’t figure out which one was better, I asked my mother out of curiosity. She glanced at each posting and without much attention picked one which address indicated a good residential district. Neither she nor I ever imagined that casual pick would have changed the course of life of mine, my parents’ and of the one who posted the recruitment message. From that point, inexplicable passion moved me in fast forward mode. I jumped on my bike, rushed to the post office to get a double postcard on which I scribbled enthusiastic self promotion on the spot, and mailed it.
A few days later I received the reply card with the phone number on it. We talked over the phone and set up the meeting in Osaka where he lived. Osaka is the big city located next to Kyoto where I lived. It took me about a 15-minute bike ride to the train station plus s 45-minute ride on the express train, which was quite a travel for me who was a farmer’s daughter in the small village of Kyoto. Adding to that going to the big city alone was so nervous in itself, the one whom I was going to meet was a boy. I had hardly talked to boys of my generation since I went to girls’ school from junior high to college. That all felt like a start of my adult life.
Before I set out for Osaka though, there was a problem. I needed to make s demo tape of my songs for the meeting where we were to exchange demos. When he talked over the phone about the exchange of demo tapes, I said “Exchanging demos? Sure, it’s a matter of course!,” which I found myself in a cold sweat to be honest. I had only one song on a tape that I had made for an audition. All other songs of mine were on paper as it was before the era of hard disc recording by a computer. The gadgets for a demo I had were a radio cassette tape recorder, the piano and the guitar. I didn’t have a microphone or a mixer, which meant I had to record by singing to my own accompaniment in front of the tape recorder. Although I had done that before and even done a few gigs too, the demo I finished this time sounded so lame that I thought he would turn me down as his band member at the meeting.
To me, my demo tape sounded as if it made me a laughingstock since I had confidently declared myself to become a professional musician over the phone. He would either laugh at me or get angry for wasting his time when he listened to it. Rather, I may have had excessive self-esteem to think about becoming a musician with those poor songs in the first place. It seemed more and more like the recurrence of my mistake in which I failed the entrance examination of most universities after I had declared to everyone around me that I would go to the most prestigious university in Japan.
I felt hesitant to go to Osaka for the meeting. On the other hand, my sudden loss of confidence showed how much I committed this time. At that point of my life, joining a band was so important. An audition or a gig as a high school student was nothing compared to that. I didn’t have my purpose for living anywhere else. It was the only way left for me to go on. I had no other choice but to be heading for the meeting with my demo tape held in my hand.
My childhood diet was very healthy. That may be the reason why I was such a skinny kid, contrary to how I am today.
I was born in a farmer’s family in Kyoto, an old city in Japan. My family used to be almost self-sufficient. We mainly ate the leftover vegetables of eggplant and spinach that weren’t fit to be sold at the market because of flaws. We also planted rice and other vegetables such as onions, potatoes, carrots, radishes, burdocks and green peppers, not for sale but exclusively for our daily meals. We kept barnyard fowls that provided fresh eggs every morning. Our breakfasts and lunches were almost always row egg mixed with rice and soy sauce, pickled vegetables and too-weak miso soup.
A natural life may sound beautiful and relaxing, but it’s not in reality. Our fowls would holler screaming crows at dawn every day which would induce the clamorous barking of dogs in the neighborhood. Sometimes, one of our fowls that I named and fed every day like my pets was missing, and we had chicken on the table at dinner that evening. It took time for me to realize I was eating my pet fowl while I was worried about its whereabouts. Sometimes, I did witness my grandfather choked and plucked our fowl.
Since we didn’t have to buy vegetables, we had large servings at meals. Unfortunately, all vegetable meals of ours tasted horrible because we had to pay for seasonings or cooking oil and we were stingy enough to refrain them. Everything on our table was flavorless and bland. It never stimulated my appetite and I stayed skinny. As time passed, shops had been appearing in the rural area around our house. Also, my grandfather began to loosen his tight reign of the household and my mother had been able to have some discretion to go shopping and spend money. Our self-sufficiency was rapidly falling. Foods from outside tasted awesome. My appetite finally came out of its long hibernation. I was hooked by ham and mayonnaise in particular, and became chubby in no time.
Of all the terribly-tasted foods that my grandfather had long eaten, he picked yogurt as the worst. When he saw my sister eat it everyday, he asked for one out of curiosity. He said he had never had such an awful food in his life. After I left home for my music career and started living by myself in Tokyo, he often asked my father to take him to my apartment that was far from Kyoto. He wanted to see what was like to live alone there. My father didn’t feel like taking on such a bother for him and used a clever repelling. He told my grandfather that I was eating pizza everyday in Tokyo.
Of course he knew both that I wasn’t and that my grandfather didn’t know what pizza was. He explained to my grandfather that a food called pizza was oily round bread covered with sour sticky substance called cheese that was stringy and trailed threads to a mouth at every bite. And he added a threat, “You would eat that thing in her small apartment. Can you do that?” My grandfather replied in horror, “Why should I eat such a thing rotten enough to pull threads? I can’t ever go to Tokyo.” That pizza description cleanly stopped my grandfather’s repetitive request.
When I returned home for a visit once, my grandfather asked me a question at dinner time. Pointing the four corners of the dining room and drawing invisible lines in the air with his chopsticks, he said, “Your entire apartment is merely about this size, isn’t it?” As I replied it was about right, he asked, “How come you chose to do all what is necessary to live in such a small space and eat stringy rotten foods with threads although you have a spacious house and nice foods here? Is music worth that much? I don’t understand at all.” He looked unconvinced. As for me, while I had a certain amount of hardship, I had a far better life with tasty foods and freedom compared to the one that I had had in this house. Nevertheless, I didn’t utter those words. I said nothing and pour sake for him into his small empty cup, instead.
I started to think about becoming a singer-songwriter in the beginning of 1980’s when I still lived in my hometown of Japan where I was born and grew up. By the end of the first month as a college student, I had lost interest in a college life since I didn’t care about getting a degree or being hired by a renowned company after graduation. A college had turned into an unnecessary place for me because of music. Only I tried to follow the footsteps of a Japanese band that I had admired most. Before they became professional, they started their careers by forming bands at universities and colleges where they were enrolled. I tried to do the same. As I had easily known, I found nobody in my college all of which students were women and most of which students attended as preparations for homemaking and marrying a doctor. I searched other universities for band members, for which I used my otherwise wasteful college life.
At that time, PCs or smartphones were yet to come. Even CDs didn’t exist. To listen to music, you needed to buy a record, put it on a turn table of a stereo carefully and gingerly not to scar the record surface, put down a record needle softly onto the start groove, and wait for music to begin while watching the record turning fast. The moment music started, the space shifted in a flash from where you had been. That was the essence I used to feel with a record. The sound of an analog record is different from the digitalized CD’s one. I feel the former round and deep that vibrates and seeps into the heart. Both Western and Japanese rock music I had listened to back then conveyed something to inspire like a struggle for life or for freedom. I’ve seen quite a few people whose life was actually changed by music.
A record has been given way to a CD, and then to download and streaming. On the making side, recording on a tape by physical instruments has turned more and more into entering data on a computer by software. The sound has become mechanical with copying and pasting. Having an impact is valued more than being dramatic. I hadn’t the slightest idea this kind of music scene would arrive in the future when I lived the beginning of 80’s. I simply had believed that music could change the world and save someone by healing a sore heart just as it did to me. While the music scene did change, my belief remains unchanged. I’ve been striving to make music by taking advantage of the digital side into inspiring songs.
Back in the eighties, I was trying to form a band to have my songs heard as soon as I started a college. I came across a bulletin board of a band circle at one university that was recruiting new members. I went to the meeting where many freshmen gathered. The circle leaders were matching a new member to an existent band according to which part the new comer played and which part the band needed. Because I intended to join a professional-aiming, high-grade band, I pitched earnestly my skills of writing songs, singing, playing the keyboard and the guitar, and most especially, my passion for music. The person who interviewed me said outright that there was no available band for me to join. While I was preparing to leave, I noticed that other freshmen got assigned to a band one after another. They all said they had no skills or had never played an instrument, except that they all were cute and had a flirty smile. Again, my passionate, serious attitude backfired there too, as if it foretold my subsequent music career. I learned that bands at Japanese universities and colleges in 80’s were for those who just wanted to enjoy a campus life not for those who sought a music career.
I was excluded from campus musicians and couldn’t use my college life for member hunting. As a college has become useless to me more than ever, I was sent outside the campus to look for a member in the real world.
If I could go back in time by a time machine, I would most certainly choose one summer day in my senior year of high school and redo that day.
In the summer of my senior year, I had been in the final stage of study for the entrance exam to the leading university in Japan. My love for music was the biggest obstacle for study and I tended to lapse into listening to rock and pop records on the stereo easily. Since I spent too much time in music instead of study, I determined to stop listening music until the entrance exam was over. I pulled the plug of my stereo off the outlet, paste it on the wall of my room along with a handmade poster that said ‘Patience!’ in capital letters. I tried to devote everything for a life at the best university in Japan.
I was an avid fan of a Japanese band called Tulip. Most albums and tapes I had were theirs. I frequently went to their concert that would give me a heavenly time. I had had to stop going there as well in that summer. So ironically, or almost fatefully I should say, Tulip was having the 1000th concert that coincided that particular summer of that particular year, of all summers and years in the calendar. It was a milestone big enough for them and their fans to be held at an amusement park that was reserved specifically for the event for the whole day. The amusement park was operated as ‘Tulip Land’ for the day, where paper cups and plates donned Tulip Land’s special logos and designs that were available on that day only, commemorative goods were sold, games and events connected with Tulip were held during the daytime, and the 1000th special open-air concert was held in the evening. As you can imagine, it was a dream event in which fans would drool all over. For me, it would be the day with Woodstock, Comic-Con and Disneyland combined all together at one place. It would be actually a dream. There was no way to miss it.
Back then in Japan, it was an era of so-called ‘Entrance Exam War’. Students with four-hour sleep pass, and with five-hour fail, that was a general rule for the war. Not individual ability but a name of the school one was graduated from decided later income and social rank in Japan. It still does. I think a social structure like that has brought this long economic decline to today’s Japan. In a whirlpool of the relentless era, I was an immature, foolish high school senior who was willingly sucked into the war to get a name of the university. In the depth of it, I had looked for any possible way to spare time for the dream event. It would be held in Tokyo that was over 300 miles away from Kyoto where I lived. It couldn’t be a matter of a couple of hours but a two-day trip. It would be crazy to waste two days in the middle of fierce competition like ‘Entrance Exam War’. I reached a heartbroken decision. I chose to study in my room instead of going to Tulip Land.
I had had gloomy days for a few months until the day of the event came. My dismal feeling culminated on the day. For the entire day, all I thought of was what was going on in Tulip Land. I glanced at the clock every hour and imagined what game was held by now. Is it a trivia quiz about Tulip? Or a lottery game for Tulip goods? Are fans sipping soda out of a paper cup that has ‘Tulip Land’ printed on the side? Has the concert started? By which song is it kicked off? Which song are they playing now? Are the fireworks showing? Is it done? Is it over now? I couldn’t focus on anything all day long. I spent the whole day in my room without studying at all.
At the end of the day, I realized I could have been there. I just might as well have gone to Tulip Land as wasted the whole day. I intensely regretted it and literally gnashed my teeth. I blamed myself for my stupidity. The size of regret appalled me so that I sincerely hoped never to feel this way.
I hopefully expected time would heal the regret. On the contrary, it had tortured me at length for months. The regret hadn’t been eased but deepened. It continued to ask me what I was doing, and the question had evolved gradually into why I was studying for the entrance exam, what going to the best university meant, whether it would bring happiness, and eventually, it began to ask me what I lived for. As I had grappled with those questions, I studied less and less. By the time of the entrance exam, I had lost interest in the university. Instead, I got a grip on what I really wanted to do.
I failed the exam not only to the leading university but to all the other famed ones I had chosen as a safety measure. Only one college of my worst-case scenario accepted me but I didn’t feel like going there. I decided to do what I want however society works or whatever people say because I simply didn’t want to experience that kind of regret again. All what I went through in that six-month period after one regret of Tulip Land set the course to take. I chose to live as a singer-songwriter.
Decades have passed, and yet Tulip’s 1000th concert pops up in my mind every time I think about regret. Tulip Land had never been held again. Since the band broke up and the guitarist passed away, it never will. I passed up the once in a lifetime event for sure. Time neither solved the problem nor eased the pain. I still agonize over how foolish I was not to go. In me, a word ‘regret’ stands for Tulip Land.