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.
As I recall it, a ticket vending machine first appeared in the early 80’s at the nearest train station from my home in Japan where I grew up. There had been two ticket windows one of which was replaced with the machine. It was an exciting new gizmo especially for children that spewed out a train ticket by just pushing a button corresponded to the destination. The ticket gate was still operated by a clerk. The ticket examiner stood in an open booth with special clippers in his hand. Passengers would show the commuter pass to him, or have the ticket clipped by his clippers to get a hole or a nick on it. The examiner handled clippers skillfully, clipped tickets one after another so fast and rhythmically. When passengers broke off, he would turn clippers many times in his hand artfully as if he had been a juggler. Later on, the ticket booth was also replaced by the automatic ticket gate. In those days, more and more vending machines had emerged here and there in Japan. They started with coffee and soft drinks, then cigarettes and beer. Soon pornographic magazines and condoms, hamburgers and noodle soup were all purchasable from the machine. Nowadays, ordering at restaurants has been by a touch screen on the table, and check-out counters at the supermarket have been self-service registers. Either at a restaurant or a supermarket, I pay an incorrect total once in two or three visits when human servers and cashiers take care the payment and make a mistake. I know the odds because I look into the receipt very carefully right after the payment each and every time. Almost in every case I don’t gain but overpay, which is a mystery, so that I claim at once. I understand I myself induce their mistakes by using every possible coupon and discount promotion in one payment that makes my total so complicated. When a machine handles service in place of a human, it’s fast, convenient, clean and no mistakes. But on the other hand, no small talk or smiles are a little tasteless. Even so, machines may fit better for me since I often get annoyed with people too easily. The day that machines take up most jobs of humans’ might arrive sooner than expected. If it happened, the government would pay the people a basic income by taxing companies. Is it possible that people don’t have to work? For the first time after the ancient times, humans would get liberated from money at long last. Everybody could live by doing what they want. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing that day come. I’m strongly hoping. And I believe in a miracle as such.
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.
I was born and grew up in a small village of Kyoto, Japan. My family made a living by farming, which contributed to my even more old-fashioned childhood than usual that was nothing like a current ordinary life. Food on the table was almost self-sufficient that came form our fields or the front yard and the chicken coops of the house. We had only one tiny refrigerator without a freezer that was more than enough as beer or watermelons were chilled by pumping well water. The bathtub was round and made of wood. Its floor was a round iron plate on which a round wooden board was put in to sit. Beneath the iron plate was a small furnace that my grandmother put wood, straw or used paper in the fire to heat water in the bathtub. Our toilet was a wooden bucket placed in the garage. My grandfather would carry it on a wooden pole to our fields as manure. Not only the way of living was old-fashioned, but also the way of thinking was. All the family members obeyed submissively my grandfather who was a patriarch of my family. Women were deemed to be inferior to men and treated unfairly. Families were giving and receiving them through marriage as if they were commodities. But the changes of the world can’t be stopped. In the year I was born, a bullet train started running between two major cities in Japan, Tokyo and Osaka. It was dubbed ‘a dream super express’ because of a high speed. The city of Kyoto where I lived was close to Osaka and on the line of the bullet train. A new special railroad and its platforms were built above the existing ones. The railway near my home accordingly had the new overhead railroad above it. When I was an elementary school student, I crossed the local train railroad and the big, tall, splendid bullet train railroad by an underpass beneath the tracks on my way to school on foot every day. In the middle of the passage, when a local train or a freight train passed above my head, I would cringe at an enormously thunderous noise. But the bullet train sounded like a whistling wind, almost soothing. The number of children had been increasing as the economy was picking up. The elementary school I went to burst with students and a new school was built when I was in the fifth grade. I was sent to the new one that stood right next to the railroad. Out of the windows, the bullet train was running. From a brand new school building, I had never get bored to see the bullet train zipping past at incredibly high speed through the countryside where time went by so slowly. Thanks to the bullet train, my new school had the air conditioner since the building had soundproofing windows that can’t be opened because of train noises. My former four years in the old school with wooden buildings and coal stoves were felt like ancient. I loved the bullet train so much. To me, it seemed alive with a soul like Thomas the Tank Engine as its headlights looked like eyes and its coupler cover looked like a nose. Since I had difficulty in getting along with others back then, I felt more attached and closer to the bullet train than other human beings. Every time I saw it passing by, I sensed it glanced at me and was running toward the future, carrying hope and dreams. Years later, I left home of an old village and moved to Tokyo by bullet train to become a musician. Sometimes there is a day when we feel that this world has come to an impasse and been headed just for destruction. But if we adapt ourselves to new ways of living or thinking, we may be able to see more of something bright and exciting. In 2027, Japan is going to have a new railway on which magnetic levitation bullet trains called Linear Bullet Trains run at the highest speed of 320 miles per hour. I wonder how their faces look like. I can’t wait to see them.
After a quarter of my furniture arrived at my new apartment, I returned to my old place. It snowed very heavily on the day of my departure. When I was about to leave the apartment, it stopped snowing once, and I walked to the nearest train station instead of calling a cab. The moment I got to the station, it started snowing again, even more heavily. I was waiting for the local train at the platform, seeing a surreal view. Everything was entirely covered with snow and it seemed as if there was nothing but mountains. Only a vast white ground spread out between the mountains and me.
I felt like I was in the movie ‘ Fargo’. The train didn’t come after the arrival time had passed. The station was unmanned as it was too remote, and no announcement was available. I thought it was delayed by heavy snow. Time went on. I began to feel uneasy because I had a bullet train to catch at the terminal station. There was a man who was also waiting for the train, and he used the station’s emergency phone to call the terminal. He kindly came back to me and let me know that the local train service was suspended due to snow. I called a cab with my cell phone, got to the terminal and barely caught the bullet train for which I had the reserved ticket. I had never been in such heavy snow in my life. Can I really move in and live in the place where it snows hard enough to stop the train…?
As I’ve been constantly looking for an apartment online, I found a pretty good one again. It’s located by a lake near Mt. Fuji and it’s spacious, furnished and Western-style. Usually, this kind of property is far above my price range, but this one is discounted considerably so that it dove into my range.
The catch is that the building is very old by Japanese standards. It’s 36 years old. Still, it’s the most gorgeous place I could possibly afford. I gathered information about the area, such as the climate, restaurants, shops and most importantly, the train and bus schedules because I don’t have a car. I decided to go to look at the room and sent an e-mail to the real estate company for an appointment. Meanwhile, I bought a train schedule book and made a precise plan to go there as a weekend trip.
A reply from the real estate company included the more detailed information about the apartment. Because it’s old, the water pipes may give out at any moment. The boiler is broken, too. To finish up, one of the residents is wanted for murder. It’s not the one again…or, is it…?
I got up 1 p.m. and when I arrived at Costco after walking to the station and taking a train and a bus, it was already 7 p.m. By the time I finished shopping and started back home, I felt exhausted because of heat, humidity and the long trip.
Platforms of the train station were packed with commuters although it was 9 p.m. They were waiting for the train, standing squeezing each other and almost spilling over from the platform. I was sitting on a bench at the platform to take a rest and watching them get on the train, crammed and holding a strap.
I was impressed by their physical strength. They get up early in the morning, commute all the way, work all day long and still have this energy left, while I get up in the afternoon, go shopping and rest on a bench waiting for the less crowded train. To me, this is a once- or twice-a-month thing, but they are doing this every day! Are they human beings with mighty power? Or, I’m a super weak person. Can I withstand all summer like this…?
I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it. I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap. Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically. I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.
On the second day of a trip to the western region of Japan, time was running short for the train I was going to take while I was preparing to go out at the hotel room. I walked to the closest train station hurriedly and called my parents. One of the purposes of this trip was visiting my parents. When I do, I never tell them about my visit beforehand. My life experience taught me that they will plan some ways to attack me if I give them time. I let them know right before my actual visit in order not to give them a chance to think of any plots. The one who answered my call was my younger sister to whom I hadn’t talked for more than a decade. Before the trip, I had received a phone call from my mother who was crying and confessed that her life had been hell since my sister began to live with them about a year ago. My parents had kept it secret from me for a year because my sister didn’t want me to know that she had returned to Japan from abroad and had lived with them. Although I had known that from my mother’s phone call, I pretended not to know when my sister answered my call as I also had known her intention. I said, “You’re back in Japan,” and she admitted in a very faint voice. And an unexpected new fact followed when I asked her to put either of my parents on the phone. She told me that my parents had no longer lived there because they ran away from home. My mother had mentioned some kind of abuse by my sister on the distraught phone call less than a month ago, but I never thought it was serious enough to run away. My sister explained in a feeble voice that they had felt excessively stressful to live with her. And she didn’t know their whereabouts. After I hung up the phone, I called my father’s cell phone. He answered sounding absent-minded. I told him I had come to see him and asked him if we could meet. He answered it was inconvenient for him because he had somewhere to go with my mother and there was no time to spare for me all day long. He apparently avoided me and sounded he didn’t want to see me. When I asked him where they were living now, he said in a vacant voice, “In an apartment near the condo where I lived.” I had a previous engagement to meet with my high school teacher before I was going to see my parents and the train to catch was coming. Although I had tons of questions left, I ran out of time and hung up the phone. To meet my teacher, I needed to transfer the train at Osaka terminal station. As there was 15-minute space to the next train, I used the bathroom in the station. I was headed for the platform where the next train would depart, walking through the enormous station that has eleven platforms and seven different train lines. The passages were entwined and crawling with passengers. It looked like as much as O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. I was waiting for the train on the platform I had made sure on the information board. When the train came in though, I noticed a wrong destination was displayed on the side of the train. I had checked the platform number by the departure time. Unfortunately, Osaka Station is a gigantic station that has numerous trains depart at the exactly same time. I had been waiting for a train diligently at the wrong platform. I saw the right train coming in a few platforms away. I panicked, rushed down the long flight of stairs, ran down the long main passage, ran up the stairs and tried to zap into the train. But on the platform I ended up, the right train didn’t arrive. Instead, an unfamiliar, new special gorgeous train had been parked and the full-dress station attendants were standing in line in front of the train, giving it a salute. There were some camera crews around them. It seemed some sort of ceremony was being held there, and I appeared in the midst of it dashing out of the stairs. I couldn’t grasp what was happening for a moment and was just looking around frantically for my train. A young lady attendant approached me with a kind smile, saying to me, “Why don’t you take one if you like.” and handed me a small plastic flag on which an illustration of this special train was printed. Then I realized I got on the wrong platform again because I didn’t come here to see off this train with the flag. I ran down the stairs yet again, and dashed up the stairs to the right platform this time. The platform was empty with no train and no passengers. My train seemed to have long gone. I was standing alone in a daze, panting for breath on the oddly quiet platform with a small flag holding in my hand. I was late for the arranged time and made my teacher wait, but was able to see her again who is one of only few people that have understood me and supported me for all the years after I graduated from high school. A good time passes quickly. I was immensely encouraged by her even in this short meeting and got on the train to go back to the hotel instead of going to my parents’ home. Because the plan to meet my parents was cancelled in an unexpected way, I happened to have time to go to the outlet mall that I had given up the other day because of rain. I enjoyed hanging around there with my partner and had dinner at the Hawaiian restaurant with a turkey sandwich and popcorn shrimps that are rare items in Japanese restaurants and give me yearning for the days when I lived in the U.S. In the end of a weird day filled with totally unexpected twists, a wonderful time waited for me. My precise plan for this trip turned to be completely different two days in a row…