All Tokyo and no harp…

My lovely celtic harp
My lovely celtic harp

So until now, this blog has been all Tokyo and not much harp.
I suppose that isn’t surprising – I arrived in Tokyo overwhelmed by everything and skint to boot. My first couple of months were spent soaking it all in, as well as making enough money to stay afloat. Once I surfaced from ‘survival mode,’ I could start to think about a vital part of my identity – my musical one.

We haven’t always been easy bedfellows, but for better or for worse the harp is an integral part of my personality. If I don’t play for a while, I feel lost. After looking into hiring a harp I discovered that the Japanese rental market is pretty unforgiving and began to look into second hand celtic harps. I found my new baby in Yahoo auctions of all places. He’s a beautiful second-hand Aoyama lever harp and I got him for far less than he’s worth (and less than it would cost to rent his peer for a year) thanks to the guy not knowing what he was selling. He was out of practice when I brought him home but that’s ok – so am I. Regular tuning, playing and general TLC has improved his tone and tuning, as well as my mental well-being. It felt so good to be able to be play again after so long without a harp.

It’s no secret that I am hugely insecure about my harp playing ability. I know I’m not amazing, and thanks to some bad experiences and an anxious personality sometimes I’ve been tempted to quit all together as I feel I’ll never be able to play the way I want to. Because of this, in a way, the pain of separation between me and the harp world was a good thing. Knowing that it hurt not to be able to play confirmed to me that I am a harpist, even if I don’t play ‘good music,’ even if I have double jointed fingers and muscle tension that cripples my technique, even if I lack the self-discipline to practice properly, even though I started playing ‘too late to ever really be any good.’ The most important thing is that when I play I feel like me. Perhaps it took an enforced break to make me realise that.

hikouki-gumo01For my first cover in Japan and my first online upload ever on a lever harp (excluding my covers on my purple harpsicle), I chose Yumi Arai’s Hikoukigumo, ‘vapour trail,’ the theme song for my favourite Hayao Miyazaki film The Wind Rises. It was originally written by Arai decades earlier as a requiem for a deceased childhood friend. The lyrics to Hikoukigumo are a masterpiece of Japanese vagueness and English is just too much of a blunt instrument to do them justice, although my boyfriend had a good try at a translation. Though the song title is often translated as ‘vapour trails,’ Hikoukigumo literally means ‘airplane clouds,’ and the text gently compares our lives to the ephemeral clouds produces by airplanes. The tension between the imaginative, artistic potential of airplanes and their huge destructive potential is central to the The Wind Rises, which focuses on the life of World War Two aeronautical engineer Jiro Hirikoshi. This is what makes Hikoukigumo a perfect soundtrack for the film, as well as its romantic, meditative sound which I tried to capture in my cover.

windrises4I found the juxtaposition of Jiro’s life – an unworldly boy who dreams of flying planes and designs them with the care and love of a master painter, but his beloved creations turn into the killing machines of World War Two – extremely compelling and I fell in love with the song and the film. I have been playing around with it for months and actually performed it live at London Anime Con in July but I chickened out and got Arthur Rei to accompany me on the guitar because playing harp and singing in Japanese was too much at the time. I’m very happy for it to be my first upload of my Japanese life. I’ve been dabbling in mindfulness and Japanese thought since arriving here and so letting go of my attachments to the self, as if my life is a hikoukigumo, resonates with me.

I have several ideas for covers in the pipeline as well as an original release, and I’m hopefully doing a gig in a cafe in Harajuku in the next couple of weeks. But mostly importantly, I’m practicing regularly and enjoying it. Still the same amount of Tokyo, but with more harp. We’ll see what happens.

In the mean time,
“Le vent se lève! . . . Il faut tenter de vivre!”

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