Studying for JLPT N3

So I’m taking JLPT N3 the day after tomorrow and I’m pretty nervous.

For the unenlightened, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a standardized Japanese test with five levels: N1 is the highest and tricky even for native speakers, N5 is the lowest. I will be taking N3 on Sunday, meaning if I pass I will officially have intermediate Japanese.

I know that according to Japanese language majors, N3 is pointless. ‘Employers only want N2 and above’ they say. Frankly I don’t particularly care as I’m doing the exam for myself. I’m trash so if I don’t have a benchmark and the incentive of a shiny gold star, I probably won’t study.  Also, even if the exam has no ‘worth’ employers, it’s proof that I have evolved since coming here and haven’t spent all of my free time in cake shops and bars (well I have, but I bring a textbook with me sometimes).

These are the resources I’ve been using to study. If you live in Tokyo you can get all of these books in Kinokuya book shop in Shinjuku, otherwise they should be available online.

Kanji/Vocab: Worked through the Kanji Master N3 book from Arc Academy. This is basically just a list of kanji with the readings, stroke order, compounds etc. I go through it and add vocab I think will be useful to my own deck of anki flash cards on my phone and try to go through the app every day. I also have been working through Kanzen Master Kanji  (different brand but everyone is still a master), which is basically a whole book of kanji related exercises, grouped by topic. I like it because it has pictures and I am a child.
Grammar: Grammar is definitely my weakest area. I hate it. It’s boring, I have to use my brain and it seems like I forget new grammar ten minutes after I’ve learned it. I’ve been using Kanzen Master Grammar.
Listening:
To be honest I’ve mostly been ignoring this one. I’ve been told it’s the easiest section, especially if you live in Japan. I’m going to do some practice tests tomorrow and then wing it.

You can probably tell I’m not exactly the diligent student. Luckily, two of my friends are taking N3 at the same time and we have been meeting every week for study group. This has been really helpful, particularly for making grammar less painful. We go through the points together and make stupid example sentences. A lot of the N3 grammar points seem to be for gossip and passive aggression so my friend has made this character Sakura chan, an idol who gets into a different scandal each week, depending on what grammar we are doing.

My boyfriend passed N1 this year so he’s a lot better than us. He sits in the corner during our sessions and makes suggestions (some of them useful, some less so). I think the power has got to his head though because the other day he gave me detention for looking at facebook in class.

Japanese study n3 detention
I don’t know which is worse, my Japanese handwriting or my boyfriend’s English handwriting…

To be perfectly honest, as regular readers may have noticed, the last few months have been pretty busy for me. I know I haven’t studied a lot and I’m not at all sure I’m going to pass. But I’m still super proud of what my friends and I have achieved. We’ve really come together and worked hard and got to know each other better too. I feel that, pass or fail, this test has forced me to take my Japanese to the next level so even if the results don’t go so well, I won’t regret taking it.

Are you doing the JLPT on Sunday? Have you done it in the past and how was it? Let me know!

頑張ろう everyone!

Julia Mascetti to play at the Great British Weekend

Happy to announce that I’m performing at a really fun event on 9/10 December 2017 – The Great British Weekend, a celebration of all things British featuring British music, sport, travel, fashion, food and drink.

I’ll be doing a harp and voice performance of British music featuring covers of folk, pop and Christmas songs.

If you fancy coming down, I will be playing on both the Saturday and Sunday at Roppongi Hills. Please see the Great British Weekend full schedule.

I was super excited to hear that indie band The Watanabes will also be playing. Founded by two lads from Norfolk, The Watanabes are a Tokyo based indie band with members from the UK and Japan. They take their name from the main character of the novel Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami, which is also the title of a Beatles song. I think this fusing of British and Japanese references is pretty neat on their part.

To be honest, I was never too fussed about the Beatles but I loved the Murakami novel and that made me come to appreciate the song. From there I slowly started to get into more of their music. So to honor British Japanese relations, I thought I would cover Norwegian Wood.

When you’re doing a British event in Tokyo, it’s pretty much compulsory to play the song which is both a Beatles classic and a world famous Japanese novel.

Hope to see you there!

Thank you

In June 2016, I became more unwell than I had ever been in my life.

My story of chronic illness in Japan  has been told elsewhere but essentially after 8 months of pain, doubt and sickness I quit Japan and moved back in with my parents in Essex. For 2 months I temped in a call center and blew my savings visiting a swanky Harley Street doctor in the hope that he could fix me.

These two months could have been really shit but during this period I had the chance to reconnected with wonderful UK friends. Thanks to these people, I feel I recovered spiritually as well as physically.

One of them was Oliver Wood, a wonderfully talented musician and producer that I know from my time in the Essex Youth Orchestra. During my exile to the home counties, we recorded my EP In Distance, Everything is Poetry together. It was the kind of recording experience I’ve always craved, relaxed but bursting with creativity. Olly drew my best playing out of me and we had a lot of fun getting the tracks done. His string arrangements and post production are stunning and I feel he’s really brought my songs to life.

In May 2017 I made the decision to return to Japan, this time not with the protection of a steady job, but as a freelancer. Perhaps a crazy choice given I was recently ‘recovered’ (what I have doesn’t usually go away completely but I’m 90%) and broke thanks to the swanky doctor. But illness sometimes brings into perspective what is really important to you. When I was faced with the prospect of possibly never being able to work full time again I realised that I had spent my entire life doing things I was never really that into.

I don’t mean I’ve lived an unhappy life, far from it. Most of the things I’ve done with it – uni, music PR, teaching – have been worthwhile, good things that I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from them. I mean that, to be honest, I was never super passionate about any of them them, even if I told myself I was. Illness taught me that life can take time and opportunities away when you least expect it. I had spent my first 23 years hitting targets and doing the things I was supposed to do. Now it was time to chase what I actually wanted.

The last 6 months have been the most exciting of my life but also some of the most challenging. For the first time I feel like I’m spending most of my time pursuing things I actually, really care about. It is tough as hell but also hugely fulfilling.

On Friday I released the EP and yesterday I held a release party at the Cheshmeh in Sasazuka, Tokyo. The venue was packed; I felt bad because a lot of people had to stand or sit on the floor, but we opened up half of the stage for extra seating space. Two wonderful female artist friends opened for me. I enjoyed this performance more than I have in ages and I will always remember looking out into the crowd, unable to believe that I had this – a release party in a beautiful venue packed with people of a variety of ages and nationalities but united in their warmth and love of art.

There are so many people in my life I have to be grateful for. The musicians I perform with and the venue owners who book me. My wonderful producer Oliver Wood and Isabel Galwey who made the beautiful album art. Everyone who bought a CD, came to a gig or shared my work. I have found Tokyo to be a wonderful place where so many people are enthusiastic about music and supportive of musicians. It’s the kind of artistic community I’ve been looking for all of my life to be honest.

What I have to be grateful for goes beyond my art. Every friend who listened to me when I was sick, my parents who let their daughter in her mid 20s move back in and eat their food, my long suffering boyfriend who has supported me through thick and thin. Everyone, thank you so much.

I’m collapsed in a bit of a pile right now. Over the last couple of months I have performed my original material more intensively than ever before. Putting on shows is a lot of fun but it is exhausting, physically, emotionally and socially. Actually the social one is a biggie – I think one of the main reasons I didn’t get seriously into performing original material before graduating is because I hadn’t got enough experience points to level up to the required social level back then. You need to make friends with musicians, make friends with venue owners, invite everyone to your events, hustle on social media, and talk to everyone competently after the performance. Yesterday, people asked me to sign CDs. I mean, me. Signing CDs. I can’t get over it.

So yeah, I’m on my sofa in a pile eating takeaway sushi, catching up on Netflix. I usually work out twice or three times a week but I have been so busy I haven’t in almost three weeks. Maybe I’ll catch up on that too.

The world won’t stop for me. I actually have a huge writing deadline tomorrow. My next solo show is on Friday, then another on Sunday then I need to get to work on learning a tonne of material for a corporate event in December.

But for the next couple of hours, rest, relaxation and gratitude. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much.

My wonderful support acts ❤ 

Marie Dangerfield and her beautiful Amy Winehouse style voice
Marie Dangerfield

The trilingual electropop stylings of Juliette Jemm
Juliette Jemm

Resolving the Unresolvable

I dream of a place where I can meet the people I have messy, unresolved issues with and come to understand each other. Some kind of purgatory where no one can pretend they didn’t see the other person it’s somehow safe and OK to talk it out.

I have spent hours fantasizing about how I will meet certain people from my past in an airport terminal. Some kind of neutral ground where we can sit down together and discuss what the hell happened with us.
“Why? Why did you do what you did? How were you actually feeling? Why did you run and deny me the closure I needed? Have you stayed up late wondering what happened to me, too?”

I love literature because of the patterns. I’m good at spotting and unpicking the the threads of the tapestry, explaining what everything means and why things are the way they are. Whereas music is something I have had to work very hard at I am a ‘natural’ at words and stories. I’m the friend who always knows the meaning to the song and can usually guess who the killer is. Tropes are rich and beautiful but ultimately they make literature predictable. I find comfort in that.

Because more than anything else, books have endings. Sometimes violent, sometimes unsatisfying, but the prose has been deliberately crafted to come to a head. Circles complete, Chekhov’s gun is usually fired and something or other will happen with the UST between those two will lead to something or other.

Of course in real life, things stay unresolved and it kills me. Give me an ending even if it’s painful. Let me understand, even if I don’t like what I hear. Say and do the horrible things you will, just don’t ignore me or leave me at a loss, wondering…

Of course this is extremely hypocritical of me because there was that one time when a toxic friendship became to much for me and I did cut off contact without explanation, even physically distancing myself hundreds of miles from the person concerned, receiving judgement from my friends for doing so. But although someone kind might say I was protecting myself the truth is I saw it act of violence: for me, no explanation and no resolution was the worst thing that could have happened to me and I wanted to hurt the person who had wronged me. Of course, probably this decision was the best thing for both of our well-being, and time proved this to be so. I even received apologies from the friends who had judged me for cutting the toxic person off. I was just ‘practicing self-care’ after all.

Who knows, maybe I was acting on self-preservation rather than hatred.
Sometimes I like to think I’m better than I think I am, rather than worse.

I realized I had grown up a lot recently when talking to a friend about a messy, unresolved break up made me re-examine my own life. She was asking me what she was supposed to do with all these feelings and how her ex could expect her to go on without the necessary closure.

“Sometimes, we have to accept that we will never get the closure we want.”
The words fell out of my mouth without thinking but as soon as I spoke them I knew 1) that they were true and 2) that somewhere along the line I had, somehow, accepted this for the messy, unresolved situations in my own life. Maybe I am learning after all.

People who only know me online and are on the receiving end of my feelings vomit five times a day may not suspect that in person I am actually very logical and practical most of the time. I am a thinker, not a feeler and my inner world is one of analysis and intellect. This is an advantage a lot of the time but can sometimes bite me in the ass.

It’s taken me a while to realise that I am actually very bad at knowing what I am feeling and allowing myself to feel it most of the time. I self-flagellate to an astonishing degree fervently deny to others and myself when I am feeling something I deem ‘inappropriate.’ Whereas if I would just admit that I’m a little bit upset about failing that audition or missing out on that party, or missing that person maybe these things wouldn’t get repressed and stay under my skin for years.

Sometimes, you need to sit alone with some sake on a Tuesday night and let yourself cry about what happened. Allow yourself to feel all the messed up crazy feelings you have for once.

Type their name into google and force yourself to look at them. Even if it was almost three years ago now and ‘never a big deal in the first place,’ sometimes the things that matter to you the most aren’t logical and that’s ok.

You will never see this person again. You will never get the resolution you want. It is over.

And in accepting that I will never have the closure I desire, I have found some peace.

2015-12-07 15.48.43

Homesickness when you’re ‘living the dream’

It’s getting colder in the UK now and I wish I was hungover in London.

Not too hungover you understand. Just that kind of grogginess that is almost pleasant because it comes from having a really great night out with your friends. If the friends have stayed on your sofa and none of you have much to do that day then so much the better.

I want an English Breakfast with real bacon, a sofa and hot drinks, and the promise of hours of chatting about nothing much. Maybe we’ll venture into the cold air to go out to lunch and chat some more or go for a walk in the park. The leaves will be changing colour and the autumn wind will freshen me out of my sleepiness.

I saw a view of a grey, redbrick London buildings via Skype today and I almost teared up. I miss old buildings. I miss the crisp feeling of an autumn morning. Hell, I miss the grey, all these sunny days can get kind of oppressive. I always feel guilty that I’m inside working instead of out enjoying it and this sounds weird but I sometimes feel that the sky in Japan is boring.

I really should not feel this way. I know for perhaps the first time in my life I am exactly where I want to be pursuing what I really want to do. I am so so lucky to be able to make music and write in Tokyo.

And yet and yet my ‘To Do’ list is horrendous, the stakes are high and the pressure gets to me sometimes. I am trying so hard to achieve my goals but I’m aware it may not be hard enough. Sometimes I get three rejections a day for jobs and the acceptances I do get often clash and I have to work out how to be in two places at once. Editors can be mean. Speaking in Japanese can be exhausting. My skin is also awful this week for some reason.

I guess homesickness pangs will come even when you’re ‘living the dream.’ In a way I’m glad they do. It reminds me that I’m a human being instead of a productivity machine. It’s also reassuring to know that, god, I do love my country. A stupid part of me sometimes associates moving back home with ‘life being over’ so it’s nice to think of British things I can look forward to, when and if the time to 帰宅  comes.

Hyde Park
About four years ago when I lived with in walking distance of Hyde Park

 

 

My first time on Japanese TV

You’ll always remember your first time.

My maiden voyage into the world of Japanese TV was almost a year ago now and it was as exciting as it was random. I’ve been on TV several times since then but this appearance is still probably the most fun (so far!). A lot of people have asked me about it and I even got recognized by strangers a few times afterwards but for some reason I never got around to writing about it until now.

It was October 2016 and my good friends and long term collaborators Megan Valentine and Tomas Eduardo had come to Tokyo for a mini tour and had kindly invited me to perform with them. I think it was only their second day in Tokyo when Meg and Tom were in Shibuya for some sightseeing. As there often are there were some camera crews hanging around picking out interesting looking foreigners to interview. As luck would have it, the topic of the day was Japanese music! They asked Meg to sing a bit from her favorite Japanese song and they were super impressed (of course, she’s pretty great). Meg being Meg, she went straight into PR mode and started promoting our first gig of the mini tour at Shimokitazawa Waver. To our amazement the film crew said they would come and film the performance!

Turns out the film crew were from Zip! TV, a popular breakfast show (for my UK peeps, similar kind of deal to Channel 4). We had only been rehearsing together a few days so the prospect of playing my harp on Japanese TV was… a little bit daunting.

Julia Mascetti Japanese TV Zip! harp
Screenshot of the Zip! program that featured us. They filmed our performance of Moonlight Densetsu at Shimokitazawa Waver

I was happy with our performance though. Honestly it was a great experience. Waver is a really friendly venue and the vibe gave me confidence to keep my nerves under control despite a camera man being 3ft from my harp. It was nearly Halloween, there was a good turnout and the decorations were on point.

We were playing a mix of covers and originals but of course this is Japanese TV and so they were most interested in the song we were singing in Japanese – Moonlight Densetsu, the opening from Sailor Moon. As well as filming us they interviewed us backstage on why we liked Japanese music and what had brought us to where we were tonight.

I love crazy coincidences and that was one night where things just fell into place. My old friends had come to London and obviously a lot of my Japan friends had come to the gig when they heard that it would be on TV…
After our set the camera crew left and we all danced like crazy to the final band of the evening. I will treasure that memory.

I cropped the most harp intensive segment and stuck it on my Instagram:

Or if you’re interested in a better quality recording of the performance (taken by our photographer, not the film crew) and Meg’s commentary, check out her video blog:

New girl-crush: Amina du Jean

How could you not listen to an idol track called ‘seppuku?’

‘seppuku’ is Japanese ritual disembowelment, originally reserved for samurai who wished to die with honour rather than fall into the hands of their enemies.

In the new track from former idol amina du jean, she takes these lyrical themes of graphic violence and atonement for grave wrongdoing and throws them at her ex.

Which I get. 20 year old women scorned in love are some of the most terrifying people alive. I should know. I’ve been one.

The resulting track is almost exactly what you would expect, in a good way. Addictive melody, syrupy beats, no fewer than three key changes. My inner music scholar cringes but the kawaii trash part of me is dancing around the kitchen. It’s difficult navigating these inner conflicts all the time.

Again, combing sugary brightness with gruesome subject matter is hardly new ground but there is a lot of interesting and amusing stuff going on from this bilingual wordsmith. There is so much potential for linguistic interest in the mixing of English and Japanese in idol music but it’s often mediocre. Amina chan expertly weaves her Japanese into English style rhyme and stress patterns, with just the right amount of F bombs for ex evisceration.

Basically I like it and you should download it on Amina’s bandcamp.

I would do a harp cover of it but with a mug like mine it would be just terrifying instead of cutsey terrifying.

So I’ve been listening to this track and stalking Amina on social media all day. Definitely a girl-crush but I think she is way too hardcore for me. Alas, like many love affairs with idols, maybe it’s better if it remains a beautiful (and vengeful) fantasy.

Amina du Jean
Photo credit: Shintaro Kago.