Playing the harp standing up

2017 has been the year where I entered the wonderful world of playing the harp standing up!

One of the reasons I decided to take my little purple harp to Tokyo was because I wanted to play standing up. Before coming to Tokyo, I had owned my little harpsicle harp for a couple of years and it had been great to take with me to low key gigs, but I hadn’t been brave enough to perform standing with it yet. But if I was going to go through the trouble of bringing a harp to Tokyo I was going to bloody well learn!

Julia Mascetti metal harp
with my band Gjoll at Shinjuku Antiknock

After all metal is more effective when you can jump around a bit…














I bought a guitar strap from the Yamaha shop in Ginza and started experimenting. The main problem I had was one of angle – I like to have to the straps tight-ish so the harp close to my body and I don’t have to lean down, but I’ve found that if I get it into optimum position, the strings are out of eye-line? This is fine for simple songs I know well, but I can’t imagine sight reading standing up or attempting pieces with a lot of lever changes for this reason. I’m still working on this issue and if there are any veteran standing harpists out there I would love to hear your tips! Nevertheless, as I play standing mostly when I’m accompanying myself singing it hasn’t been a big problem. I’m just sticking to basic arrangements and gradually gaining confidence as I perform standing more and more.

For my recent EP release party and other ‘big important gigs,’ as well as events I’m booked for, I still go for the bigger celtic harp but I am enjoying the freedom of being able to play standing up when I want to. I find I can connect with the audience in different ways when I can walk and move more and I can breathe really well and project my singing voice. I’m always using for ways to break new ground and expand my musicality, and this has been an enjoyable one!

If you have tried playing your instrument in a different way, please let me know how it went!

Julia Mascetti harp Cheshmeh

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 EP ‘In Distance, Everything is Poetry’ to be released 10 November 2017

I’ve got a new EP coming out and it’s title will be ‘In Distance, Everything is Poetry.’

The release date is Friday 10 November 2017 and I am SO FRICKIN EXCITED.

As the title suggests, this one is influenced by my life in Japan. Lyrics explore culture shock, long distance relationships and being young and broke in the two most exciting, alienating and expensive cities in the world (which are Tokyo and London duh, no arguing).

This blog is Tokyo Harp but my identity as the song-writer Julia Mascetti is slightly broader, which is why I tried to make this a Japan influenced EP instead of a ‘Japan EP.’ I think I’ve succeeded. I don’t think ‘distance’ is a subject matter only relevant to those of us crazy enough to uproot to the other side of the world. These days very few of us live our entire lives in the area we are born. We study and work far from our families, make connections online that compete with people we see every day and our loyalties and priorities are blurred in ways that can be confusing and painful but also interesting to write about. So I hope most of you can find something to relate to in my lyrics, and if not, everyone likes harp music right?

I’m working with some amazing people to bring this thing to life and the first I’d like to introduce is the fantastic London based photographer Emily Valentine. Nature and romance are two big themes of the EP and I feel she captured both perfectly during our shoot in Greenwich park.

I have never been this excited about anything I made in my life and I truly can’t wait to share this EP with you.


Julia Mascetti harp Emily Valentine
My harp in Greenwich park. Photo credit: Emily Valentine


Freelance Harpist In Tokyo

I’ve officially started working as a freelance harpist in Tokyo!

After a month back home in the UK I arrived back in Tokyo mid-May and have been spending my time setting everything up as a freelance musician. My visa is sorted, I have shiny new business cards and I have spent the last week contacting agencies, wedding planners, high end restaurants and corporations to secure my profession. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have these opportunities!

For those who don’t know my story, I went to Tokyo after graduating with a BA in Music. I taught English for 6 months before I changed job and became a music teacher. During this time I was certainly not idle with my harp playing – I played a lot of live shows, I released a solo EP and recorded another EP with my band that will be out very soon. I received many offers to play at weddings and paid events but with my previous visa I was not permitted to take paid freelance engagements. This was such a shame as one of the ways I paid my way through university was playing at weddings and the like and I always really enjoyed the work. I also saw a gap in the market amongst expats who are organising events and may feel more comfortable with musicians who speak their language. Especially Brits who are missing the wonderful celtic folk music from our country!

So because I’m always looking for ways to move forward in life/masochistically enjoy making things difficult for myself, I started to think about changing my visa yet again so that I could be a freelance harpist in Japan. I’m happy to say that I was approved! Setting up as a freelance musician is scary but also hugely exciting. I’m also still teaching early years music at a lesson studio and Tokyo American Club which was always a lot of fun but actually I’m enjoying all the more now that it’s not my main job. I brought my harpsicle lap harp with me from the UK and I’ve got a lot of ideas how to incorporate it in my lessons with the little ones.

I’m definitely going to be in Japan and available for freelance work at least until May 2018 so if you are getting married in Tokyo or the surrounding area, you have an event that could be brightened up with a harpist or you would like a session harpist for a recording, feel free to contact me! It’s juliamascetti at

Freelance British Harpist in Tokyo



Taking my Harpsicle Harp on a Plane to Tokyo

“Don’t, whatever you do, put your harp in the hold.”
The advice of pretty much every musician ever.

As both an expat and a harpist, my life choices have not exactly made things easy in terms of moving my stuff around. Once last year I did a gig as solely a vocalist and it was incredible. No faffing about with taxis, no desperate attempts to take my harp on public transport. I actually went to the pub afterwards and didn’t have to ask in Japanese if they have a back room where I can put my lever harp while I drank with the band. My old car made things a lot easier but I sold him to come to Japan. I also have a beautiful pedal harp being rented out 6000 miles from here that I pine for occasionally but getting her out here is next to impossible.

Taking my harpsicle on a plane though, would not be impossible. For those who don’t know, harpsicles are small harps that you can carry around with you, are often painted in fun colours and you can plug them in easily. I have one, it’s purple and I love it. I could think of so many uses for it in my Tokyo life – on stage with my metal band so I could perform standing, in my work as a Kindermusik teacher and any casual rehearsal where I could get away without the faff of moving my large lever harp.

On their website, Harpsicle® Harps describe how professionals have started using their harpsicles as their “travel harp,” “the one they can toss into the airline overhead while their big harp is trapped in a massive harp travel trunk.” So I was hopeful that I could take my harp on the plane with me on my flight from London Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda. I looked on some flight and music forums and found that people had had very mixed experiences taking their harpsicles on planes and I started to be more concerned. I really didn’t want to be in a situation where I had presumed that it would be allowed on with me and then be turned away at security – with the choice of either leaving my harp behind or chucking it into the hold with only a soft case (which is NOT an option at all).

So I called British Airways, gave them my harpsicle’s dimensions and asked if it could come with me in the cabin. The short answer was no and the long answer was no. I didn’t have a hard case as Harpsicle® Harps don’t make them and I didn’t wanted to spend the money required for a custom made case as it would probably cost more than the harp.

So my Dad and I set about making a cardboard construction to keep my baby harp safe in the hold.

First we wrapped the harp and its softcase in  4 layers of bubble wrap…
harpsicle harp bubble wrap plane

Then we constructed cardboard around the harp. Making it so it fit tightly around the irregular shape was harder than it looks. Again we used several layers for protection.

harpsicle harp cardboard plane tokyo

Finally we used a tonne of tape and then added fragile tape and a contents label in English and Japanese.

harpsicle harp tokyo fragile
The packing process took a little more than an hour. It did occur to me that if customs told me to unwrap this I would be royally screwed. Luckily, I got through with only a few odd looks and some questions. My real concern, however, was whether my harp would be damaged. Every musician I had chatted with had looked at me in horror when I had told them my intention of putting my harp in the hold. It took me 20 minutes and 3 papercuts to free my baby harp from it’s cardboard case but when I got it out it was undamaged and even mostly in tune. Victory.

It’s been really satisfying bringing my purple harpsicle to work and rehearsals this week and I recorded my first youtube video with it in years last weekend. It’s Galway Girl by Ed Sheeran and I’m not as ashamed of this as I should be.


Performing in a Metal Band in Japan

In the autumn I posted about joining a heavy metal band in Japan and a few weeks ago we had our first gig together! Post is super late due to a trip to Kyoto with my family and several other significant occurrences which will no doubt be blogged about in due course.

My band’s name is Gjöll and we play melodic metal. I joined the band as part of a drastic line up change, which has resulted in a dramatic change in sound. They had one release before I joined and we’re currently in the process of recording another, so hopefully soon I’ll be able to blog about what it’s like to go into the studio in Japan!

Our gig was at the Crescendo Live House in Kichijoji and we were honoured to play alongside some amazing acts including the awesome Aresz from Osaka who have been playing together for over 20 years. We had our soundcheck and rehearsal then I went off to enjoy the nearby Studio Ghibli museum in the hours before the gig.

Sound-checking in Japanese is an anxiety button of mine. I don’t like doing it in the UK either because sound engineers rarely know what to do with the harp and there’s only so many times you can say, “I still need more in the monitors,” before you start to annoy people. But in Japanese it’s even worse, what with all of the specific vocabulary and because the distance between me and the sound engineers means that I can’t rely on my usual hand gestures and significant looks to make up for my poor language skills. But I got through it and I was very impressed with the professionalism of the Crescendo’s staff.

It’s less common to see foreigners in smaller music venues than in larger gigs (where sometimes we dominate the audience…) but if I’m the only non-Japanese in the room it doesn’t bother me at all, obviously. What I do find excruciatingly embarrassing is when the bands point it out… from the stage. Believe it or not, this happens almost every time I go to a concert in a small venue. The last visual kei gig I went to one of the bands said こんばんは to the audience and then looked directly at me to say ‘Good evening,’ causing everyone to turn around and stare. I know this is kindly meant but it makes me wish a trap door would open underneath me. So when Rumiko, the gorgeous singer from Aresz comments on the ‘international’ nature of the audience and apologised for not being able to speak English the Britishness in me could not handle it. “Please, please don’t apologise! You are not expected to change anything your amazing band does in any way on my account!”

We were on last and thankfully everyone stuck around so we played to a nice crowd. I was pretty nervous – not only was this my first gig with them it was the first time I had sung without the harp in front of an audience in ages. Even though singing with the harp is very complicated, I guess I feel I can hide behind it. But there was such a friendly atmosphere in the audience and we had been practicing really hard which gave me confidence. I really enjoyed performing and I can’t wait for the next one!

Gjöll Japan live
Maybe I was getting the gig confused with my yoga class with this backbend…. Photo credit: Gjöll

Performing at the Aoyama Moon Romantic

In September I wrote a review of one of my favourite Japanese bands, Mushi Furuu Yoru Ni. As well as their stunning performance, I was also enchanted by the venue – The Aoyama Moon Romantic (青山 月見ル君想フ). The Moon Romantic is a ‘live house’ (Japanese English for gig venue) in Omotesando with idiosyncratic yet ever-so-trendy décor including a FRICKIN HUGE MOON behind the stage. When I was awed by that gig in September I didn’t think that I would be playing my harp at the very same amazing venue 6 months later.

A couple of months ago, my boyfriend decided he wanted to start gigging in Japan and so started sending out his music to various live houses. On a whim, he chose to send his EP to the Moon Romantic, not thinking that they would want an unknown to them to perform. Surprisingly, they wrote back really quickly, saying that they would love to have him play just two months later! We often play together, though it’s more common for him to play on my music than vice versa, or for us to play covers together. We wanted this gig to be special so we decided it was time to reverse roles. We had fun figuring out which songs would work with a sprinkle of harp or female backing vocals. A couple of weeks practicing and plugging the gig to our friends and followers flew by and then it was show time!

harp tokyo metro
Me looking super grumpy on the train after carrying my harp in the rain

A less glamorous part of the day was walking from Meiji-jingumae station to the gig with harp, keyboard and the rest of our gear. Believe it or not, taxi prices are even worse in Tokyo than London and so my spindly arms and I were hating life a bit. Mostly I can do fine living without a car but it’s times like this when I really miss my bashed up Vauxhall Vectra.

harp backstage Aoyama Moon Romantic
When you’re instrument is a little too big for the backstage room…

When we got there everything was great though. The venue’s set up and treatment of my harp (something I always worry about outside the classical arena) was really professional. Something I’ve noticed when hanging around gigs in Japan so far is that soundcheck appears to be more thorough – I’m used to the, “Is it plugged in? Good,” approach but sound engineers in Japan sometimes want you to run through your entire set. I really enjoyed chatting with the bands backstage, and they were kind about my harp taking up more than it’s fair share of space…

It was both of our first times performing to such a large crowd in Japan so we were nervous. In the end though, we had a lot of fun on stage and our set was well received. Performing in such a beautiful venue felt magical. The other acts were all of a really high standard and we felt proud to be able to play alongside them! I would particularly recommend checking out Mami Kawamae, an impressive vocalist with a lot of energy and large presence for a solo act.

Here’s a video of us playing one of Arthur’s songs spaces. We really hope we can perform here again!