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

Kiyosumi Gardens: my oasis during my first few days in Tokyo

Gorgeous isowatari stepping stones in Kiyosumi Gardens
Gorgeous isowatari stepping stones in Kiyosumi Gardens

Three weeks ago today, on my second full day in Tokyo, I was jet-lagged, dislocated and very, very anxious.

I had been for a meeting with my work the previous day and I knew I had a lot to do to get set up in Japan – a bank account, a phone contract, health insurance, registration with my local district office – and that I needed to do these things to allow me to be able to work, which I needed to start doing quickly as funds were very low. The problem was that I couldn’t start any of this until we had a place to live. My boyfriend had found a flat that we really wanted but we were waiting for the agonisingly large amount of paperwork to clear. Have you ever been in a hotel on the other side of the world where you barely speak the language, waiting for an estate agent to process the paperwork which will allow your life to start, terrified that they are going to refuse you and you will have to start the process again? I don’t recommend it (who am I kidding – of course I do if it gets you where you want to go). Every day I would go to the hotel reception and say ippaku tomaritain desu ga… refusing to  what would happen if they said no and I was turfed out onto the street with my huge suitcases.
Unable to take sitting waiting for news about the flat any longer, I went for a walk, hoping to find a green space to clear my head. I wandered in almost a random direction in the August heat and humidity, found a park and experienced the sound of Japanese cicadas. They are loud. I can understand why so many haiku poets write about the noise – it’s intense.

I wandered through the park, came to some gates and realised I had accidentally come across one of the most beautiful traditional gardens in Tokyo. Kiyosumi Gardens most likely originally belonged to wealthy merchant Kinokukiya Bunzaemon during the Edo period. They were then owned by a feudal lord and the founder of Mitsubishi before being donated to the city of Tokyo and opened to the public in 1932. Today they are a beautifully kept oasis for anyone who needs to escape the intensity of Tokyo – and my frenzied mind certainly needed some calming.
turtle 2
After paying a mere ¥150 to enter, you will come to an exquisite view of the pool and its three small islands. I loved walking across the isowatari – stepping stones set into the water. The wildlife is very tame so koi carp and adorable little turtles will come and say hello to your feet. A traditional resthouse appears to hover from the water, juxtaposed by the urban Tokyo skyline looming in the background which I think only enhances the view.

My first few days in Tokyo were intense – periods of overwhelming activity and anxiety-ridden waiting combined with moments filled with a sheer love of Japan. Walking around Kiyosumi Gardens I experienced the latter and I’ll always have a soft spot for the gardens as an elegant oasis in my frantic first days.

water shot