Working out in Tokyo

Exercise is important for everyone but especially so for musicians. Like any occupation, playing the harp carries with it certain health risks such as RSI and other muscoskeletal problems, irregular sleep schedules, performance anxiety and many more barrels of fun. For me, exercise is a wonderful way to stay healthy and keep these issues at bay.

If you move to a new city, let alone a new country, it will take a while to find great new places to work out. I’m actually really happy with my exercise routine at the moment; it’s probably the best I’ve had apart from when I was at uni and I had access to an olympic standard fitness centre for next to nothing *sigh.* So I thought I’d share what I’m doing at the moment, if anyone else has any suggestions feel free to comment!

Gym
From what I hear private gyms in Tokyo seem very expensive and swanky. Personally, I’m not up for paying an arm and a leg for a sparkling equipment, mood lighting and a spa. If I want to relax I’ll go to the onsen.

Luckily there is another option. All across Tokyo there are public gym facilities or ‘sports centres’ where you can work out on the cheap. These centres usually have a gym (トレーニング室),  a pool and a room for classes, though depending on where you are you might get some other facilities too. Typically it’s pay as you go with no sign up fee and you may get a discount if you’re a resident of the ward. Granted some of the machines are a little old and the building of my local centre is on the shabby side, but for 440 yen (about £3) a day it ain’t half bad. It has everything I need plus some machines I’d never seen before moving to Japan. Use the search function on Sports Camp Japan to search for your local municipal gym. You’re welcome.

Climbing

Tokyo climbing
I think I’m confused on how to get down

Climbing, or bouldering, is having a bit of a hey day in Tokyo. Apparently, there are more climbing gyms in Tokyo alone than in the whole of Australia. I’m still kind of bad but I’ve definitely caught the bug over the past 6 months. Bouldering, which I believe is climbing without ropes or harnesses, is great for upper body strength but it’s a workout for you mind too. I get a real sense of satisfaction from working out how to do a new route. My local wall has routes coloured by difficulty and it’s kind of feels like a video game except you’re getting fit while having fun. Timeout has a great list of Tokyo’s top climbing spots.

Plus there are… ‘talented male climbers’ who sometimes take their shirts off, if that’s your thing.

Yoga
This is going to sound gushing (and I’m honestly not sponsored by them) but I can’t recommend Yoga Jaya enough. The founders have adapted various yoga styles to create their own system, Baseworks, and it really works for me. Baseworks focuses on foundational strength as well as flexibility and I have noticed a big improvement in my body awareness and alignment in the year since I joined. Positions aren’t held for too long which is good because that can be dangerous for musicians and those prone to RSI. Generally, I feel really safe and that the teachers are understanding of my needs and supporting me on the way to achieving my goals. There are a mixture of Japanese, English and bilingual classes and actually I’ve found that I’ve learnt a lot of new words through practicing in Japanese.

Yoga Jaya is in Daikanyama, which is where I teach Kindermusik, so that’s perfect for me. Every Monday I start of the week with a 7am yoga class and feel refreshed and ready. I always go from Yoga Jaya to a cafe where I have a coffee and some toast and plan the week ahead before walking to work. Honestly, it’s one of my greatest pleasures and I always feel so at peace in the morning light.

Have you tried any of these options in Tokyo? Where do you like to work out? Please feel free to share in the comments 😊

 

Bar Dio – JoJo themed bar review!

Unpopular opinion: I don’t like Akihabara that much these days. When I first went aged 14 it was exciting but now I’m old and it’s too big, too loud, and too full of sweaty pervs who don’t shower enough.

Luckily there is anotdoor Bar Dioher, slightly less well known, nerd hub for me to frequent. Nakano is a couple of stops from Shinjuku and it’s a great mix of anime otaku culture in the Nakano Broadway shopping complex and traditional style izakaya in the surrounding side streets.

If you go down one of these side streets you will find some stairs and a massive coffin for a door. As a fan of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, of course you don’t ignore this ominous sign and go right in all guns blazing.

Bar Dio is a Jojo風Bar (themed) bar and the level of detail is astounding. I’ve been to some themed bars where the appeal is getting drunk on regular stuff surrounded by some figures which is fine, but Bar Dio goes all out. Every corner of the decor is JoJotastic and every item on the menu has some cleverly appropriate JoJo title. I recommend the chan chan cocktail, it’s creamy and delicious and  its matcha component makes it green for a certain character. We also enjoyed a nigerun dayou and a Rohan Kishibe during our visit, I’ll leave you to imagine what they have in them.

One of the things I liked best about Bar Dio is the clientele. When were there everyone literally talking about Jojo the entire time. It was a mixed crowd in terms of gender and age and everyone was talking about their favourite seasons and characters as well as having lively debates on theories. Once they realised we could speak Japanese and loved Jojo they were happy to include us in their conversations and I felt more out of place for having only watched the anime than for being a foreigner! Music from the anime was playing in the background most of the time and at one point the owner put on an entire episode. Actually the one he chose was pretty pivotal (part 2 episode 20) so be careful if you come here having not watched it all and want to avoid spoilers.

Bar Dio JoJo bar
シーザー!!!!!

The owner doesn’t say that much and I thought he had this sort of enigmatic quality about him. Who is this guy?? How did he come to love JoJo SO MUCH?! He seemed to be pleased to have some foreigners who could speak Japanese and asked us questions about Jojo fans in the UK as well as our favourite characters. He let us try on some of the really high quality costume stuff he had around which I don’t think he does for everyone so that was nice of him.

 

Bar Dio is good just as a bar. The atmosphere is friendly, the food is good and the drinks are excellent. But if you love Jojo this may well feel more like a pilgrimage than a night out, in the best sort of way.

2017-02-03 21.35.56

JoJo Bar Dio
It could be ambiguously interpreted which toilet to go into…

 

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 gmail.com

Freelance British Harpist in Tokyo

 

 

Rikugien Gardens in 2016

I love Japanese gardens. In my first few days in Japan when I was jet lagged and frantically house hunting I found refuge in Kiyosumi Gardens near the hotel where I was staying. I’d recommend nearly all of the traditional landscape gardens in Tokyo – for a few hundred yen you can have a respite from city life and breathe in hundreds of years of Japanese culture and appreciation for nature.

My favourite garden has to be Rikugien. I first went on the recommendation of a school friend in February and loved it so much I’ve been back several times this year. It’s been a pleasure to see it in different seasons. The gardens were built around 1700 and Rikugien literally mean ‘six poem gardens.’ Accordingly, 88 spots in the garden reference Chinese history and famous Japanese waka poems. Of course I don’t get any of the references, but the idea is so charming.

2016-02-18 12.16.10.jpgIn February one of my oldest friends was kind enough to come to Tokyo for me. Proactive as ever, she came with a list of things she wanted to do and as Rikugien was relatively easy to get to it was one of the first places we went to. As a Brit, it still surprises me how dry and sunny Tokyo winters are despite being almost as cold as London. This day was typical and the garden felt a little barren but somehow serene and tasteful.

 

 

 

 

2016-03-26-11-57-23The next time I went to Rikugien was when my family came to visit in the spring. We’d just had some bad news that had really shaken us so it was nice to be together. We went to Rikugien just as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom so everything was a lot greener and more fresh than in February. I seem to remember that I took them there just before we left to go to Kyoto and they got more excited after having a taste of Japanese culture.

 

 

 

Along came May and I thought Rikugien was the perfect place to drag yet another group of visiting Brits. The gardens were a lot more colourful and vibrant this time around and I really enjoyed the flowers. One of my favourite things about Rikugien is that there is a traditional tea house by the pond where you can really drink up the essence of the garden and I have happy memories of sitting there with my friends in May.

 

After taking yet another group of visiting friends in early Autumn my poor boyfriend was a bit fed up. “You go to this garden with literally everyone except me!” So on a sunny day in November we went to enjoy the beginnings of the autumn leaves together. This was a few days before I left Tokyo to go for medical treatment in London and I was filled with a lot of complicated feelings about leaving the city I love during this beautiful season.

 

 

Tenshoku Part 1 – Quitting my Job in Japan

I felt good yesterday. One of those days where you walk down the street humming Nina Simone and the world just seems like a wonderful place. I had no particular reason to be happy –  it was just a normal day.

Admittedly the weather was stunning but I think the main reason I was feeling happy was because of my job. I’d just had a hard but satisfying day at work and I had a moment when I realised how lucky I am to be able to have a job I enjoy in Tokyo.

In December 2015 I started the long process of changing my job and visa status. I trained as an early-years music educator during this time and for the last few months I have been teaching music to young children in a lovely studio in Daikanyama as well as other locations such as Tokyo American Club.

This decision was one of the best I’ve ever made but I can’t deny that the job change process was painful. I have a strong internal locus of control and freak out when I have to put my fate into the hands of bureaucratic processes over which I have no control. I feel like a bit of a drama queen going on about it now, but honestly at times I really did struggle. In case anyone else is going through the same thing I thought I would write about my experiences.

This is part 1 of 2 in which I discuss quitting my job. I want to make clear that I am not an expert in immigration and can only speak about my own experiences and the resources that helped me through.

Why I quit my previous job

As you may know, I came to Japan on a contract with a English teaching dispatch company. In many ways this job was a great introduction to Japan. I taught English in schools in the day and in companies in the evening. I experienced so many aspects of Japanese society, from kindergartens to hospitals, to major Japanese companies and Tokyo Metropolitan Government. I learnt many things – including that I actually liked teaching and was sort of alright at it, both of which surprised me.

I’m not really motivated by money so I believe that, at least in your 20s, a job should be one of two things: either it should be related to your interests and further your career progression or it should have the kind of hours and stress levels that don’t interfere with your lifestyle.

My job wasn’t ticking either of these boxes. I was working long and unpredictable hours, sometimes leaving the house at 7.15am and not getting home until 9.30pm. I could have handled this if this was a job relevant to my interests and ambitions but it wasn’t. I like teaching, yes, but my passion is music and the arts – if I was spending so much time teaching I wanted to be teaching these. In addition, although I liked many of my colleagues as individuals, there were several aspects of the company that made me uncomfortable. I was making good money but I had come to Japan to experience Japan and I didn’t have the time to do this. When the long, unpredictable hours and the company’s harsh policies on sick leave started to aggravate a health condition that should be manageable the job became not worth it. After 5 months, I decided I wanted out.

Handing in my notice

転職 (tenshoku – changing jobs) can be a bit of a taboo in Japan. In a country where lifetime employment is still common, quitting your job can be seen as a betrayal. I’ve known Japanese people who have faced harrassment after handing in their notice, been denied leave they were entitled to or even been told they were ‘not allowed to quit.’ Of course the situation is different for foreign employees who usually have yearly contracts rather than lifetime employment, but still, ending a contract midway as I did can be really frowned upon.

To immediately clear up a widespread misconception: yes you can change your job in Japan. It is not ‘work for us or go home.’ Your former employer may make threats but your working visa is valid until it expires, even if you change your job.  Take care however, because you cannot renew your visa without an employment contract so if you are changing jobs be sure to leave enough time to arrange everything before your visa expires. Additionally, you have to notify immigration within 14 days of quitting your job and from that point I’ve heard that you can only stay in Japan for 3 months without working.

Japanese labour law states that, ordinarily, workers are required to give 2 weeks notice to their employers before leaving their job to avoid paying damages. However, I’ve heard of contracts that demand 30 or even 60 working days notice. Whether these are in fact legally enforceable is a grey area so if you need to quit in a hurry I would encourage you to seek support from a union (the General Union are good) or a legal expert. My contract asked for 30 days notice and and I chose to give this and a bit more. I wanted to make things easier for my company and I also cared a lot about my students and I knew if I didn’t leave enough time they was a chance they would lose out.

Handing in my notice was stressful. I timed it really badly and did it at a point where almost the whole office was listening in to the tense conversation (no private meeting rooms for me). My company tried to make me stay longer and asked searching questions about the precise reason I was leaving. My advice would be to anyone about to do this is to be polite but assertive. You don’t have to give a reason why you’re going and they do not have the right to make you feel guilty about your decision. You are probably not being selfish or hurtful, changing jobs happens and your company should accept it. I got through this stage by being on it with the paperwork (give a signed and dated letter of notice, make multiple copies) and by standing my ground even while I tried my best to make everything as convenient for my company as possible. Ultimately, it’s an uncomfortable conversation but your company can’t actually do anything to you. This too will pass. If in extreme cases you are experiencing violence, psychological abuse or power harassment of course please get help. I recommend the General Union as an excellent first port of call who can help you get the services you need.

I don’t want to tell people what to do but I see so many people working in Japan who seem stuck in a job that’s making them miserable, because they feel they have no options or they are scared that things could get worse. You do have options. Yes things could get worse, yes the transition process can be rough. I certainly do not recommend jumping into the unknown unprepared – do your research and do not take my word for it. But often the risk and short term pain leads to long term gain.

For me it was definitely worth it.

Check back for a post on changing my visa status soon!

Performing with Die Milch

Sometimes you have moments when you look around you and think, “My life is utterly ridiculous.” Standing in the changing room at The Quarter Note, Shinokubo, waiting to perform with Die Milch, dressed in Lolita fashion and surrounded by girls in even more outrageous outfits is near the top of my list.

“What kind of things do you get me into?!” says long-suffering boyfriend holding his viola and also waiting to perform. Unlike me, boyfriend is not into alternative-fashion in the slightest so his ouji stage outfit, complete with subtle frills, was a new look for him. One I was enjoying immensely.

How on the earth did two scruffs from Essex come to perform with a neo-classical Gothic Lolita outfit in Tokyo? A lot of hanging around at gigs mostly. I’d been a fan since last summer when I was told about Die Milch’s London gig. I almost didn’t go as it was a Sunday night and I was feeling lazy about doing the drive up the M11 to Islington. You can bet I’m glad I made the effort now! After that we went to a gig of theirs in Ikebukuro in the autumn where we got chatting to a friendly fan who was organising a car share to a special Die Milch birthday gig in Shizuoka and did a very good job of convincing us to come along. It was a great excuse to go to Shizuoka and at that gig the band were kind enough to invite us to go for seafood with them. Over dinner, we got chatting to Coco, the band’s keyboardist and vocalist and told her that we play the harp and viola respectively and she asked if we wanted to perform as guests in a performance. Whilst this was very exciting, it’s not exactly unusual for musicians to go ooh when I say I play the harp and nothing to come of it so I didn’t get my hopes up. But a couple of months later, she sent us an email with our parts and gave us the date of the concert! As long as our playing was up to scratch, this was happening!

I’m not ashamed to say that it turned out that ‘getting our playing up to scratch’ was no easy feat. Die Milch are real pros and pros in the classical sense – no offense meant to pop musicians, but difficult classical music demands boss technique. Our parts weren’t easy, we didn’t go to music college and we have day jobs so we worked really hard to get up to level. And when performance day came I was still terrified – if I cock up performing by myself it sucks but if I messed up on this stage I would not only let down a professional band but one which I hugely respected as a fan.

13082098_10154845185068327_1125241944_n
Definitely the first time I wore pink frills since about the age of 6…

The theme for the gig was ‘Doll Special’ and so the other artists were suitably beautiful and doll like. The openers were colorpointe, a group who fuse singing and ballet with an alternative twist. They were followed by JULiC, a fabulously dressed gothic rock band. I really enjoyed chatting with these lovely people backstage and both of their live sets were fantastic. We were playing on sad~悲しき王子のため息~, a neo-classical instrumental on Die Milch’s latest album Imperial. Luckily, I did not vomit in terror on stage/break my harp strings/play in the wrong place and the crowd responded well to us and Coco’s typically fantastic MC-ing.

A real highlight for me was the fans of Die Milch. Even though my boyfriend Arthur Rei and I were only temporary members of the band they were so kind to us. A friend of Coco’s hand made me a beautiful ring to wear on stage to match the rest of the ladies in Die Milch. Afterwards members of the audience came up to us to chat and one kind gentleman told us that the song we were in was the best piece of the night!

I would like to thank Coco and the rest of Die Milch for this amazing opportunity. I feel like I learnt so much from you – not only musically but about how gigs work in Japan.

I hope to do more collaborations like this one in the future!

All photos taken by Yuki Yoshida

13081695_10154845185598327_261192935_n

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