Archive for September, 2003


Wednesday, September 3rd, 2003

I spent almost the whole of this week preparing for my 3 weeks tour of Japan (11th September to 29th September 2003). In spite of the fact that everything (EVERYTHING!) in Japan has been taken care of on my behalf by the amazing Shiori, my agent in Japan, there is actually a lot of preparation work to do for me. Like what? Well, like applying for visa, like buying presents for all the people in Japan who help put this tour together, like trying to complete a few new songs so that I may have the choice of playing some new stuff in Japan, like sending off 200 CDs to Japan so that I have some CDs to sell at the end of gigs, like thinking about the possibility of having a Japanese language version of my website, and like learning some Japanese from phrase books and basic social etiquette from reference books so that I won’t behave like a complete idiot when I meet new friends over there. So – I have been a busy bee. Mummy would be proud.

Anyway, as a result of all this hard work (smirk), I am now pretty much ready for the trip. Well, I am as polished on my performance as I am ever likely to get (i.e. not very), I can order beer in Japanese and say ‘I don’t speak Japanese, do you speak English?’, and I know how to offer up one’s name card the right way round so as not to be offensive. I even know most things about Japanese bath rituals, just in case I end up in a public bath. Cool. It is thus I am so looking forward to the trip I itch just thinking about it. But none of this could be possible without the absolutely awe-inspiring efficiency of the aforesaid Shiori.

Shiori and I got to know each other roughly 12 months ago when she came to KL. We met via some mutual friends and I had a chance to play ‘live’ to her. Ever since, she has been so supportive it is slightly unreal. Not only did she come to KL on 4 separate occasions especially for: (i) my performance at Hassan Brown’s ‘Acoustic Jam’ at The Box (with her husband, the fantastically calm Oguri-san); (ii) the recording session itself; (iii) my appearance at Jo K’s ‘Raise The Roof’ event at The Actors Studio, Bangsar; and (iv) my launch party, she’s also been plotting my first Japan Tour ever since. Either way, after months of hard work (from about June 2003), the tour began to take concrete shape. And then – blink – in 7 days, I hop on a plane to begin another chapter of this crazy trip.

But it has not been as straight forward as I have made it sound above. Despite the best intentions in the world, the tour could not have happened if not for the fact that Shiori succeeded in surmounting the one single most important factor that stumps artists trying to break into Japan – i.e. it is ridiculously expensive to tour in the second single biggest music market in the world (after the USA). To give you an example – a week stay in Tokyo (incl. food, hotel, transport but not airfare) would cost one person something like RM5000 – and that is on budget travel basis. On top of this, the live music venues (if they agree to host an artist at all) take a 50% cut of the covers and a ‘rent’. The long and short of this is – unless you pack a venue, you’ll lose money – and for a ‘new artist’ breaking into Japan, there simply isn’t anyway you can pack gigs. Thus, plain affordability is the key problem – it is very hard to put together a economically feasible tour in Japan unless you are backed by major label resources, or are already famous in another major market. The net result of all this is, for most foreign artists, Japan is a sought after but illusive market – this is especially so for artists from a relatively weak currency like the Ringgit.

So, the basic problem here is: ‘how to afford the tour’? Tough one. But the fact that I am going at all means that Shiori has somehow kicked the problem in the teeth. How did she do it? Well, there is no magic – she did it the good old fashion way – i.e. by introducing my music to people, among them, venue owners, festival organisers, radio deejays, musicians and music lovers. And thank God many of them like the stuff. Still, having created a mini buzz in indie-loving sub-communities in Japan, she then suggested that the most enthusiastic of them contribute to make it possible to afford me a ‘solo’ Japan Tour. Thus, I will be staying with a friend of the producer of the Asian Acoustic Music Festival (to save me hotel and food bills) when I am in Hokkaido. Further more, various venues in Tokyo and Osaka owned by fans are giving me ‘special rates’ when it came to the matter of ‘cover split & rent’ (so that I am able to keep more of the cover proceeds to pay my expenses). And then, various indie artists are offering ‘co-bill’ opportunities so that people coming to see them will also be introduced to me (i.e. they ‘lend’ me their fans). And at NORO, a respected venue in Kichijoji (Tokyo), I will be backed by Hayakawa Takeharu (the brilliant bassist on my record), Sekine Mari (a well-known female percussionist) and Yagi Nobuo (the best harmonica player in Japan) – all of whom will be pulling crowds but yet will be playing for fees barely enough to cover their respective petrol and car park charges. As if this is not enough, Shiori planned the tour to be in September so that we can take advantage of the autumn ‘off season’ in domestic air travel and therefore benefit from various promotions and discounts. All in all, she has done such an amazing job that, for my first tour of Japan, I will most probably accomplish the astonishing feat of breaking even. I mean this with no hint of irony. To embark on a 3-city tour in a crazily expensive market where I am an absolute unknown artist and not lose money is something akin to a miracle. In other words, if you look at this tour as my initial attempt to build a fan-base in Japan, then I will do so without spending a cent. Amazing. I owe soooo much to this woman.

Anyway, so there I was, just thinking about other stuff I need to do before I head off next week. My computer makes that ‘bing!’ sound that said I have email. I looked. It’s Shiori. One of her regular updates vis development of the tour in Japan, no doubt. But it wasn’t. This was something special. On the email page, there was only two lines of text: ‘click on this’ – and below it, an URL.

So I clicked it.


I’m on Japanese radio.

Well, to be precise, I’m on FM Osaka’s web radio. In the World Music section of the station. It’s a 25 minutes feature on ‘Peto Teo’ (sic) and ‘Rustic Living’. I listened to the streamed version of the program and couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear the whole time. This is so cool. I had no idea what the deejay was on about but he played ‘Jesselton Tonight’ and ‘Blue’. In between, he talked a lot – probably about my background and the Japan Tour – and had ‘Alive & Free’ as back drop whilst he talked. I heard the word ‘Ichi-ban’ several times – which means ‘excellent’ or something – so I guess he must like the record. This is amazing.


So here I am. Buzzed by my debut on Japanese radio and looking forward to the tour. I will have you know I grinned all the way through writing this piece. I am so looking forward to it.




To add to all the excitement of playing in Japan, I will also be meeting with musicians from Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong – all whom will be playing at the festival in Hokkaido. Then in Tokyo, I will be meeting up with our very own indie filmmaker and writer Amir Muhammad, and Actors Studio staff and director Kimmy Kiew – who are both on some sponsored stint with Japanese arts institutions – as well as a few other people in the KL arts scene who so happen to be in Tokyo at the same time. Hell, Scary Evelyn of No Black Tie fame might even pop in for a weekend to catch my gig at NORO with Hayakawa and company. This is gonna be fun.

Wish me luck.

[Japan schedule]

A. Hokkaido

11 September – arrival in Japan via Narita. Transit to Sapporo vis Haneda.
12 / 13 / 14 / 15 September – Asian Acoustic Music Festival in Hokkaido (Higashi-kawa, Shi’ntoku, Naganuma, Sapporo)

B. Tokyo

17 September – Arrival in Tokyo from Sapporo
19 September – co-bill gig at ‘Claja’ in Fujikawa with Satoko Ochiai
21 September – at ‘Nolo’ in Kichijoji with bassist Hayakawa Takeharu, percussionist Sekine Mari and harpist Yagi Nobou
23 September – solo at ‘Venus Fort’ in Odaibao – 2 shows back to back in ‘open showcase’ gig

C. Osaka

25 September – Arrival in Osaka from Tokyo / co-bill gig at ‘Yumeya’ with AZUMI
26 September – Two solo shows at Osaka Music School
27 September – solo at ‘Machi-Sansou’
29 September – Return to Kuala Lumpur from Osaka