In February I had an evening that made me think, as long as I can experience something like this at least once per year, then life is going well. It's been hard to write about, for fear of disenchanting the preternatural memory. But I did it.
Tokyo; Daikanyama. A shmancier area than I am used to, where I stumble across the impossibly hip T-Site bookstore complex.
Dinner: Matsuya. A humble ¥520 beef bowl topped with kimchi, to offset the upscale areas I’ve been wandering.
Nearly showtime. Deep underground to the hall outside the venue, where fans pass around a plastic bag full of plastic bags, to put our shoes in.
Inside, tatami. Lit dimly by hanging bubble-wrap jellyfish, around a cluster of clutter in the middle of the small room — a couple of low chairs, guitars, toy pianos, a bucket of markers, a stuffed frog…
A bar. The tender helps me choose a sake to fill my masu, a wooden vessel made of fragrant hinoki and decorated with a drawing by Aoba Ichiko, tonight’s star.
Quietly waiting. Just being surrounded by people who chose to be in that place on that night, sitting on the floor, patiently reading novels (I choose Umberto Eco), murmuring to friends, just being.
No fanfare. Aoba Ichiko and her guests Tenniscoats (Saya and Ueno) walk out into the middle of the room, surrounded by about eighty people, and sit.
Three feet. I could reach out and tap Ichiko on the shoulder as she plays her guitar or operates the weird plastic music note toy that makes scratchy electronic noises.
Playful Ichiko. She makes music by blowing bubbles in her sake; draws a picture of Saya and Ueno, aiming the microphone at the squeaky marker sounds; turns every song into a little improvisational game.
Restless Saya. She hits every object around her for percussion; wanders about the room singing nonsense and absently playing her melodica; ventures away into the adjacent room to sit at a piano.
Taciturn Ueno. He spends most of the show diligently bent over his guitar, building a sturdy skeleton for every song; begrudgingly shares the lyrics to an unfinished song about New York; indulges in a comically extravagant solo that derails the song that spawned it; everyone laughs.
That room. Isolated from everything, the rare feeling of being truly apart from the world and outside of time.
Intermission comes. The woman next to me admires the drawing Ichiko has cast to the floor; I agree and a conversation begins; I've made a friend for the evening.
Sake, CDs. Back from my trip up to the bar and the merch table, I chat with my new friend until the musicians return.
Saya improvises. 「君の眼鏡」, “Your glasses”, she sings directly to me, to begin a song comprising a list of disparate images.
Ichiko follows. 「君のマスク」, “Your mask”, she sings to an audient with a cold.
It continues. The performance feels more and more inclusive, a night with friends.
We cry. At one point Saya has us all with our eyes closed for a particularly mournful song.
We laugh. Many times do we laugh, at unexpected moments, genuinely playing along.
Suddenly, English. Saya switches languages in the middle of a song; I assume this is just how the lyrics go.
The frog. The little stuffed frog, when turned on, repeats your words back to you in a funny voice.
It sings. The frog becomes a part of the band, repeating Saya's voice, Ichiko's voice, Ueno's guitar, the audience's laughter.
It ends. The frog remains, stuttering applause among a tableau of clutter.
Murmurs, photos. Everyone wants to capture the scene of scattered instruments and bric-a-brac that somehow perfectly encompass the feeling of being there; I find that I just want to linger in that sacred space as long as I can.
Then, Saya. I turn around and she's just there, amused, and we get to talking; 「日本語通じます？」, “you understand Japanese?”
I do. She'd changed the lyrics on my behalf, in case I didn't; I appreciate that.
Then Ichiko. She shakes my hand and says, 「おやすみなさい」, “good night.”
I've moved far away and started a new job. It's harder to do these letters now, but I am glad it's not impossible. Thank you for reading.