Momma’s in a Rock ‘n Roll Band

When I learned of our move to Japan four years ago, I immediately imagined the killer things we would see and do. Like watching sumo. Or traveling around Japan to go skiing, or look at wisteria and toilet museums, or visit temples near Yokohama. Joining a rock band wasn’t really on my radar. Yet.

About a year before leaving DC, seven-year-old Cy started drum lessons at Music On the Hill, our fabulous neighborhood music shop. After a few months of watching Cy tap away on the practice pad and then a starter electronic drum kit, I decided that I needed to get in on the action. I started drum lessons myself, and six months later we moved to Japan.

After arriving in Yokohama, the Google led me to my first music-related break: the lovely and talented Marcos, my drum teacher. Cy and I toiled away, performing in annual recitals with Marcos’s other students.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, the big break came in 2017, when local band Honmoku Blues Express needed a bongo player for upcoming gigs. Lead singer Tom saw Mark and asked if I knew how to play bongos. “Well she’s a drummer….”, Mark replied. And that’s how I bought bongos and taught myself to play, with guidance from Marcos and YouTube.

WholeBandCBRJune2018

CBRJun2018
Playing at YC&AC, June 2018

A few months later some guitar-playing friends asked me to join them for casual jams, which eventually turned into gigs in the Members’ Bar at our club, Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC). After a few months I cajoled the rest of the band into letting me play the drums instead. Gradually we added a bass player, a lead singer, keyboards, and a new name: Mamonaku. Mamonaku is Japanese for up next, and you hear it on train platforms as a train approaches.

WholeBandNov2018IMG_7186Mamonaku10Nov18MamonakuFullBand2

A little after that, another band was born: Tempura Crime Scene. Bass player Brad tapped me as the drummer. Most of the TCS band members work for Nissan, so it’s widely known as the Nissan house band.

RenataJayTCS92Mar19
Tempura Crime Scene’s debut at YC&AC, March 2019

Our friends come to hear both bands play. But here’s the crazy part: they keep coming back. After a few gigs word got out that there are two more gaijin (foreigner) bands on the Yokohama music scene, and we started getting invitations to play with other bands, and at other venues.

mamonakuposter23nov19antenna-e1556265466475.jpg

MamonakuAntennaAmericaNov2018
Mamonaku at Antenna America, November 2018

It’s been absurdly fun. I mean, I get to play in a band! How fun is that? It’s a lot of work, but I love it.

The craziest part is that I’m only an OK drummer. Sure, my friends heap praise on all of us after every gig, which is really kind. Because who doesn’t love getting called a rock star? But honestly, I’m not that great. I’m competent, and I can keep a beat pretty well, and I practice a lot. I mean, A LOT. Between Mamonaku and Tempura Crime Scene, I’ve learned around 50 songs in the last year. Singers can find lyrics online, and guitar players can find tabs (chords) from different sites and apps. They still work hard to learn songs, but at least the web gives them a starting point. There aren’t really the same resources for drums; learning a drum part means listening, memorizing, and maybe transcribing some challenging intros or fills. (And in case you were wondering–yes, there is standard drum notation. Though I’ve been known to scribble “pssht on 3” and similar.)

BillMartaKaraBanmartastarsearch.jpgmartakaraban.jpg

DSC03319DSC03235DSC03161DSC03169DSC03171DSC03205

Both bands have varied levels of musical ability. Some of our musicians are phenomenal, and some are pretty OK. I’m toward the pretty OK end. But a band playing together well doesn’t require absolutely phenomenal musicians in every spot. All you need is a baseline of competence, the ability to get along with others, and lots of patience for each others’ mistakes, suggestions, and crappy song ideas. Playing nicely with others is huge, and not just in a band. Think of examples in your own workplace or social circle. It’s easy to think of the brilliant writer who can’t meet a deadline, or the phenomenal soccer player who insists on taking every shot on goal himself instead passing the ball, and so on. Playing in a band is like that.

DrumkitCloud9
An example of *not* playing along nicely with others: caught in the act of posting unflattering rehearsal photos of fellow band members to the group What’s App chat

Cloud9Rehearsal2019Cloud9Practice2019

martagrimacecloud92019.jpeg
Tempura Crime Scene rehearses at Cloud 9 practice studios. Sometimes we’re nice to each other. And sometimes we grimace at questionable song ideas that thankfully don’t make it onto the set list. Like here.

I learned a lot from Marcos, as I still do from my weekly lessons with him. He gives me exercises to tweak skills that I struggle with, and gives excellent feedback after a gig. I’ve also learned a lot from actually playing gigs. Learning songs at home mostly means playing along to a recording. Playing with other people means that *I* keep the beat, not the recording. If the song is dragging then I try to catch the bass and guitar players’ eye to speed up the tempo. If I make a mistake, I keep going without grimacing. If someone else makes a mistake–maybe missing a cue, or coming in early–the rest of us all follow along.

mamonaku30mar19.jpg

MamonakuGoldenCup01Apr2019
Mamonaku at Golden Cup, March 2019

During a gig I’m constantly listening to myself play, and my inner dialogue runs nonstop. Am I dragging a little behind the beat? Did I get that kick rhythm right? There’s a big fill coming up. High hat control isn’t quite right, so keep it closed. Wow, Clapton drum parts are really tedious. The syncopated high hat rhythm is off, so go back to straight eighth notes. The toms are too flat and I keep hitting the rim; remember to pitch them forward more after the song ends. The ride is too far back; pull it forward between songs. Gah, the singer came in early, adjust! And so on. So for those of you who tell me that I look really serious when I play or that I should smile more–this is why.

So what’s the best part of a successful show? Afterwards, when a fan comes up to me and says, “That was so cool! I want to learn to play drums too!”.

Our next show is coming up on May 11 at Benny’s Place in Motomachi. Come on by!

mamonaku11may19.jpg

 

 

Dziadziu Visits Japan: All Kyoto, All Day

This morning we set out for our first stop, the National Modern Art Museum of Kyoto. After the crowds of the previous days we enjoyed the quiet solitude of the galleries.

From there we continued on to the shrines nestled along the Higashiyama mountain range. After strolling through Nanzenji shrine, we continued on to my favorite, Eikando. Eikando draws huge crowds during the peak autumn foliage season, or momiji. The rest of the year it’s a fairly quiet place, which I love.

After pausing for some refreshment of matcha green tea and a red bean paste sweet cookie…

… We continued on to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion.

After lunch we headed for easily the most crowded spot of our trip so far: Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.

All day, everywhere, we saw sakura. Cherry blossom fatigue starts to set in with so many trees around, and so many people determined to capture the perfect shot. I know–poor us.

For our last dinner in Kyoto, we enjoyed the varied offerings of an izakaya. On our way to the restaurant, we blended in with the foreigner crowd on foot determined to find an excellent meal. But once we reached the restaurant, we saw nothing but Japanese customers surrounding us–always a good sign, especially in a heavily touristy area such as Gion. We ordered an assortment typical to an izakaya: grilled chicken skewers, assorted vegetables with miso sauce, a soft boiled egg nestled atop potato salad with anchovy, and steak cooked to perfection.

It capped off a lovely day with amazing sites, perfect weather, so much sakura, and the best company.

Tomorrow we board our final Shinkansen: back home to Yokohama.

Dziadziu visits Japan: Hiroshima and Kyoto

I can’t believe that it’s only day two of our trip! We’ve seen and done so much already.

This morning we headed out to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Loyal martayaki readers may recall that I visited this museum back in 2016 when Grandpa Don came to visit. The experience was a bit different this time due to a recent renovation–but still utterly gut wrenching.

The Children’s Peace Monument

After the museum we strolled past the Children’s Peace Monument and Genbaku (Atomic Dome). At all three sites the size of the crowds struck me. Here is probably the least fun thing you can do on vacation, looking at photos of brutal death and destruction. Yet people care, and spend their free time learning about such dark times in history. It gives me hope.

The former Bank of Japan branch, designed by my friend Marcos’s grandfather

Right as we were leaving the museum, my friend Marcos sent me a suggestion to check out a building that his architect grandfather designed. Since the building was only a few minutes walk away, we headed over to see it for ourselves.

Built in 1936, the building originally served as the Hiroshima branch of Bank of Japan; it survived the nuclear blast and now serves as an exhibition space. We enjoyed the photo exhibit on display.

After a quick lunch, we boarded yet another shinkansen, this time bound for Kyoto.

After relaxing in our hotel for a bit, we headed for Kyoto’s busiest tourist site, Fushimi Inari shrine. It’s not only the most visited tourist attraction in Kyoto but also in all of Japan. The late afternoon visit proved to be a wise choice; we experienced fairly uncongested pathways as well as the Golden Hour for photography, right before sunset.

We enjoyed a traditional Izakaya dinner then called it a night, enjoying the sites on our stroll back to the hotel.

Dziadziu Visits Japan: Himeji Castle and Hiroshima

My dad’s here! Dziadziu (grandfather) came to see the grandkids and see what our life in Japan is like. After a few days of Yokohama sites, it was time to hit the rails.

Dad said that he wanted to see Hiroshima, so I decided on a stop at Himeji Castle along the way. So we boarded our first Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen of the day.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, I visited Himeji Castle once before.

We arrived in Himeji and saw tons of people. And sakura (cherry blossoms)! Honestly I had no idea that the castle is surrounded by them, so it was a lovely surprise. A gorgeous Sunday afternoon with sakura in full bloom brought out the masses, but somehow no one seemed to mind. The long lines moved along at a steady pace, and the announced wait time of 60 minutes to enter the Main Keep (main part of the castle) turned out to be about 20 minutes. Our fellow line standers all seemed in good spirits. Call it the magic of the sakura, or simply good manners–but everyone waited patiently, enjoying the beautiful day and incredible scenery.

Standing there, looking at these breathtaking flowers, and this stunning castle–I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. It’s impossible for me to feel anything but pure gratitude that I have this opportunity, and that I shared it with my dad.

After the castle Dad sampled his first bowl of katsudon (pork cutlet with egg over rice) and soba noodles.

Then we returned to the Shinkansen for a quick 60 minute ride, continuing on to Hiroshima.

We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our hotel, and relaxed a bit. Then dinner!

If you mention a visit to Hiroshima, you’ll get very different responses from Western and Japanese friends. The Westerners frown a bit and ask if I went to the Peace Memorial and other sites related to the atomic bombing. Meanwhile Japanese friends light up and enthusiastically ask, did you try any okonomiyaki?!?

So for dinner Dad and I headed to Okonomimura, or okonomiyaki town–really a building with several floors of okonomiyaki stalls. We carefully reviewed the stalls, weighed our options, then judiciously chose one. Kidding! We sat down at the first place with two open stools, then ordered beer and a Deluxe Okonomiyaki.

Well nourished, we retired to our hotel for a solid sleep ahead of Monday’s plan: a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome.

Hong Kong: Street Art

My favorite aspect of Hong Kong was also the biggest surprise: the amazing street art adorning building all over our neighborhood. We rented a studio on U Lam Terrace in a somewhat pretentious/chic area called PoHo (from nearby Po Hing Fong).

As soon as we started walking we saw amazing murals and street art on every block. It made getting lost in the maze of streets and stairs so much more interesting! I’ll let the photos tell the story.

IMG_1797IMG_1795IMG_1770IMG_1769IMG_1758IMG_1752IMG_1710IMG_1709IMG_1667IMG_1664IMG_1662IMG_1656IMG_1590

Hong Kong: Food and Shopping

I arrived in Hong Kong with high expectations of delicious food, and Hong Kong delivered! Our first night we enjoyed an amazing Nepali meal in our neighborhood. Many of Yokohama’s Indian restaurants are actually operated by Nepali nationals, and I wish some of the dishes we had in Hong Kong appeared in Japan more often instead of the parade of mediocre curries.

IMG_1585IMG_1586IMG_1584

Our second night we tried French fusion dim sum. We loved the setting and beautiful presentation while appreciating the novel twist on traditional dim sum, but we both agreed that it wasn’t our best meal. Foie gras in a dumpling….not so much.

IMG_1651IMG_1647IMG_1646

Another night we grabbed a bite at a restaurant near a street market. We sat at long, communal tables and heeded our neighbors’ recommendations.

IMG_1742IMG_1738IMG_1733IMG_1731

For our final night’s meal, we sought out a Michelin recommended hole-in-the-wall. The rather utilitarian ambiance and entirely Chinese clientele foretold a great meal. And it was!

IMG_1809IMG_1807IMG_1806IMG_1800IMG_1805IMG_1802IMG_1801

Like many Asian cities, Hong Kong features several street markets, night markets, and “antiques” rows featuring loads of colorful baubles and trinkets to tempt the eye. We wandered and picked up a few treasures.

IMG_1704IMG_1703IMG_1718IMG_1720IMG_1722IMG_1724IMG_1725IMG_1729IMG_1716IMG_1763IMG_1767

Our hands-down favorite shop was right in our neighborhood, and I lost count of how many times we popped in. Every surface was covered with both Western and Chinese vintage records, eyeglasses, cameras, toys, and more.

IMG_1639IMG_1636IMG_1634IMG_1633IMG_1631IMG_1630IMG_1629

The final installment: street art.

Hong Kong: Views

Last week Cy and I headed to Hong Kong for spring break. We ate amazing food. We saw cool stuff. We climbed. So. Many. Stairs.

Here’s the first report: views!

The Hong Kong Museum of History provided and excellent overview of the many people who have occupied Hong Kong over the centuries. I loved the vivid displays that recounted Hong Kong’s fascinating and turbulent history. The United Kingdom officially handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997, and the museum’s displays abruptly stopped at this point in time. Because apparently no history happened since then….? Still, I really enjoyed what I saw and learned.

IMG_1611IMG_1604IMG_1602IMG_1601IMG_1609IMG_1599IMG_1595

We ventured out on the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor one day….

IMG_1616IMG_1619IMG_1624

…then braved the crowds to ride the Victoria Peak Tram to stroll wooded paths and catch the views from the top.

IMG_1694IMG_1692IMG_1691IMG_1679IMG_1688IMG_1674IMG_1672IMG_1689

And the stairs. So many stairs! Streets abruptly became flights of stairs, and we were so grateful that our visit wasn’t in the steamy summer months as we climbed them every day.

IMG_1654IMG_1796

We stopped by Hong Kong’s most famous temple, Man Mo…and were extremely underwhelmed. “Hong Kongers are not a religious lot,” our guidebook drily noted. No kidding! I can think of a dozen temples and shrines within five minutes of our house in Yokohama with more to offer.

IMG_1757IMG_1755IMG_1754

Next up: food and shopping.