Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Show Info! August 11th at Soka


Summer Live at Soka - Lisa
Date and Time: August 11th (Saturday), starting from 5:00 pm.
Cost: Free!
Location: 草加東口 西友草加店駐車場 (Soka Station, East Exit, Seiyu Parking Area)

Please see the following map: Location of the live

Japanese version of the live info here: http://amba.to/MPPms8

I will be playing the show solo with my guitar for perhaps about an hour! Also includes time to talk with everyone afterwards. Looking forward to seeing you there, for all those in the area and who have time next Saturday! Time to think up my set list and practice practice practice...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Forest of Dreams


This is the cover for my original demo album "Forest of Dreams" released today, which you can listen to and download here:

The album includes some of my favorites from over the years, and are mostly the demos I made from the time I wrote each of them. Therefore, the quality kind of varies, but I think they still capture that pure, raw feel that can only be touched in the first few takes of a new song. 

I want to let the songs speak for themselves, so I won't ramble on too much here.
Also, info about the upcoming live show in mid-August will be coming in the next few days!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summertime in the air


 Omotesando with lanterns along the tree-lined street


 Shrimp bisque and chicken curry at Soup Stock Tokyo


A fun-looking picture book about... well, you know


Having fun with my food

Favorite new summery shorts from Collect Point


Thinking deep thoughts


My past few posts may have seemed a bit serious and perhaps dark to some, but hopefully it isn't giving anyone the wrong idea. I'm totally enjoying life and making time to do what I love, aside from work. Also, working at a Japanese company as an American is quite interesting, always lots to learn, and room to practice my business Japanese and vocabulary... although I'm quite fortunate, my company is pretty international and everyone can speak English as well. Grateful for what I have these days.

Also making more time to record and post videos recently, which is so much fun! Have some originals that I'm working on and planning to share later too, but here's a cover of Lana Del Rey's Summertime Sadness:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

I'm Falling to Pieces

I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing
Just prayed to a god that I don't believe in


Cause I got time while she's got freedom
Cause when a heart breaks, no it don't break even


What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?
What am I supposed to say when I'm all choked up and you're okay?


I'm falling to pieces...

-from "Breakeven" by The Script // Cover by Lisa


 These days, the weather is warm and sunny in Tokyo with most of the rainy season having passed already, it seems. We've had a cool period for the past few days, and it feels like heaven being able to sleep with the window open and not using the air conditioner. If only the rest of summer would continue like this. Warm enough to dress in light clothing and go out comfortably, but not too hot and humid so that every step outside warrants stickiness and the urge to shower.

By the way, I'm loving this thin white belt I found a few weekends ago at a vintage shop.


I guess I tend to be one for painful and heart-wrenching songs over the peppy and happy ones - although I try to sing the latter sometimes, they always come out rather cheesy and not seeming as genuine. I find that I rarely get that spark of inspiration to write songs when I'm happy, but find it so easy to pour out the words and melodies when I'm at a really low point.


The song "Breakeven" by The Script really stood out to me in terms of lyrics, the sadness in its chorus. Do you know the feeling of falling to pieces? Of having everything you once believed in crumbling down into dust, filtering through your fingers and slipping away?

I wonder what it is with me and sad songs... I don't even think of myself as a particularly sad person usually, although I can be rather serious.
Well, I think it might be because the pieces that touch me are the ones that I can connect with on some deeper level - and those usually happen to be the ones that speak about some kind of difficulty, pain, darkness... the parts of us we tend to keep hidden away from the brightness of everyday sunlight. The songs that make us gasp with realization, that make us remember the heartbreak, that let us look right into the depths of the wound... and feel that it's okay. It's okay to know and to have that sadness within us and as a part of us somewhere. After all, we have all gone through something like this at some time.


Even if we can't make it disappear completely, what better way to make it through the sadness, than to acknowledge, accept, and touch it within our hearts?


Many people in the world are going through really tough times right now. Maybe even you are, at the moment. 
But please trust that you have the courage and strength to put the pieces back together again, even if not exactly in the same fit and pattern as before - even if a little broken and mismatched.
The pieces will come together.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Perfection Trap


These days, having such a wide and connected online world makes it very convenient to spread your own presence and unique ways of expression. However, it's also easier to fall into the trap of perfection.


Sometimes, it's easy to fall to the temptation of brightening things up, making things look happier and sparklier than they actually are. It seems that in this society, people tend to be drawn to the outgoing, shining, perpetually-happy folks, right?

Well, I don't think that's always case. At least not to me.
I love to see happy people just as much as anyone else, but even more so, I'm drawn to the people who are real.
Those who are honest to themselves, and not afraid to show their weaknesses and darker sides.


Because in reality, nobody is perfect, no matter how they may seem to be through their blogs, the number of their subscribers, comments, and followers, the beautiful photos, the happy-go-lucky tweets. Some are merely much better at exuding the positives and not letting the tough bits show.
I think there's nothing wrong with being able to hold back a bit and keep a positive attitude - that's actually a plus.
But the tricky part is when the image of perfection, of always striving to keep up the look of a happy and full life, becomes too much of a pressure - so much that you're afraid to show who you really are sometimes.


 I think that's what makes people interesting - the way they are made up of so many different sides and facets, each a different color and shape and texture. Yet all linking together and fitting to make that one unique person in the entire world. Even the tired, lonely, sad, afraid parts, even the past failures and difficult choices, mistakes, embarrassments...they're all a part of you.


We (including me) tend to get caught up in the numbers, the quantity, the result... while forgetting to think about what we really want to do with our creativity and sharing, what the real purpose is, and how we can cherish the *now* that's already here. Doing things for others, for the invisible audience, when we should more often think about what to truly do for ourselves.

Even if we want to inspire and give something to others, I feel like that energy first has to be nurtured and grow from within. It's easier said than done. But hey, I'm still learning too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Story of an English-Teaching Singer-Songwriter in Japan


 In September of 2009, I came to Tokyo to become a musician.

Well no, I couldn't say that this was 100% true. I also came to explore a country and culture I'd been interested in for years, apply my Japanese language skills, find myself, explore, dream, develop...
But just to simplify, let's say the main goal was to become a musician. 
That certainly was the largest driving point at the time, when I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Cognitive Science at age 20, and flew over to work in a foreign country for the first time a few months after turning 21. I was still dizzy with how fast things were proceeding. But giddy with the knowledge that I was the one who had made this happen - all simply because I wanted it so much.

I'm often asked this by people who have seen my videos on Youtube or know a little about my story - How did you get to Japan, and how did you make this music thing happen?
Some parts of the story were a bit tough for me to explain, so I have been purposefully vague about giving answers in the past.
But now, almost 3 years later, I thought it was high time to write about it.


Before flying over to Japan, before even graduating college, I searched for jobs specifically in Tokyo, where I knew I needed to be for my musical activities. I made a promise with myself that I would first find a full-time job and be able to support myself financially, before hopping over and starting to pursue music. Although I received rejections, I was very lucky to land one offer with an English-teaching company located in central Tokyo that agreed to sponsor my work visa. Elated, I made all my preparation; the wait until departure was agonizingly slow. But before I knew it, I was waving my goodbyes and had already arrived at Narita Airport, lugging my two suitcases and a guitar through the glass doors. Alone.

I left behind everything I knew in California. This was a step I had prepared myself to take. My wonderful and supportive friends from high school and college, my family who were still slightly reeling from shock and wondering why, the food, the beautiful California weather and nature, the place that was my comfort zone. I left behind all of it, took a deep breath, and took the step that whisked me across the ocean, 5000 miles away. Of course I was nervous and scared. I even cried one night on that first week, wondering what the hell I was doing and if I was gonna make it. But pretty soon, things started to change for me, and change rapidly.


 First of all, I had absolutely no time to be moping and missing home. As a matter of fact, no time even for jet lag. After arriving in Tokyo in the evening, I was taking the crowded commuter train and finding my way to my new company the very next morning. After a couple of all-day trainings, I was immediately set to teach at an elementary school that same week on Friday - four classes of over 30 students each. I was absolutely petrified. And on top of all that, I was still living out of a small hotel room for the whole first week, not being able to find and finally move into an apartment until that weekend.

Teaching in Japan was a whole new experience - my company had the style where it sent their teachers all around Tokyo and surrounding areas to teach on-location. That meant I was constantly traveling to elementary schools, junior high schools, and also businesses, teaching English to all ages from kids to manager-level businesspeople. I would often take the train to two or three different locations in a day, sometimes waking up around 6:30 am and getting back home at 10 or 11 pm. Some days were easier, where I had just a few classes at a certain time and could have the rest of the day off. But there was also a lot of preparation and lesson-planning to do outside of classes, and overall, I was extremely busy until I started to get more of a feel for English-teaching about six or seven months in. 
The good thing about that job was that I was literally forced to get familiar with the different stations around Tokyo and all the different train lines within a very short span of time. Also, I learned how to talk to just about any kind of person, and I had some pretty rewarding experiences with some students. 


 On the other hand, music was keeping me very busy as well. Through my Youtube videos and Japanese blog, I had connected with a few contacts before coming to Tokyo, and they were kindly willing to help me move forward in my music activities in Japan. Therefore, I found myself rushing to music-related meetings after work, playing shows at nights and on weekends, and focusing my free time on writing new songs. The shows were amazing - I found that I loved singing live to people, and I was always so amazed and grateful that people who knew me from my videos and blog showed up to cheer me on at those shows. Talking with these supporters gave me a great deal of courage and a sense of purpose. 
Also starting to show up at my shows were people from the Japanese music and entertainment industry. I was starstruck - some of these companies and staff worked with really big artists! After some meetings with prospective music companies and industry people, I accepted an offer from a label within one of the largest music companies in Japan. The plan was for me to start being "developed" by that label and grow to the level of eventually having major CD releases; it didn't mean that I was signed and could start living off music only. So during this time, I continued working full-time at my English-teaching job.


 Less than six months since my arrival in Tokyo, and I was already making plans with a label - there was great excitement in the air. I continued to perform at live houses, write songs, make videos, and go to meetings. (The music industry meetings were conducted all in Japanese, and more than once I found myself frustrated at my lack of ability to express properly or put power into my ideas... but that's another story.)
At first, I thought that all was going well with the music company - I had a goal that seemed just within reach. This was it. I was going to become a major artist, and my dreams were going to come true.
Unfortunately, a few factors came into play that again, changed things completely.

First of all, I was finding it hard to balance full-time work and music at the same time. I went into the agreement with the music label with the understanding that within a few months, I would be able to stop teaching English and focus on music full-time. However, this was not to be the case. As the weeks and months flew past, I was still working at both things as hard as ever, and starting to get exhausted. Even after some wonderful experiences at recording studios and the release of an indies mini-album, I was met with slow communication and vague responses. 
I was told that the sales of my CD did not match up with the number of subscribers on Youtube, although promotion had been left almost completely up to me alone. I was told that I should check with the staff before uploading any of my music or videos, and remove all the free mp3s I had up for download. I was given suggestions for music styles that completely weren't me but I didn't know how to refuse, and I was even advised to try changing my looks - wear more makeup, remove my glasses. Now I know that this is the standard, but at the time, I felt baffled, like my wings were getting torn off and I was being laden with one heavy chain after the next. Finally, when I was told that I would have to shut down my Youtube account after going major with them (and uh.. when would that be?), I had hit the last straw in my haystack.

While all this was going on, students from the classes I was teaching were starting to recognize me. A businessman waited until after class and whispered, "Aren't you the one on Youtube?"  When I first walked into a school class to introduce myself, a few times kids would shout out, "You play guitar on those videos, don't you!" The toughest one was at a junior high school I was assigned to for several days each week, where word spread like wildfire throughout the school about my singing videos. At first I had been flattered, but this time, I felt the control slipping while I tried to teach, I felt attention wander, I heard the snickers and shouts of "Youtube!" and "guitar!" from the class troublemakers. I was mortified. I'm not the type who can laugh along and joke with those kids, like some stereotyped English teachers; I'm much too serious and introverted in reality, and wished so badly to separate my English-teaching work from my music. I still did my best with teaching, but to be honest, I started to dread going to the school. And after explaining all these worries to the music company, I was still met with no resolutions.


Finally, after a long period of agonizing, wondering if I was just chickening out, wondering if I would regret, wondering wondering... 
I decided to sever ties with the music label. I had my reservations - so many people out there were trying their hardest to become professional musicians, and here I was going to pass up a chance most would die for - for what? For my freedom? My pride?
The answer was already in my heart, really. For my goal had been to "become an artist" at first, but after arriving here, after dipping into the business itself, I learned many things about the music industry. Not that it's necessarily "bad", and I do greatly admire those who work hard to progress and succeed in music. But I learned that I was searching for an empty dream, aiming at perhaps not the right goal itself, because if I wanted to become an artist, then maybe I already was one, and could be anytime I wanted, just by myself. I found that to me, music could only be something of the heart, of the soul - it was too hard for me to think of it from the business-only perspective, of cold facts and numbers and sales, of changing myself and who I am for what the industry *thought* was the right way. If I change, and I do all the time, I have to believe in it.

This is why, for a while there has been quite a gap in my music activities. Since ending things with the label, I have made changes that I do believe in, searched within myself, changed jobs (I'm no longer teaching English), and really started paying attention to what captures me. My music tastes and perception have changed greatly since then, as well as my self-perception and views on the world, on people, on life. I am slowing down and gradually discovering who I am.

And I am happier than I have ever been.


 The moral of this story is not that I have given up on music forever.
Because actually, there is still no ending in sight. In fact, I feel that this is just the beginning. I still sing and write songs. I'm also exploring and developing my interests in other areas, such as reading and writing, photography, fashion, and just enjoying life. Eventually, I want to somehow connect everything and bring it out into the world - or maybe, it's already starting to happen.

The above was just the short version of the story, and there were also other details involved in the process. But hopefully this has given you an idea of what has affected and changed me in the last few years since coming to Japan, and set the background for the story that continues to unfold in this blog. I hope you'll be here with me for the journey.

The sun is now rising in Tokyo, and it's one of the most beautiful skies I've ever seen.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

5 Ways to Beat the Summer Blues


Are you feeling a bit down today for some reason? 
Annoyed at something that happened at work or school, tired with the frustrations of life, weary over some problem or question that still remains unsolved?
It's super tough to resolve the stress in life on your own sometimes, even if you keep turning those thoughts over and over by yourself. If you find yourself in that kind of state at the moment, then here are five things to try.

1. Start by noticing and appreciating the small things.

We tend to focus so much on the problems right in front of us that we lose sight of everything else, even the small surprises we would normally marvel in if we weren't feeling as bad. Have you looked up at the sky, down by your feet, around at the world, really looked? What have you been missing, and what new things have you noticed?


2. Indulge in your interests and hobbies.

When I get very busy, sometimes I forget to dust off the ol' camera or guitar. Imagine how sad and lonely they feel, just sitting and waiting to be used. Chances are, there are also interests that you've set aside just to get through the day to day rush, or ruminate over your worries. Sure, problem-solving is also important, but it's vital to give your mind a break once in a while. You'll feel refreshed and extra fulfilled by taking that time to do the activities you love.


 3. Keep the big picture in mind.

When we're in the depths of despair, it's easy to think, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" or "If only..." or "I'll be happy when I..." But sometimes it helps to remember that everyone has their problems. Some people are just better at covering it up than others, and some are better at releasing their negative energy and focusing on the present moment. You have so much potential, and you still have tomorrow, and the day after that. It all depends on what you choose to do with your time.


4. Go somewhere or do something new.

While a daily routine can be very comfortable and productive for many, it is also an easy trap for boredom or negative feelings to develop. That's why it's a good idea to take a trip if you're feeling down - it doesn't have to be a long trip, or extremely far; a short walk nearby down an unfamiliar path will work just as well. Being in a different environment from what you see every day will stir new feelings in you, and it may also inspire you in new ways. It can be daunting to take the effort, but keep an open mind and give yourself a push. The stimulation will make you grow.


5. Eat well and make your body happy.

Happiness starts from the inside out. Rather than waiting for external factors to come along and make things better, try filling yourself with healthy foods and enough rest. We tend to push ourselves too hard and dismiss the necessities, but actually, your mental well being is definitely affected by your physical state too. Most people these days don't get enough sleep. Have you noticed how instantly refreshed and relaxed you feel after a good night's sleep? Also, try taking in some juicy fruits high in vitamin C (such as this lovely orange), plenty of green vegetables, potassium-rich foods such as bananas and sweet potatoes, and an adequate amount of protein and fiber. Watch the amount of sugary, starchy, and fried foods you eat, and try decreasing the amount. Drink plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months when it's easy to get dehydrated.
Your body will thank you, and you'll instantly feel more alert, ready to face the day!

These are just a few simple tips I have for beating the blues this summer. Of course there are plenty of other ideas, and I might add more in coming days if it's helpful. It's a challenge to practice each of these steps, but take it one at a time - that's why it's called practice! 

All right then, let's get out there and make it an awesome summer!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hot July Nights


 It's been almost a month since my trip to California. And I still have pictures to share! Time has really flown and accelerated since getting back. Looking at the pictures, it's almost like the time there was a dream~ like this shot of the Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park.


Palace of Fine Arts, where we saw the swans nearby!


Waffles at Ole's Waffle Shop in Alameda with my friend.


Horses grazing in a field.


This mint box with my name on it, which I received as a birthday present 
from my friends some years back.

For more photos, go here. :)

These days, the humidity level is rising in Japan, and the rainy season is punctuated with sunny days here and there. It's the season of festivals, fireworks, and summer vegetables; women passing on the streets carry sun umbrellas as they bustle by in summery skirts.

Dropped by Kinokuniya after work the other day, and spent a while just browsing books happily. I am so happy that they have a big English book selection there, I don't know how I'd survive without it, as Amazon Japan still has a somewhat limited selection. I love being able to touch and hold real books, flip the pages, see how they fit in my hand and how the words slip into my mind.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tanabata in Blue


 Today was a rainy Tanabata in Tokyo.


 My friend and I went to Tokyo Tower for the special Tanabata lights. We didn't know that there was also a special campaign that people who came wearing yukatas could get to the observatory for free...! Therefore, there were tons of people in line to go up the elevator for the view.




 Many girls and some guys wearing yukatas.


 I don't own a yukata and have never worn one, but I'd like to try one day! They look so beautiful and have such a summery feel.


 A couple embracing under the Tanabata lights while gazing at the view from inside Tokyo Tower.

There are many different versions of the traditional story associated with Tanabata, but one of the most famous involves Orihime, a weaving princess, and Hikoboshi, a cow herder. Thanks to Orihime's dad, who got pissed off at his daughter for slacking on her weaving after she fell head over heels in love with the dashing Mr. Hikoboshi, the two are now only allowed to meet one day a year, on the 7th day of the 7th month. Furthermore, if it rains on that day, apparently the two can't meet and have to wait all the way until next year.

How messed up is that?! Well, it was rainy today, but around 9 or 10 pm it cleared up. So maybe the two got to meet up for about two hours? And furthermore, Orihime's dad sounds like an overly strict and possessive parent... isn't it okay for her to go pursue her own life after she's all grown up and married her guy? She can do other stuff than just sit around and weave all day, right? Well, I guess roles were more firmly set in those days, and obedience was more key. Hikoboshi should also learn to swim and cross the Amanogawa to be with his lady.

If it were me, I don't think I could deal with meeting my partner only one day out of the year. Even if we emailed, chatted online, and used all the technology available these days... I think that to truly know a person, there is something about being there in person with them. Being next to them, breathing the same air and sharing the same space, feeling the touch of their skin.
Orihime must have a really steadfast kind of love. But I bet she still really misses her Hikoboshi. 
Or maybe the two of them have already snuck off together since a long time ago, leaving just the story to giggle at as they watch down from the sky on the humans celebrating Tanabata.