Monday, 20 March 2017

While My Violin Gently Weeps

The first instrument I (attempted) to learn was the violin. I loved the sound and it stirred up some pretty intense emotions in my ten year old self. Mistakenly I thought I could produce those strong emotive sounds. What would become my first failure of many, I quit after a few months of putting my family through those screeching cat impersonations.

So that brings us now to today. Quite spur of the moment I've decided to give it another go. While in Japan, a lot of people use Craigslist to find bargains (especially Indian people, go figure), in Australia it is Gumtree that a lot of people use. I guess it's that Eucalyptus-evoking name that draws us to it (even though it's origin in British).


From listening to a few YouTube videos I thought the Yamaha SV130 sounded the best, and it just so happened someone in Tasmania had one for sale. I trusted the seller and thankfully it arrived without any problems. I chose an electric violin so I could practise silently, but I'm surprised the unplugged volume is louder than a guitar. Another plus is if I can record it much easier, and it has a built-in reverb. Both acoustically and through headphones the tone is real nice. It comes in quite a few colours but I think this sparkly red is the best.

Tuning it was so different to a guitar! I turned the pegs and they would NOT stop slipping. I followed this. Gotta love YouTube. I wish it existed when I was learning guitar too. From the library I also borrowed out "Violin for Dummies" so I'm on my way!

Now I think knowing the guitar has helped me with music theory, intervals and so on. My thinking to produce those lovely sounds I desire is that I need to work on bowing correctly, getting my intonation down, and chasing that elusive vibrato. I prefer to pitch by ear so I'm not using dots or tape to mark first position. With my iPhone I've downloaded Cleartune and Tonal Energy Tuner. The latter is particularly useful in that it can record the playing and analyse that the intonation is correct. This looks really useful in quickly finding notes in guitar solos, so double yeah! Another similar app I have tried is Syaku8. It's a very small PC program, but I've managed to use it on a Mac if you are running Wine.

So why am I posting this on my blog? My excuse is the violin is Japanese and Syaku8 was originally scripted by 日本人. In reality I'm posting this the day I got it, and a blog is pretty handy to document when I started this fool's errand. I've been practising every day, so I may even surprise myself!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Three Years in exile from Japan

The saddest thing was booking my one way plane ticket. Or was it the exit gate when they verified I was leaving Japan for the last time as a resident? The hole punched through my resident card felt physical.

I can't believe three years have already gone by and I know I'm going to sound like a broken record that I miss the place.

Every time I see a music video of Tokyo I identify quickly the locations, my mind hungry to make that connection. Most recent that comes to mind is this one. In it you can see Shimbashi station. Behind the platform there is a building I used to work in. The area is a bit dodgy at night and I heard a rumour there were some interesting "services" provided for on a different level.

Speaking of work, I am still working casually. It looks like that is just the way things go here. Thankfully they keep me on, although some days I feel a bit of imposter syndrome. A positive is that students I have taught in the past still say hello and I've heard from management they enjoy my teaching. Students are a mixed bag. I get the feeling some of them are just here on parent's money: Here to play games, messaging on phones and staying up all hours. Having said that, most are motivated and I like hanging out with them.

I often look at Google street view to see how Tokyo has changed.  To my surprise a whole block on the main road in Yotsuya has been razed for a new development. I hate this as it's changing my memory of it. The old Hidakaya that I got my noodle fix is gone!

Since I came back I've become a bit of a AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego). Weird right? How does that relate to Japan? Well, walking in Iidabashi there was an old office building that had small lego models behind the front glass window that the owner shifted the curtain to display to passers by. They caught my eye and that triggered a bit of an obsession I now have.

A lot of the sets I particularly like are the UCS Star Wars models. On the collectors market these cost a LOT of money. So what's a poor English teacher to do? Buy knock off copies on Aliexpress! The Imperial Shuttle was a fun build and looks fantastic. The Porsche was a pain to build but looks pretty special. While I hate the actual tedious construction, the end result makes me somewhat proud. Only problem is the place to put them. Currently I'm building the ISD and it is truly colossal! On a side note I haven't bought any more music gear, so I replaced one addiction with another.

Food-wise I found a reasonably cheap tabehodai place, Shabu house in Mary St. Prices are $27-36 depending on day and time. I won't say the food quality will blow you away, but for the price it's not too bad. In the same building there is a similarly priced yakiniku joint, Hanwoori. I haven't had the chance to check it out yet but it piques my interest for sure. On the icecream front Haagen Dazs has returned to Australia! I've tried the salted caramel (good!), but sadly none of the crazy flavours from Japan have made it here. Connoisseur have a green tea icecream which can be had for half price at times, but they have white chocolate flakes throughout. I won't say it's bad, but not quite up to the standard in Japan.

What else have I done? I bought a DJI drone, but after a few times of playing it's been mostly in the box. Boys and their toys.

When will I be back in Japan? I'm not really sure. One of my friends still there says he is contemplating his exit and says he might go back after September. What would be sadder for me would be to go back and everyone gone, so hopefully I can return again soon.