Playing in the mountains

Chatting to a friend at a party in March last year, I was alarmed to find that word had already got around about me purchasing a guitar. This friend, the Vice President of our international association, and friends with my mum on Facebook (still not sure how that happened), asked a lot of questions about my guitar playing. When he found out that I could already play, he asked if I would meet some of his musician friends. He said that they had wanted an excuse to meet me, and now they finally had one. A little confused, I agreed. About two months later, my German friend/colleague and I joined them for a drinking party. Their ages ranged from 40 to 65, so there was quite a gap between us, and my Japanese was rudimentary at best, so the start of our meeting was a little awkward. But then something wonderful happened: we started talking about music. Suddenly we barely needed my friend to interpret. By the end of the night, we had found that we had many things in common and arranged for us to join them for band practice one day in June.

We went to the studio in convoy. They led us up a steep, winding road about three quarters of the way up a mountain, then off along a dirt track deep into the woods. And there it was: their handmade studio, sturdy looking but damp the moment you stepped inside. The floor sloped slightly, the walls were covered with material and creative patterns, a little mould was growing on one or two things. It was very unfamiliar yet a seemingly well-used and welcoming little wooden building.


Ahead of time, they had asked me what songs I’d like to practise with them. Having not played for about 4 years (I rarely practised at university), I racked my brain for some songs I could still vaguely remember how to play that they might know. I eventually came up with one Guns N Roses song and one ACDC song. The first practice didn’t go particularly well, but we had a blast. The Vice Pres had told them that since I’m English they should serve me tea and brandy. They produced tea cups and asked exactly how they should mix the tea and brandy (should it be cold or hot? How strong?).

The band's name, Syanka (山家), means 'Mountain House'
The band’s name, Syanka (山家), means ‘Mountain House’

I practised a lot and each time we met we sounded better. I’d never played with a band before. Hell, I’d never even played the guitar standing up. It was all new to me and I loved every moment of it (although I felt the stress at some points, too). My German friend asked us to perform at her 10 year Japaniversary in August, which was so exciting and so much fun. I performed with them again at the Kaki Matsuri (Persimmon Festival) in autumn, and we even streamed it live on the internet so that friends could watch. I was over the moon.

Kaki matsuri

Meeting them for weekly practices helped my confidence to grow, and not only in playing the guitar – my Japanese improved a lot too, and I got to know each of their vibrant personalities. I even became a lot less scared of spiders and mice…

We always talked and joked about playing at my farewell party. When I finally asked them about it, they seemed somewhat reluctant at first, but they agreed. We played four songs. They even convinced me to sing! Honestly, we (especially I) didn’t sound great on the night. We were all really nervous. I was clumsy. I couldn’t sing. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience of being a member of a Japanese blues/rock band in the countryside this year, being part of an awesome group of friends, drinking brandy out of teacups and learning to chill out and have fun away from the rest of the world. I wouldn’t change a moment of it and it’s a memory I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.


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