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Final version of Tim’s Experience for Tokyo 12/12
It's been my dream since as long as I can remember to be a singer/song writer. And even longer than that, I 've been an SGI member. Ever since I began to practice strongly, when I was about 10-years old, I saw my practice as the engine to enable me to realize this seemingly impossible dream
Over many years of struggling to realize my dream, I finally learned how to write my own music. The story starts back in the 1980s when I was a member of the Los Angeles SGI Brass Band. I had the privilege to participate for many years in brass band activities locally and nationally. I worked hard to live up to President Ikeda's expectation for the brass band. By exerting myself for many years in faith, practice, and study, I finally broke through my many years of writer's block and now, after a roller coaster ride through my human revolution, I can truly call myself a singer/songwriter.
Before I moved to Japan 5 years ago, I spent several frustrating years trying to put a band together that would perform my original music. At the same time, I was working fulltime in the banking industry and fulfilling many YMD leadership responsibilities in Orange County, California (“The OC”). Then my life took a turn when I enrolled in Soka University of America in 2001. While an undergraduate, along with my extensive studies and working off campus in banking, I started playing solo shows around Orange County, California. This trend carried over into my study-abroad program in Niigata, Japan, where I did my first solo show outside of the US.
That first show in Japan was the start of me fulfilling what President Ikeda says in the Precepts for Brass Band, “Spread your music to all corners of the world.” Though this was a call to the brass band, I have felt since I was 10 years old, that it was also a personal call to me.
My answer to this call therefore was when I graduated from SUA in the first graduating class of 2005, I decided to move to Japan to try to start “spread[ing] [my] music to all corners of the world.” Besides just fulfilling this dream of taking my music international, another big reason I chose Japan was so I could marry the young lady I met, during my study abroad program in Niigata in 2004. Before graduating from SUA, I chanted a lot of daimoku to get accepted to teach with the JET Program, as my fiancee's family wouldn't let me marry her, unless I had a solid, stable job in Niigata, where they wanted us to live…with them.
Like with my struggle to get into SUA 4 years prior, I was first put on a waiting list for the JET Program, but with lots of daimoku, like when I was on a waiting list to get into SUA, I finally got accepted, but not to teach in Niigata, But instead to teach in Sendai (in Miyagi Prefecture)
Being on the JET Program, where I wasn't allowed to do any side jobs, it was very difficult to make my music successful while also trying to keep it a secret. On top of that, my lack of ability with the Japanese language was quite a challenge. Despite this, on my first weekend in Sendai in 2005, I chanted a lot of daimoku and I went out on the town and I was able to connect with a musician from New Zealand, who had lots of musical connections in Sendai, and I was able to start doing shows with him within my first month in Japan. Though this other musician and I did many great shows together, like my experience playing with other musicians in Orange County, California for many years, it was a challenge getting this other musician to support me on playing my own, original music.
Knowing no cover band has ever become successful doing other people's music, I eventually was able to put a band together with Japanese musicians that would perform my original music. I felt this benefit was partially due to the causes I was making to spread kosen rufu with my music as now a member of the SGI Miyagi Ongakutai (brass band).
However, after a few great shows with this new band, and after we started to have more and more people come to our shows, a new very professional guitar player I had added to the band talked the rest of the band into kicking me out. One of their many reasons I believe was that I refused to remove all the references to the Soka Gakkai from my personal music website.
Despite this setback, I continued to chant and do a lot of SGI activities in Sendai. I started to host the first English-language SGI meetings in Sendai, which met each month at the house I rented with my wife. Though it required a lot of human revolution, I kept playing with the other musician from New Zealand. On a few occasions, when he was really struggling in his life, I got him to chant. Finally I had a little breakthrough with him, when we agreed that I would play cover songs with him at shows and let him keep all the money from the shows (as I wasn't allowed on the JET program to make outside money) and he agreed he would help me record some of my original songs at his house on his home-recording equipment. During these 3 years of struggle in Sendai, I did managed to get a few of my songs played on a couple of radio stations in Sendai.
Eventually, the clubs this musician and I were playing at regularly started closing down one after another. To make it worse, my wife, who I had now been married to for over 2 years, started feeling more and more discouraged about my music dreams-so much so that on a few occasions we almost divorced. To try to rescue our marriage, I finally agreed during my third year on the JET program to see if I could get transferred to her hometown, Niigata. This ended up being a double benefit, because when I first was accepted to the JET program in 2005, the JET Program had a maximum, 3-year renewal policy. However, in my third year they changed that policy to 5 years. However, JET aren't usually able to transfer from one prefecture to another prefecture, without very good reason to do so, but with lots of daimoku, I was finally granted a transfer to work in Niigata City, very close to my wife's family.
I attribute this benefit to my struggle to organize the monthly English-language SGI meetings at my house, which kept growing and I have been happy to hear that they continued to meet at another member’s house after we moved to Niigata.
Although the move to Niigata temporarily saved our marriage, it added many more challenges to fulfilling my dreams in music. Niigata doesn't have much of a nightlife and almost no music scene. Despite this, I did manage to do a few shows over the next couple of years there, but most of the time I spent trying to record the songs I had written over the years. Having taken a recording class at Soka University of America was finally starting to come in handy. In addition, when I recorded some of my songs with the musician I played with in Sendai, I was able to learn a little more about recording from him.
Eventually though, as my fifth year on the JET program was soon coming to an end, and my wife was wondering if I would ever give up on my music dreams and get a “career,” finally, she asked for a divorce on New Years Day, 2010. Though she had asked me for a divorce many times in the past, through many hours of daimoku and lots of human revolution, I finally had the courage to stand on my own.
Shortly before my divorce, through lots of daimoku and taking part in SGI activities, I finally found a professional recording engineer and producer in Niigata to record my music like I had always wanted it to sound. This amazing producer is in Nagaoka, not far from where I live in Niigata City; he is a Frenchman who worked as a recording engineer in Seattle, WA, before moving to Japan.
What also gave me courage to live on my own in Japan was I had finally found and leased my own big, beautiful (yet very inexpensive) house in my own name, got both my Japanese car driver's license (in Sendai) and my Japanese motorcycle license (in Niigata) and bought a nice, big Harley-like motorcycle to get me around in Niigata, as public transportation is very limited. I know these benefits were due to the year I had used my smaller house in Sendai to have SGI meetings. Also in my new house, I started having regular, weekly daimoku tosos, where I would invite Niigata SGI members to chant with me.
Even though our divorce was very difficult for both of us, my ex-wife and I both chanted together many times after our divorce and we held no grudges against each other and we both feel the four years we were married was a great growing experience and we have no regrets. On top of that, the song I had been working on for a few years about our many struggles to almost get a divorce, I finally finished shortly after our divorce and recorded it with my new producer. I feel this song, called “Chasing Butterflies,” is one of the best of the over 40 songs I have written thus far.
Therefore, after finally recording this song, I decided I needed to break through to accomplish one more aspect of my dream, to do a professional music video. I chanted about it and after some mystical connections, I was hooked up with an SGI video music director in Los Angeles who had always wanted to come to Japan. He made it very affordable to me to have him come to Japan and stay in my big house with his assistant and film my first very professional music video, which was shot in Niigata and some parts in Tokyo this last May.
However, the weekend before the director arrived in Japan, I had some sansho shima try to stop me once again. This time a car crashed into me while I was riding my motorcycle to my producer's house. However, I didn't let that misfortune hold me back. I continued to strive with the same fervor I put into my practice, and the result was the video was a total success. Only by chanting with the SGI film director though did the weather managed to change from rain and clouds, to perfectly sunny weather on the one day we needed to do all the outside footage in Niigata. I also was able to get so much help from the many friends I have living in Niigata, and most amazingly the last scenes that were filmed in Tokyo, the producer and his assistant just happened to find the perfect break-dancing group on the streets of Tokyo, who just happened to all mystically be wearing the exact same thing I was wearing in the 1st half of the video. Their break-dancing routine fit my song so perfectly and it was all done for free.
Shortly after the video was finished, my fifth year on the JET Program ended and I was out of a job. As Myoho would have it, when I went to apply for unemployment, I was told I didn't qualify for unemployment insurance by the unemployment office. But with persistence and the help of one of the international group members in Niigata, I was finally granted 90-days of unemployment insurance.
I had planned every year for the 5 years I was on the JET program to do a Summer Japan Music Tour, but for many reasons I kept putting it off until the next year. Finally, with the courage gained from finishing my third professional song with my new producer and finishing my first very professional music video, and with lots of daimoku and SGI activities, I finally decided the 90 days of unemployment insurance would help me fund my music tour.
Every weekday I looked for a job in Niigata and every weekend I went to play my guitar and sing in different train stations all over Northern Honshu. In those 90 days, I ended up playing in almost 20 major train stations in northern Japan.
Though I had more sansho shima on my music tour, including two more, much worse motorcycle accidents, the second of which caused me to give up my motorcycle riding altogether, I managed to make many new music connections at all the stations I played in (or got kicked out of), including meeting a few newspaper reporters who wrote stories about my tour and meeting a TV announcer, who bought my CD, and finally meeting the superintendent of schools for all of Fukushima Prefecture, who decided to be my music manager and he's already set up 3 shows for me. On top of those 3 shows, I managed to play in 2 bars on my tour and 2 restaurants. On the music tour, I also stopped off and chanted at many SGI community centers in Northern Honshu and met many SGI members. With all this daimoku, and my strong determination to accomplish my dreams no matter what, I managed to sell more of my original CDs and make more money in tips playing at train stations, than I'd ever made playing at bars and restaurants in my 3 years in Sendai and my many years playing at clubs in California.
Right before my 90 days of unemployment insurance ran out, I made the cause to go on the Itoh Training Course. And wouldn’t you know it, on the way back, just before getting on the train at Itoh Station, I got a call for a part-time, temporary teaching job that I later found out didn't affect my unemployment insurance payments, despite the fact that it was earning 8,000 yen an hour teaching elementary students English at a kindergarten near my house after school. Also right after getting back from Itoh, I did my largest show ever in Japan or in the US, which was completely set up by my new music manager in Fukushima and after much more daimoku my unemployment insurance was extended for an additional 60 days. The greatest human revolution aspect of my new music manager in Fukushima is in all my shows he's set up, he's really promoted my original music as he's also set up an all-Japanese website for me to sell my newest recordings in Japan, and he's helped me sell many of my CDs at the shows I've played at already.
I know I have to go through many more challenges to fully realize all my music dreams, but I am determined to never give up, and to keep chanting to realize my dreams, because I know that my songs can help promote kosen rufu and I'm determined to keep improving my music and writing ability and with daimoku and my SGI family to never be defeated by any set backs. As President Ikeda wrote in volume 9 of the New Human Revolution: “Dedicating your life to your mission is not some kind of idealistic talk. It isn't an intellectual game. Faith is realizing where you are and triumphing over reality. The light of faith shines in a person who surmounts difficulties (page 154).” I will keep “triumphing over reality” with my music, until I am completely successful.
(To BE CONTINUED!)
Thank you very much for listening to my experience this afternoon.