Thanks to all I’ve seen in every moment of my life … you all are my Heaven Below!


Click titles below to read. ;-)
(Essays are in reverse chronological order.)
    In Germany, on August 5th 2005, as the first female vocalist from Japan, I sang my songs on the stage at the world's biggest metal festival: Wacken Open Air . Mighty calls of “encore” erupted from all over when I finished my last song.

    Japanese society is based on community rather than the individual. Two Japanese proverbs well illustrate this spirit: "長いものにはまかれろ" ("Submit to that which is greater. ") and "出る杭は打たれる" ("The nail that sticks up gets hammered down"). Contrary to what we are brought up to, justice for the individual subordinates to the profits of organizations in reality. Yet, rarely do we Japanese openly talk or acknowledge that. By the age of 10, I felt that becoming an adult meant learning to ignore unfairness for the sake of propriety.

    But when I began listening to heavy metal bands like Helloween, Europe and Queensryche in the late 80s, I realized there was a different way of life. At 14, I heard Helloween’s song "I'm Alive." I remember thinking "Yes, I am still alive." Heavy metal, with its message of believing in and standing up for oneself, inspired me to begin writing my own music to demonstrate my opinion about society. Soon, I resolved that I would one day tour overseas with my own band like they did.

    To build toward my goals, I entered Kansai Gaidai (Foreign Languages) University in 1993 to study English. Meanwhile I started a part time course in a music college--Koyo Ongaku Gakuin--in 1996. I graduated from the University in 1997 with a Bachelor’s degree in English, and from the music college in 1998 with all courses successfully finished. I performed concerts vigorously as well, while also working part time at a "square" job.

    Such a busy life was challenging both physically and mentally. My idealistic and independent principles brought lots of opposition from my family and others. The pressure and extreme fatigue made me ill in January 2001, and I stayed in hospital for about 50 days. I had to give up music for more than a year to concentrate on the following medical treatment, but I didn’t give up my resolve. On the contrary, it made my will even harder. I told myself that if one small Japanese girl could accomplish her dream getting over her difficulty for all to see, maybe some people would realize what one person could do, and begin to live their dreams instead of only adjusting heartlessly to be a part of the system.

    I had recovered by summer 2002, and flew all alone to Germany, a country whose language I didn’t understand, and in which I had no friends. Although most people called my aspiration impossible, my determination brought encounters with new people there and made it possible. I released two albums worldwide, toured Europe, and performed at the world’s biggest festival. Achieving these, I felt I had finished my task. So I halted my music activity and went back to Japan in spring 2006.

    Since then, almost all foreigners, and Japanese with experience abroad, whom I've met, tell me that they are impressed by my communication style and insight coming from my experience both in Japan and other countries. They say I am the rare Japanese who can show opinions clearly in English, and advise me to use my skill more effectively. Now I feel I shouldn’t finish my struggle at this point. I feel a responsibility to speak out for my country. Perhaps I should start from translating some of our important texts into English in order to introduce its culture and people. For that, I would like to improve my English further.

    In Europe, I saw that children were strictly disciplined when young, but that as they got older, they were taught to assert themselves to get more rights. In contrast, Japanese children have a lot of freedom and rights, but as they grow up they are taught to relinquish them. While Japanese children don’t apologize for something they have no fault in, many Japanese adults would rather apologize, simply to avoid conflict. When people are not taught to assert themselves on a personal level, how can their country declare its ground? To me, this is a symptom of one of Japan's problems in the world community. I feel Japan is developing misunderstandings on the national level by this attitude of not speaking out. If no one explains more clearly, it may lead to unnecessary conflicts with other countries and eventually have a negative impact not only on Japan but also on other countries.

    I can study English at many universities, but I feel a spiritual connection especially with Leiden University because of its historical relationship with Japan. As the oldest university in the Netherlands, it introduced Japanese studies for the first time to Europe. It had samurais from the Edo period as students as well. Also, I expect students to be more diverse in the Netherlands than in the US or UK. Studying in such an internationalized surrounding under highly-qualified professors will surely enrich my life, not only by improving my English, but also by exposing me to a more global point of view and sundry values. The words on my promotional postcard I have enclosed encompass my philosophy of life: "May everyone live his life as he wishes, the one and only life on this earth, to his glorious day." Likewise, I believe that each nation has its unique beauty and destiny. Leiden's curriculum and history demonstrate that it is the best place for me to foster these values.

    Finally, I have enclosed one of my albums. Anyone who wants to know about me can best learn who I am from my lyrics, pictures and music.
  • 27 Mar. 2007
    Soon after I uploaded the last essay, I resumed job-hunting, looking for a job where my past experiences can be used effectively. But my personal history was too unique to be hired in Japan: Japanese society tends to ostracize people with different backgrounds. I kept on working as a day laborer -- a cleaning lady and ticket collector etc -- while going to job interviews. At interviews, I was often responded with a sneer by executives with no idea about music. Looking over my career, the executives would make fun of me: “Why does a star like you need a job? Is this a true story?" At some point, I decided not to talk about my past career. I told them only my score of TOEIC(English test). Then I got a job! : An English teacher. (I was happy to find the job after long months as a day laborer, but I felt a bit of void in my heart to the fact that I got the job by hiding my past experience! ) Anyway, soon after that, in October, I started teaching. Also, with the earnings, I started going to an interpreting school on weekends.

    Working and studying, I was supposed to feel fulfilled. However, I kept on feeling if my life was meaningless. To get away from the feeling, I tried many things...reading, going shopping and to the movies, drinking, visiting new places...whatever I could think of. Still, my life remained grey.

    Then I unexpectedly got one month off in January. This holiday would be the last long vacation for me, I thought, as I was to sing up for a long-term contract after that. You know, once you sign up for that kind of contract in Japan, the longest vacation, once a year, is usually only a week or so. So, I decided to spend the month in Hawaii. It would give me an enough rest to recover. (To get away from the emptiness, I may have hoped my life would become busier, but I was worrying about the exhaustion which remained in my body as well.)

    After spending 3 weeks in Hawaii, I came back to Japan and am working as a teacher again.

    I did not sign up for the long-term contract in the end. I changed my mind because I’d felt, in Hawaii, that it’s not yet the time to bind myself to this teacher job and to Japan, and that what I needed most was someone special.

    During the past several years, I dedicated everything to music, in a way, giving up on my personal life. Sure, there were encounters with new people in Germany, the experiences that I really appreciate. Still, I felt lonely in a totally different culture, leaving my friends and family behind in Japan. Especially, the parting with my then fiance in 2002 left me such a deep scar that I’ve been unable to fall in if I became numb. This was probably one of the biggest reasons of my emptiness. Without love, life remains grey. Without a one to share with, happiness doesn't mean a thing.

    If so, I would probably be able to write and sing songs again once I find someone to love, from the deepest of my heart, again. If there is a one (wherever on earth), I must find him.

    So, I’ve decided not to bind myself to this job. Not at the moment. Especially to the job found by hiding my past experiences.

    I’ll prepare for leaving. Won’t give up on my life.....yet.
  • 21 Aug. 2006
    How have you been? It's been long since I finished my serial essay in METAL ON METAL, the monthly magazine by SUMIYA. Today, I'm gonna talk about my current situation in Japan and music activity in my future.

    First, let me get back to the days I'd finished the mastering of LIFE in Hamburg, which was the end of 2005.

    Most of my life had been dedicated to “something". (I've written a lot about this “something", so I don't explain it here. Anyway, I'd never be able to describe it clearly by word.) Especially after leaving my fiancé behind in 2002, this “something” became all of my life. ‘I wouldn't regret losing my life if only I could tell this to anybody', that's how I'd felt until 2006.

    Finishing my album LIFE (2006), I was finally able to feel that I wrote everything about it That was really a long way since I was 14 (1988). So, when I finished it, all I felt was to have a long rest. I might be misunderstood for saying this, but I even felt like dying…for death is the longest rest we can have. Also it is because, to tell the truth, I often felt, while working for 2 albums, that, “I might not finish the album without costing my life". A life with such heavy strains is hard to bear for a woman, especially when alone in a foreign country.

    When I finished my albums, I found myself, unexpectedly, still alive. I thought, “Now, I should do what I had missed so far". What had been missing in my life? Well, my family and friends in Japan…but most of all, it was Love. My fiancé I left behind. When I left Japan in 2002, I told him to forget me although I wanted him to wait. I told so as I had no right to keep him waiting, having no guarantee about the future at all. (I didn't even have the idea when I could go back to Japan.) So, I said to myself that I should release him, keeping my love only to myself…as he released me to fly following my dream.

    My task being over, I was able to fly back now and to get on a big Ferris wheel with him. “How many times I'd dreamed of it! If he's still waiting for me, I would love to marry him: the beginning of my second life." Feelings poured into my mind.

    Yet, real life doesn't go like a novel. He wasn't waiting for me. I didn't see him. I never blame him, for he did just as I told him. (I had asked him not to wait.) I didn't feel any anger, either. I just felt empty. A big hole appeared deep in my heart.

    During the production of LIFE, I left my former label ARMAGEDDON MUSIC, for their philosophy changed and didn't fit mine anymore. So, I paid all the cost for the 2nd album. Well, it seemed the only way to keep my music honest and true. Yes, I was able to make the 100% honest album, but how much money I spent on it! Really a lot. In fact, I finished my music activity partly because I used up the money in my bank account. I needed a new job to earn money. There was so much to think about.

    I wasn’t angry for the loss of my money. It was my choice. I just felt empty about that, too. I looked up to the sky and asked…“I gave up my love, my country and the money to tell the words I've heard form you. I made it, but I lost everything for myself. Where is MY reward?" There was no answer. (Later, I convinced myself that some people might have got hope from my songs. Their dreams will bloom somewhere and fill my emptiness. This idea eased my pain.)

    I thought over lots of things, looking back these 4 years in Germany. I learned and experienced a lot living in a total different culture and history with people who even distinguish good from evil differently. To do anything, I would get confused, while confusing others by my Japanese manners. I had to endure through all the frustration alone in order to finish my task: to make albums.

    Now, my task being over, a longing to reduce misunderstandings I’d experienced has emerged in my mind. “Now I know how Europeans and Japanese misunderstand each other (and probably the world, too)! I want to build a bridge between Japan and the world!"

    One day, while surfing the internet, I came across a web-site of translator & interpreter school established by one of the biggest Japanese TV stations. “Our aim is to train professional interpreters and translators with accuracy and expedition to bring both overseas' information to Japan and Japanese information to overseas. We deal with international conferences organized by United Nations, government negotiations and so on." This is a bridge! I remembered the words I heard in 2002 before leaving Japan. ‘When the wind rages, don't fight against it. It will blow you to where you should be. Let your life reveal itself and there's nothing to be afraid of.'

    On March 30, 2006, I said good-bye to everyone at tornado studios in Hamburg. My producer & manager Lars Ratz drove me to Hamburg Airport.

    When I arrived in Hamburg in 2002, I was totally alone. Yet, now Lars was besides me. In 2002, my suitcase was filled with fliers alone. Yet, now it was filled with presents from my friends in Hamburg. I shared beautiful moments with them. (Let me write special thanks to Lars, who’d stood by me to support whenever I needed help, here.)

    I came back home the next day---the other side of the globe---where my family and friends were waiting. The first few weeks here passed by very slowly. My audience asked me if I play gigs in Japan (I was very happy being asked); although I had played many shows with my former band Fairy Mirror, I had never played as SAEKO yet. In fact, playing gigs in Japan wasn't supposed to be difficult as I knew enough people to organize them. However, I was too burnt out to play.

    As I wrote above, I was feeling so empty. I had no power to put into my songs. To be healed from the loneliness and emptiness, I felt I must live as a normal person for a while, spending time with my friends etc, staying away from music. However, there was one worry: “Will my audience understand if I stop singing now? My answer was, “No, I SHOULD / MUST play shows." Yet, having no power, I didn't know what to do.

    Another month passed. Emptiness and strain from loneliness stayed on my mind. Without knowing what to do, I moved to Tokyo where the interpreting school is located. I thought, “Waiting wouldn't lead me to anywhere. Do something." And I started job hunting. (Whether it was to forget the loneliness or not.)

    I had many job interviews, but no one hired me. After several weeks, I got a part time job in a restaurant as a waitress (I'm still working there). I admit I was frustrated because neither my language skill nor the experience in Europe was needed there. Furthermore, with a poor hourly wage, I couldn’t earn enough to attend the interpreting school, either. Without an answer, time went on.

    A few months later, I got a letter from one of my audience, the letter that spoke exactly for my feelings towards music. Here, I want to quote from the letter:

    “Listening to your album “LIFE", I was convinced you had written all you'd had on your mind. I see the reason you came back to Japan, and see why you don't play yet.

    In my opinion, musicians with nothing to tell in their minds shouldn't sing on stage, for it's discourteous to the listeners. Indeed, I'm very frustrated about Japanese so-called music scene. Many strategies are taken only to get popularity. Not only the labels but also the artists themselves speak like, ‘As we've released enough fast songs, we'll try a slow song next' or ‘we introduced the newest STYLE' etc. But you're not like that, and that’s why I like your music. So, please live, just live following your heart. I want you to sing your life again when the right moment comes.

    You said in your interview that you want to write a book. Finished with expressing your thoughts through songs, you are looking for another form of expression, right? Even if you haven't found the form yet, you'll find it soon. The life you have lived means a lot. Whatever you do, it won't be a start from scratch. You will carry on your strength and background that you've achieved with music to the new field you will enter.

    Finally, my most favorite song is Louis Armstrong's ‘What a Wonderful World'. Only the people who came through both hard and good times can say ‘life is beautiful' with conviction. I want SAEKO to sing such beauty of life, and I believe you are the singer who can do so. So, I'll wait for the day."

    Somehow, he seemed to understand my situation. And I thought other audience of mine may understand it, too (I hope so), if I speak sincerely. Here is my statement:

    I will stay away from music for a while and focus on building a new life as a person. Brooding over many things won't lead me anywhere. I came back to Japan not to work in a restaurant. I wanted to be a bridge between people. (…I don't want to see anyone left alone in the cold. All soul should be tendered with love as we’d been united before we were born…) Also, I need a bridge on a personal level. I want to love someone deeply again. Yes, actually, my main work hasn’t been to sing. It was to LIVE, LOVE and DREAM. My songs were, in a way, nothing but records of to LIVE, LOVE and DREAM.

    I will job-hunt again to get a better job and earn enough money to attend the interpreting school. Although I'm very small, I wanna study and be a part of reducing sufferings on earth. I wanna see the world where everyone is respected for their own culture, religion, history etc. ‘cause I want to be loved as I am. To increase love in my personal life, I need someone special again, with whom I can share my life. It will take some time, I guess.

    I’ll search on. We have the only life: one chance to dream and one chance to love. If I find any urge, I won't be afraid of running a risk. I may lose the game, but it's better than doing nothing scared of it.

    Is your life filled with love? Are you living with no compromise? If not, and if you feel you could do something about it, please search on. Let us walk on. Let us love on to our glorious days!
  • METAL ON METAL Vol.31 (2005)
    Having finished with writing music for the next album, I have been working on lyrics at home these days. Yet, today is the day of my vocal lesson with Henning Basse (Metalium). His voice training school is in Lüneburg, which is about 30 minutes by train from Hamburg. It was very nice in the open air again. The spring has are in beautiful bloom now.

    Spring always reminds us, Japanese, of Sa-Ku-Ra (cherry blossoms), right? I had somehow believed that Sa-Ku-Ra was indigenous to Japan, but they are in bloom in here as well. However, I feel, they are taken simply as one of the spring flowers. I assume it is the only Japanese people who so eagerly anticipate the season of Sa-Ku-Ra that go out with a rush mat and have a party under Sa-Ku-Ra as soon as they bloom.

    I live in Germany now, but I have lived in Switzerland, Canada, and Hawaii, if for a short time. I have also met people from around the world, so I tend to think over what Japan is...objectively. Today, viewing cherry blossoms here, I thought why Japanese love Sa-Ku-Ra so much.

    I have read in a book, though I don’t remember the title, that Japanese may have the genes to love losers. There’s no such a gene, but Sa-Ku-Ra symbolises transience, purity and beauty. These characteristics are outstanding especially “when they fall”. I admit Japanese tend to be enchanted by such things. In many Japanese stories, a fair defeat is more valued than an unfair victory. A fair victory may be the best, though.

    Everyone should live loving themselves. It is because one who cannot love him/herself wouldn’t be able to love anyone, either. When we can’t love ourselves, we become jealous of others, so we follow power and status instead. Similarly, everyone should love their home country. One who knows the beauty of his/her home country can perceive the beauty in a county with different sense of values and culture. Only then, he/she can really appreciate different cultures from their own.

    If I was born in Japan as part of some sort of fate, I must have some responsibility to hand over its tradition and its beauty.

    Actually, I feel very strange about the way the Japanese can’t say “I love my country”. When I first left my country, I was surprised to see national flags everywhere on national holidays. I felt people abroad love their country in a very natural sense. According to the research at University of Michigan, the Japanese is one of the nations most diffident of their home country (Japan was 71st among 74 countries).

    I read in the news that currently there is strong anti-Japanese movement in China. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Even if it’s true, I want the Japanese people to react beautifully. In the end, we do not know what kind of information most Chinese people get from their government. For example, I heard that the country hasn’t informed the people of how much ODA has been given from Japan etc. That is, people who join the anti-movement may be the victims of the false information.

    Finally, if the current movement results from manipulation of information in China, the most important thing for each of us is to have our own opinions. In fact, we don’t know whether the information we get in Japan is reflecting the truth or not, either. So, we should think ourselves, never being blindly manipulated by the information. Also, different perceptions, different sense of values should be appreciated and be given a thought. Then, we may ascertain the truth somewhere in the middle.
  • METAL ON METAL Vol.30 (2005)
    Hallo! It's Saeko from Hamburg. Compared with Japan, seasons change rapidly here in Europe. All of a sudden, temperature has risen these days, and I see some people outside wearing only T-shirt. (…in March!!) People must have been waiting impatiently for the sun after the long and dark winter.

    As I told you, my laptop computer broke down last month. It was really a disaster.

    I had to finish basic composition of all songs for the next album by the end of April so that Michael Ehre can start arranging them in May. Then, all those files I had recorded in my computer disappeared in the middle of February….can you imagine that? How can I work on? With no Japanese customer-support center in Europe, I got so panicked that I even thought of flying back to Japan with my computer to repair my recording software and restore those broken files in it. But they say, when one god deserts you, another will pick you up. Lars offered me to continue songwriting with a computer at the studio which is, luckily only at this moment, not used by anyone. So now I'm going to the studio everyday.

    In the end, this might have been better for me. Everybody's working on their music in every room in the studio(VANGUARD from Finland was recording their album last month in a recording room). Under these circumstances, I can't help switching myself to "working mode" and concentrating on my songs. At my home, there're many things to distract me from composing… books, videos, chocolates etc. (^ ^;)

    When I write songs, I always try not to concern anything. Everyone wants to be taken as a good person by others, right? So do I. Unless I forget everything, I would probably give a better look to myself, too. But I want to write my "true" feeling.

    It's like meditating or something. When I go down very deep inside and reach the true entity beyond my consciousness, songs reveal themselves to me from there and I simply write them down. In a way, songwriting is a self-discovering journey for me.

    As I wrote in the first issue, I myself often wonder why I have been singing. There are many reasons, but I've confirmed the biggest one while reading new songs these days. Well, I've just wanted to tell you…… something……although I forgot what it really was. I've been searching for the words to tell what IT is/was/will be without success so far. Having no proper words, I probably have thought of using my life itself as an expression. That must have been why I left Japan in 2002. I want to live up to this “something” which calls me and you. And I hope IT will reach someone. I hope so, especially for my family and friends who supported my decision to leave Japan.

    Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Most people will enjoy the holiday with their family or friends, but I will keep on writing songs alone at the studio. I know everyone feels alone sometimes. For now, I want to do my best to write good songs. Well, having nothing to lose might be better for me. Then I can risk my life as an expression. I'll walk on as far as possible.

    If any one of you supports me, I can feel I'm with somebody.
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