The indie punk artist, Divided Heaven, recently did a tour in Japan with RYOKO (featuring members of Thug Murder and Last Target), in August. You can check out his exclusive blog from the tour, after the break.
Hello, my name is Jeff Berman and I play as DIVIDED HEAVEN. Perhaps we’ve met…. This year I’ve been touring like mad in support of my new record Youngblood (Say-10 Records). Part of this non-stop touring cycle included a Japan leg in late August, after a European Tour, the Warped Tour and more in the preceding months. This is a recap, a look into my thought process, a view into my personal tour diary and a condensed collection of photos, friends and memories.
I hope you enjoy.
PART ONE — ANXIETY
Damn, I hate turbulence. This airplane—so monstrous, it has two stories—is currently somewhere over the mighty Pacific and it’s too damn bumpy for me to eat. So I am writing…at least I didn’t miss my flight.
It’s hard to believe that in a few hours I’ll be back in Japan. Japan, for my third tour! I toured there in 2003 with my old band, The Boils and again in 2008 when I played bass for Protagonist. This time, for DIVIDED HEAVEN, I am solo.
I’m accustomed to playing foreign lands with foreign tongues armed with just my voice and guitar, but experience never seems enough to quell my anxiety or settle my nerves. This feels different because Japan is so different. Japan is so distant and my mind won’t stop racing. I mean… I’ll be alone on stage without distortion or bantering band-mates. How will my (already bad) jokes go over? How can I aim my songs to illicit emotions from those that don’t know much, if any, English?
I’m thinking of stories told by professional wrestlers—and if you know me then you know I think of practically EVERYTHING in terms of pro wrestling—about wrestling/touring Japan and how doing so was a highly-regarded accomplishment, a significant feather-in-the-cap. They had to sell harder (wrestling lingo for portray pain, arrogance, ruthlessness, vulnerability, whatever is called for) to suspend the disbelief of the Japanese fans and win over the crowd. If they succeeded, if they got over in Japan, it was a big deal. I get excited if I get over in Tucson, let alone Tokyo.
I’m rattled by the prospect yet comforted by the challenge, which seems odd. But I’m odd, and now I’m excited. Play with heart, be myself and try my best.
PART TWO — SIGHTSEEING
Sightseeing is a relative term for an American in Japan. I say that because everything I see is a sight in such a different and unique place. My friends and impromptu Tokyo tour guides, Kats and little Jejune Kasahara led me around with wonderful enthusiasm. We walked across the Sumida River to visit the bustling Asakusa Shrine, where Japanese history and tourism meet to admire and reflect.
Between our two Saturday shows, myself with the RYOKO band, indulged in onsen, traditional Japanese hot spring baths. Divided by gender, we strip, wash ourselves, wash each other in a line formation, rinse and finally relax in the hot springs bath. It was incredible considering I typically (too often) go days without showering on tour, let alone enjoy a proper traditional scrub. No photographs were taken however, simply too many naked men.
PART THREE — SHOWS
This tour was with longtime friend Ryoko Naito, now fronting her appropriately named new solo endeavor, RYOKO. Both of my previous Japan tours were with Ryoko’s old band, LAST TARGET (BYO Records). Combine these 3 Japan tours plus a 2002 US Tour equals 4 different tours on 2 continents and over 12 years of friendship.
The first two shows were in Tokyo. Often, the flyers have some sort of genuine misspellings that always make me smile. For both shows I was the sole solo/acoustic band (which is a preference, actually) . I was slotted between full-band RYOKO and local punk and hardcore bands JERSEY DEVIL and SEDECTIONS, respectively. It was a delight to strum, stomp and sing through my set, offering the crowd a taste of something different and a piece of my heart. My longtime friend, Tomoe, came to the Tokyo show at MoonStep. She and I met in 2003 when she bought me coffee in Tokyo before the first Boils’ show. We’ve remained good friends since and spent the evening catching up and showing pictures of our families on our phones.
This morning we left the big city for the area of Yamanashi for two shows. The first at Colo Bockle was a very small country café, set amidst acres of grape vines and rice paddies. The sweet owner played the entire Youngblood album on repeat, between all the acts. It was meant to be a comforting gesture…. I laughed.
The second show was at Sun King Café, set amidst acres of grape vines and peach trees, surrounded by mountains in a cool valley. Truly beautiful. The owner, Takuya, was a gregarious fellow with a love for the Beatles and shared many bottles of local Yamanashi wine with me late into the night.
The final show of the tour was in Kofu at Kazoo Hall with many local bands. My set felt more emotionally charged than usual. I tend to get sappy on the final day of tours and while I didn’t shed a tear, I can’t say the same for members of the crowd. Tonight ‘s crowd was fun, engaged and felt what I was singing, despite the language barrier. My apprehension about getting over was gone. I had the opportunity to hang out with locals and take some fun photos at the merch table throughout the night.
PART FOUR– FOOD / AFTER PARTY
I learned in ’03 and ‘08—and was pleasantly and quickly reminded—the after-party is essential. The after-party is for bands only, is part of every show and consists of food, drinks, long conversations, laughter and sing-alongs. Two nights ago in Enzan consisted of delicious grapes, gigantic lush peaches, delightful local wine and fun renditions of Beatles and CockSparrer songs into the early morning. Last night in Kofu was special with sushi, sake, spaghetti (to make me feel at home) and acoustic bluegrass jams.
It’s worth noting the food is simply the best. The sushi is incredible and is so damn near everywhere. Even the 7-11 sushi is great and makes most sushi back home seem just okay.
The meals you share with your tour-mates often yield the truest moments of the tour and forge life long friendships. In certain places, such as Germany, Italy and Japan I stop, allow my historically inclined brain to wander, and reflect on the possible. Two generations ago this was labeled enemy territory and now I’m able to have a drink and share a moment with my friends (touring extensively in the former Axis nations is a topic I’ll be writing about in more detail at a later time). These moments create lasting memories. In addition to making many new friends, I reconnected with a few as well.
PART FIVE — RELFECTIONS
Finally, here I am, back in Los Angeles. I lived today twice over due to the incurred epic mileage and brutal time difference. Despite the long flight I am still (figuratively) high from this tour.
In our final conversation, Ryoko and I spoke about future US and Asian tours and plan on continuing our streak in the next year or two. Ryoko has put touring aside in favor of running a food truck, Rockin’ Pizza. She shared with me a desire to keep going, to keep touring, and she was inspired by our shows together to tour more in the next years than she has in the previous few.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring DIVIDED HEAVEN to Japan and to share the most meaningful and personal music of my career with these wonderful fans and friends. Well taken care of, with a full heart, stomach and mind, and the utmost respect and gratitude…arigato.