Home Is Where You Pay Your Bills

I love when it’s so hot out that you start sweating as soon as you walk outside.

On the one hand, it’s pretty gross, and I hear that from all of you who are rolling their eyes at me, but on the other, it means it’s summer and the days are long and the nights are warm, and I don’t feel like I’m developing muscle spasms from shivering for hours on end.

And something about work shirts with sleeves rolled up to the elbow makes me really happy.  That small detail feels good and right.

Today is the first really hot day in Tokyo, and I’m outside eating a cinnamon roll and listening to テコの原理which is the real reason I’m writing this post.

A few weeks ago I was walking around Yotsuya San-chome with my friend and we were talking about how, except for Totem Pole Gallery there’s really nothing of note in that neighborhood.  No sooner had we said that than we noticed a poster depicting a moth emerging from a chrysallis screaming.

The poster was for a band called Teko no Gennri and we went to see them soon a few days later at a tiny place in Shinjuku called Motion.

In retrospect, they hadn’t written their name on the poster or the times for any of the shows–just the dates and venues.  And of course the moth.

So we didn’t even know which was band they were in the line-up until this guy with really long hair and baggy clothes came rolling (literally) onto the stage from the floor and the band joined him to a cacophonous opening song played over the speakers.

They started playing what sounded like their set until the lead guy suddenly started singing, “This is a test, this is a test, please don’t worry”.

Somehow we figured… well, this has to be the moth poster band.

It’s hard to classify exactly what their sound is.  The music is gorgeous, but it’s not pretty.  It’s a bit rough but it’s not the kind of thing you mosh to.

My favorite song by them is Spring Summer Autumn Winter.  Right before playing this song, the lead guy (Gurupari, according to his introduction) stopped in the middle of their set and looked straight at me and my friend.

He said, “It seems we have some people from overseas in the audience…”  My friend wasn’t reacting so I punched her in the shoulder (I’m sorry!) and Gurupari said, “Oh!  Do you guys understand Japanese?”

As a side note, I wonder if we hadn’t understood if he would have just kept talking about us to the rest of the audience.

I yelled back that we did, and he asked where we were from.  When I said New York, he asked if we have seasons.  I just rolled my eyes and was like, “Yes, yes, we have seasons.”

He said, “Hmm okay, well I don’t know what kind of seasons you have and if you’ll understand this next song, but please give it a listen.”

Speaking to him a bit after the show and at subsequent shows we’ve gone to, Gurupari is a really nice guy in spite of the season thing.  I’m not exactly sure, but I believe that the places in the world that have distinct seasons outnumber the places that don’t.  Suffice it to say, Japan is not the only country with seasons, but that is a sticking point that is here to stay, probably.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about that interaction, probably, is that of all their songs that one is the one that resonated with us the most.  As my friend put it, it’s about the passage of time and how everything is always changing and it’s the worst forever.

That’s certainly something I dwell on too much, particularly during cherry blossom season where I think about my imminent death, all the people who aren’t in my life anymore, and how much I change from year to year.

My other favorite song of theirs is 実家, which translates to your original home, basically (according to the dictionary).  The place where your parents live, where you’re from.  The kanji literally means true home.

At the last show of theirs we went to, Gurupari introduced everyone in the band and said where they were originally from.  Everyone was from other prefectures, mostly quite far from here.  He asked the guitarist, who is from Aomori, “Have you gone home?”  The guitarist said no, he hadn’t.

Listening to that song for the past few weeks, I’m thinking about home and where a true home is.  It’s something I’ve written about before and will probably write about again because I don’t understand it and I don’t understand my thoughts about it and I just don’t know.

If you go “home” to your parents and feel like a stranger, is that home?  Can you be at home in a foreign country?  If both of the above options are ruled out, then where can you be at home?  Is it possible not to have a home?  Is life better or worse for it?

The song lyrics, from what I can understand (which is probably not much), talk about how you spend such a long time going home when you live so far from your parents.  And your parents tell you, and your little sister tells you, and your pet tells you, and your friends tell you to go home, but you can’t go anywhere so you make excuses everyday and the excuses don’t mean anything, but you just can’t go anywhere.  It can’t be helped.

It’s an especially weird feeling when your thoughts about home and your confusion about where and how and when and whether to go are echoed perfectly by someone in a country where you live and where you’re trying to maybe call home but can’t.

Going back to his original question about whether or not my friend and I could understand something that he evidently thought was inherently place-specific, I feel like I understand (to some extent) these songs beyond the literal level of understanding the words he’s singing.  They resonate deeply, across language and culture and age and experience.

When I’m away from Tokyo, no matter how happy I am to be travelling, at some point in every trip I think, “Ah I miss my very tiny sofa and all the constant sun in my apartment, and my desk with its plants and the frenetic energy of my office.”

Recently I’ve been wanting to run away to Hokkaido, change my name, and become a dairy farmer, but realistically I’ll miss Tokyo as the temporary home it’s become when I wasn’t looking, just like I miss my habits and routines in Beijing.  Honestly, I don’t miss Chicago so let’s skip that one, but I miss New York too even though I know that the New York I return to when I do return however temporarily will not be the New York I left.  It may, at this point, be unrecognizable, even.  I always think about what I’ll say when people ask where I’m from when I’m in New York.  New York is the answer, but I haven’t lived there for 6 years and I don’t think I would be able to act like a native anymore.

For now, and for the past 6 years, I think home is just where I am.  I used to have more complicated thoughts of home because of my ex, but I don’t agree with her at all anymore.  Home is just where you are.  It’s where I pay the bills.  More realistically, it’s where I forget to pay the bills, but anyway it’s where the bills are delivered with my name on them.

It can’t be anywhere else, I think, when no place feels exactly right.  At a certain point you just have to commit to your current intersection of latitude and longitude lines and let yourself be at home wherever you take off your shoes every night to go to sleep.

But still, when my parents, when my sister, when my dog tells me to go home… what do I say?

A final recommendation is my other favorite song by Teko, called おやすみなさい



One thought on “Home Is Where You Pay Your Bills

  1. Jay says:

    awwww . . . K8, this makes me happy/sad. ’twas ever thus – home is where the heart is. My Dad doesn’t live in the house I grew up in. But when I’m with him in his condo, I’m visiting true home (as the singer said). And as I’ve gotten older, true home has changed into something better than when I was growing up. On the other hand, I’ve never felt more “at home” than I did in California. Your true home is with us, your family. Your real home is the one of your own making. Which is something you’ve done a wonderful job of. As for acting like an NY native . . . it’s like riding a bike


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