February 1997. It is 3:30 PM at night. The jetlag leaves no rest for me. After four hours, full of confused dreams, I lie totally awake in bed. After the twenty-one hour trip I had a feeling that time had stood still. The red orange striped horizon of an infinite sunset, accompanied the eleven hour flight from Tokyo to Frankfurt by the Northern route, seven hours, solely over snow-covered Sibiria. Infinite landscapes of frozen lakes and ice flows that wind through uninhabited landscape. Very impressive, like this whole trip! A strong need to inform somebody of my experiences during the last week pushes me in this early hour to my computer, to store all my impressions as best posssible, before memory fades. Unfortunately, I can not yet call friends at this time in order to satisfy my communication urge.
This history begins exactly two months ago, on the 11th of December 1996. I have a flight ticket in my pocket for a six week trip to India, when my phone ring one late evening. Manuel (Goettsching), friend, guitarist, leader of ASHRA, is on the line announcing himself with: "I am in the wax museum of Tokyo!" "You are not in Berlin?", I ask in a surprised manner." Yes, but I am also in the wax museum of Tokyo at the same time", he replied, playing with my ignorance and bewilderment. Now I get the idea. He can not be at two places at the same time. He is talking about his physical wax figure in a Tokyo wax museum. Not any wax museum, but the most popular wax museum in Tokyo. Mr. Gen Fujita, owner of the Tokyo tower, one of Tokyo's landmarks. An orange -white painted steel tower, that still surmounts "le tour Eifel" in Paris at 333 meters of height by 13 meters, has been for years an ASHRA fan. He has put the good Manuel, immortalized at full size, as a wax figure, the red Gibson SG-Special on his chest, in the wax museum, between Queen Elisabeth, the Beatles, Frank Zappa, a Middle Ages torture scene depitcing Jesus and his disciples "Last Supper".
"Are You ready to appear in Japan ?", is the next sentence which I hear. " Wow! Japan?! With ASHRA!? "Sure man!", I answer without hesitation. "When does it begin? Hopefully not within the next six weeks. In two days I fly to Bombay!" He replies: "the beginning of February, for a week. Four gigs. Two festivals and two club gigs. Tokyo and Osaka". "It works!", I answer in a enthusiastic manner.
My objections: We can not play as we did in former times with the old ARP sequencer and unstable Minimoog. On stage during those days Manuel had, for every new piece, to adjust a new bass line, which caused sometimes, up to five minutes of feeble-minded doodling between songs. In addition, he was already then overloaded by the task of simply playing guitar, sequencer and keyboards simultaneously. I also fear that the good man will be so burdened with the organization of the Japanese gigs, that he would hardly be able to prepare at the musical machineery in such ashort time. Former gigs, which we developed with backing tapes, I did not find overriding. Tapes remain too non-flexible. Every piece can sound differently. Sometimes the deep bass frequencies run out of control and the sets then do not sound as if they are created as one piece.
As a solution to this technical problem I suggest to Manuel that we take Steve (Baltes) along, my current young music partner, keyboardist, DJ and producer. Together we have produced N-TRIBE and HOLO SYNDROM, two electronic projects in the style of progressive house, tribal and trance/ambient. Steve is very musical, has great talent and masterful control technically. Since I met Oliver Lieb in 1993 at EYE Q Records in Frankfurt and observed his way of remixing and producing, I feel great respect for the musical and technical abilities of the younger German scene. At the 1994 Montreux Jazzfestival I had beaten the d -drums, along with three other drummer`s for Oliver Lieb's AMBUSH project.
After Manuel's call, two days before my departure to India, it is uncertain whether Steve will travel with us. Also Lutz (Ulbrich) whom we all call Luel, guitarist and keyboardist with ASHRA must be contacted and invited along as well. Questions of cost must be clarified. A week later, after arriving in Goa, I faxed from a ramshackled building, between the palms of the village Benaulim, my first fax about this matter to Berlin. The answer comes on New Year's Eve. Steve is coming! I am pleased.
Nextly we need a certificate of elegibility for Japan. Certificate of elegibility = a visa. I quickly must send a copy of my passport to Germany and obtain passport photographs. I am almost seven thousand kilometers away from Germany. Letters normally take three weeks to reach Europe and it often happens that the Indians like to remove stamps from the letters and throw away the mail. For a fifteen rupee stamp (1/4 $), one can get two vegetarian Tali-meals here in India.
On January first I planned to travel from Goa to Hampi, a picturesque village, that lies in a science-fiction lunar landscape, garnished with temple ruins. Hampi lies in the Indian state Karnataka, three hundred kilometers southeast of Goa. Twelve extremly dangerous, loud, dusty and lousy hours on a vehicle that should not be called a bus. Indians drive cars in a horrible manner.
I try at once to get a single photoprint in India! After the rough, infinite ride through overwhelmingly beautiful regions, I detect, as we turn into a bus station, swamped by waiting crowds and overloaded red and yellow busses, a small shop with the endorsement XEROX COPY. My chance! I jump off the bus, run, persecuted by hundereds eyes, jumping over garbage, ox and cow shit, past carts, mopeds and fruitstands, back to that Xerox copy shop I just saw, put my passport under the lid, wait until the copy is ready, pay one rupee and run back. Wim, my Belgian trip companion, reserved my seat, watched my baggage and was, if needed, prepared to prevent the driver from setting off without me on board. That indeed occurs often here.
I read in my travel guide: No fax machines in Hampi. The next one will be in the Central Telegraph Building from Mysore, miles and days away from Hampi. After the incredibly long trip we arrived there to find a building, designed and made last century, in the British colonial style. To fax there, means to face extremely unnerving Indian administrative methods. I will stay in the picturesque city Mysore for four days. To send a fax from India fortunately functions impeccably here. Manuel gets the passport photographs from me in Germany in time.
As I came back to Germany on 25th of January, Steve is already fully occupied with the musical and technical preparations. Sampling, hardware sequencer programming a.s.o.. He is thrilled, that we will take him to Japan. We want to take along as little equipment as possible. The two of us load almost one hundred kilograms of baggage on to the scale of the JAL counter of the Frankfurt Rhine Main Airport. In the ten days up to the take-off I received the timetables from Manuel by fax. Those determine in detail when what happens with whom. The flight tickets come three days before take-off. I can fetch the visas for Steve and myself from the Japanese consulate in Dusseldorf just one day before take-off. I remain anxious up to departure. From Moenchengladbach via Cologne to Frankfurt we travel on the Federal Railroad. Upon arrival, from a distance I recognize Manuel, Luel and Sydow, our sound engeneer. The three arrived from Berlin by train. We are very pleased to meet again. They too have just arrived. We all are energized by thought of the adventure ahead of us.
I met the suntanned Kalle Becker, our German tour manager. He had just came back from Bali, where he managed a music project during the last weeks. A gammelan orchestra and Mani Neumaier (Guru Guru), who seems also be a bit of a star in Japan. Kalle immediately gets to work on our baggage with determination and make preparations for the flight.
We finally can be a bit more relaxed as we get off the escalator and have a welcome beer, two hours before takeoff. We had not see each other for a long time, therefore have a lot of catching up to do. Gabbing with each other is an old ASHRA tradition. We' always spent many happy hours talking with each other. At the beginning of the Eighties I had the funny idea to record and publish a conversation album with ASHRA instead of a music.
Japan Airlines (JAL) has extraordinarily good service. I can hardly sleep during the eleven hours on JAL 408, but time goes relatively fast with movies and good catering. The sun rises again at 3:00 PM MET. We land around 8:15 PM MET at Tokyo`s Narita Airport. Here it is already afternoon. The day had past before it began. Now in Japan it is Thursday, the 6th of February 1997.
Everything here is extremely clean. In that regard the Japanese are absolute world champions. As we go through customs control, we are welcomed by Colin, a young Englishman. He works for SMASH WEST. SMASH WEST is the greatest concert organization in Japan and works worldwide. Colin speaks fluent Japanese. I am impressed. We load our heavy baggage onto some trolleys again and climb aboard two waiting minibuses in a multi-story car park. I detect Japanese car models which I've never seen before in my life. Everything shines here and seems to be freshly washed and carefully polished. Why does this fact strike me? Am I typically German? The Japanese characters, which do not mean anything to me make everything very surrealistic and somehow archaic. Left-hand traffic. Speed limits like in the Netherlands. Everything passes us as we move along as if we are in slow-motion. Bustling activity, but not frenetic. No one here pushes others, as in Germany. It is also winter here, but the snow free landscape is dominated by grey and cyan colours. The skyline of Tokyo in dusk is overwhelming. Skyscrapers with these gigantic, bright Asiatic hieroglyphs. Strange, big architecture. Sixteen million live and work here like bees in a hive. Three-storeyed motorways thirty meters of hight move through an ocean of houses. After almost two hours we reach the Roppongi quarter. "The bear quilts here", as we say in Germany. We are in the heart of Tokyo`s "pleasure mile". Bars and the "In" techno clubs are in Roppongi. In the middle, our hotel. The side streets are small and narrow. Colourful flashy illumination surrounds me. People are friendly and well dressed. I see very beautiful, exotic women.
At the hotel foyer we are welcomed by the section chief of the wax tower museum, Mr. Takashi Fukushi and his assistant Mr. Keiji Oikawa, perfectly dressed in suits. There's the usual exchange of business-cards. Here business-cards show the person which business and social position the other holds. The name itself is of secondary importance. Mr. Fukushi would like to be referred to by us as Taka-san. They both presenting gifts to us, in form of a small parcel with Japanese picture postcards. The friendliness of the two gentlemen is accompanied by almost servile, fast bows, which we will often encounter in the next few days. A strange new behavior for me. My hotel room is relatively small, but has everything one needs. I turn on the TV and watch a few minutes of CNN-news, then an on-screen-display signals that there is a message for me. A small envelope is left on my table, containing a buisiness-card of Mr. Gen Fujita, president of The International Leisure Corporation, that among other things, manages the Tokyo tower and it`s wax museum. I now detect a welcome present on the table. A bottle of the exquisite French champagne "Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin". An Expensive drink, I think. What a reception. The Wax museum has undertaken the financial assurances for our Japan tour.
Next I decide to take a bath in an ultraclean, light beige coloured bathroom of epoxy, that basically consists of two divisions - one for toilet, the other a shower. Everything a bathroom needs. The seated bathtub is deep enough to cover me completely with water even though I am 1,90 m (6.5 f) large. The bathroom is refreshed daily with: toothbrush, toothpaiste, manual electric shaver, shampoo, hair detergents, soap, cleaning pads, creme and eau de toilet. Every day there is a new thin Japanese dressing gown (Kimono), ironed freshly and a set of fresh bed linen. Glasses are packed in plastic bags. The toilet lid provides a paper stamp whith the endorsement "sanitized", that certifies it cleanliness. What a waste, I think and I have this impression more often this week. What the reason for all that plastic material? Everything here is wrapped twice, or three times in plastic foil.
The tap water has a strong chlorine taste. Everytime I take a bath or a shower, I get a strong feeling of beeing in a public swimming pool. Our time schedule here will be quite tight and seems to be organized in the best possible manner. At the reception we meet the entire SYSTEM 7 crew. SYSTEM 7 is Steve Hillage`s band with which we will appear on the following evening in the "LIQUID ROOM" club. A technical meeting with ASHRA, SYSTEM 7, Colin, Nambo Hirukasu, boss of SMASH WEST/Tokyo, Sa-Sha from the Stage crew, John and Jonathan, and the SYSTEM 7- stage crew, is scheduled at 7:00 AM. Steve Hillage has in former times performed in GONG, with his partner Miquette Giraudy, a mercurial Frenchwoman that operates the SYSTEM 7 keyboards. He has also done solo work and among other things, worked with Alex Patterson and THE ORB. As we arrive in the "Cafe Paris", where the meeting would occur, Steve and Miquette are already present. Steve and Miquette know Manuel from their earlier involvment with Virgin Records. Steve visited Manuel several times in Berlin and vice versa. The atmosphere is cheerful, relaxed and concentrated on the work that lies ahead. Mobile phones chirp constantly. We all are very pleased to be in Japan and to be able to work here. The level of organization is perfect. Technical differences are clarified and end up on a printed sheet for everybody who is involved. The next day, Kalle Becker, our tour manager hands over notes of yesterday evening results. A comprehensive, several page document.
After the "Cafe Paris" meeting, we go to visit a typical Japanese restaurant for dinner. Servers place our orders into a conveniently small special handheld restaurant computer, that here apparently processes the meal orders in all restaurants. Colin orders food. In an astoundingly short time, the two tables are bursting full with decoratively arranged delicacies. I love this kitchen, that does not only please the palate, but also the eyes. Steve (Baltes) has problems with Sushi as it`s small pieces of raw fish, but there are sufficient delicious things also for him. Around 11:30 AM I am wasted. It is, according to my body clock, already 7:30 PM on Friday morning.
Lots of prostitutes are passed on my way to the hotel, which is not very far from that restaurant. They stand about in small groups, talk to me and everybody who passes in a very friendly way, or may hand out a flyer with "delicate" information. Each of these small groups of prostitutes are dressed in the same way. Individualy different only from one group to another. Fashionable! These charming whores appear to me to be dressed in some sort of uniform. Strange! In this clean, bright and flashing plastic styled environment, they seem so different from our whores. At this late time the night activity in Roppongi has just began. The streets are crowded with laughing, rattling and joking people. No violence. Tokyo has the lowest violence crime rate on Earth. Cars accumulate. Above all, many colourful taxis. There are still construction workers in the subway. The construction sites also seem strangely clean and tidied up. A blue uniformed man, with helmet and a flashing stick in his hand, guarantees that nobody is endangered or hindered by the construction operations. When I arrive at the hotel I am dead, place my ears on the cushion and sleep until 9:30 PM the next morning. We have an appointment at ten o'clock for breakfast. Kalle Becker has a good knowledge of Roppongi and gets us to an Italian cafeteria with the name "Pronto". Just a couple of hundred meters away from the hotel, and again with hyper-friendly service. Sandwiches in plastic foil and coffee. We are now in the middle of Tokyo and I still can not believe it.
My back hurts because of sitting too long in the airplane. I decide to use the Shiatsu massage service which every japanese hotel offers. At 1:00 PM there is a knock on my room door. Perfectly in time, as agreed. A small, purposeful old lady enters my room and starts talking Japanese to me, apparently without expecting answers of me. I should put on the dressing gown, she signals. One does not massage on naked skin here. We are in Japan, we are decent here. "Japanstyle" she says in broken English, pointing with her fingers to the dressing gown. The lady is very brash and works my muscles very effectively with her strong hands and thumbs for a whole hour. It is sometimes quite painful, but at the end I feel myself newborn and pay her 5000 Yen (55 $).
Oh yeah.., while I´m astonished about this strange country and its unusual culture, it occurs to me that I am, above all here in order to work. Around 3:00 AM, we are fetched by Colin for the stage set up. The "LIQUID ROOM" is the (!) Techno underground club in Tokyo. Almost everybody who has a name in the world of raves has hung out here. In the interesting graffiti covered dressing room, we find catered food of the highest quality. Masses of Fruits, sandwiches and cold drinks. "Real dinner will be served later!" we hear. Wow...!
The line-up for the evening is: KEN ISHI, a well known Japanese DJ, SYSTEM 7 and ASHRA play live. HANADENSHA, a young Japanese band plays psychedelic music. From METTALIC T.O.'s music I got nothing, neither during their soundcheck, nor later during their performance. Our gig should go from 11:30 PM until 1:30 AM. We still have a lot of time. Manuel wants to go back into the hotel, for some relaxation. At first some of us wish to eat "Real dinner". Ten minutes later, two gigantic plastic plates, stuffed with Sushi and a big bowl, filled with a tasty noodle soup for each of us, appear out of nowhere. Again, everything is perfectly decorated and wrapped in plastic foil. We begin to eat. After a few minutes, Luel, who is somewhere outside, suddenly appears and shouts in a very exited state of mind: "Something has happened to Manuel!" I run from the room and see, at the end of the walk, Colin and Luel bent over Manuel, who is lying at the ground. As I came closer, I recognize that he hurt himself badly. His nose is bleeding. Above his eyes is a laceration. His whole face is covered with blood. He has his eyes open, but doesn't react awhen I speak to him. We carry him into the elevator. The ambulance is already present. A hospital is located just around the corner. Luel and Colin accompany Manuel.
We are shocked and puzzled at what happend to him. Will he be all right before we perform? Will we be able to play this evening at all? I fear the worst case and see us depart Japan before the concerts even began. Kalle Becker, Sydow, Steve and I decide to leave it up to Manuel, whether we play at all, or get on stage with or without him. After two hours of uncertainty, Luel and Colin come back, accompanied by Manuel. Manuel has two white plaster strips on his nose, between the eyes and obviously feels embarrassed about this disfiguration. His nose did not break. He is still a bit dizzy, but it seems that he is fine again. All that stress during the last weeks. After the sleepless flight, and last night he just sleept for two hours, that stress simply had knocked him down and out. While tipping over, he fell face first onto a tool case. If that hadn't happened, he would have been on his legs again ten minutes later.
Steve (Hillage) and Miquette are very symphatic and really concerned. Miquette told the same thing happend to her after a Japan tour, back in the U.K., but then her nose was broken and she was in coma for two hours. The whole SYSTEM 7 crew is concerned about Manuel. Gabriel, our former French manager walks with Manuel each time he leaves the room and looks out for him. Jonathan who works the lighting for UNDERWORLD offers to take care of our lighting. John who has worked for GONG in the past wants to take care of our monitor mixing. The crew is incredibly friendly and very very helpful. Japan with its polite rituals has already influenced all of us.
Manuel wants to play. Nambo`s Japanese announcement informs the audience about what had happened backstage with Manuel and a storm of applause bursts out. We are announced as ASH RA TEMPEL on the flyers. The press call our newer name: ASHRA. Japan does not advertise concert and gigs on posters like is customary in the rest of the world.
At 12:00 PM Steve (Baltes) goes as first to begin the set and is greeted by a stormy applause. He begins with soft string sounds and fades into light rhythmic guitar samples. After five minutes Luel enters the stage and is also greeted loudly. Then I go and start softly treating my hi-hat cymbals. The initial applause goes through me like electric energy. Manuel comes on stage a while after me, the white plaster in his face and still a bit embarrassed. The 1,250 people who filled the "LIQUID ROOM" react frenetically. The tension drives us to record performance. As the Roland 808 of Steve, with the 4/4 bassdrum line comes in, the atmosphere reaches a climax. I am glad that everything still runs so well and notice from the big smile on Luel`s and Steve`s face, that they are feeling like me. Kon-ban-wa Tokyo...! The show goes on very well and we must give multiple encores at the end.
Back in the dressing room I receive a kiss from Miquette. Most of the people present smile approvingly at us, or point upwards with their thumbs. Steve (Hillage) says we should come to England and play, our sound is absolutely in and would fit in perfectly with the British club- and rave-scene. Fo-Mi, a small Japanese woman, baked a sort of "highly colorful and flashy science fiction cake" for SYSTEM 7 and ASHRA . She loves our music and it makes her totally happy that we like her cake art. Each of us gets a piece. Before the cake is cut, our autofocus-cameras take snapshots for reminiscence. The stage crews also react enthusasticly about the ASHRA concert. Wow....!! We are in Japan.
At 2:00 AM I am in bed. Long asleep? No way! Around 10:30 AM we have our breakfast appointment again in the " Pronto". Hotels in Japan do not offer price included breakfast. Sydow and Steve spent their night after the show on the street and in some clubs in Roppongi until the morning hours. Manuel has been awake since 8:00 AM, sightseeing and already had breakfast.
At 11:30 AM Colin comes and picks us with the bus, heading for the Tokyo Tower. Mr. Fujita has called a press conference. Employees beckon from a distance and signal the direction were to move, as our bus enters the grounds of the tower area. At the groundfloor we are met with politeness by Taka-san and Kenji. They accompany us to the elevators. What an effort! At two-hundred-fifty meters height the elevator stops. As the door opens, I can't believe my eyes. "WELCOME ASH RA TEMPEL TO THE TOKYO TOWER WAX MUSEUM", it reads in big German type. Then I detect a shop called "THE COSMIC JOKERS", named after an LP-record-title we recorded more than twenty-five years ago. A huge display displays all of our CD's. Recordings from our early era, but also later works. We are dumbfounded. In addition to diverse space knick-knacks, I detect a Japanese music magazine with the name ARCH ANGEL printed in bright lustre. The first forty pages are dedicated to ASH RA TEMPEL and Manuel Goettsching, with many photographs from the early 1970's, that I've never seen before. We are led into a big room where Mr. Fujita greets us with a friendly bow. We are served with coffee and other drinks. Taka-san, chief of the Tokyo Tower, had the task by M. Fujita, during their last Germany stay, to procure German snacks, pastry and drinks. Journalists are invited in. Representatives of the four biggest Japanese music journals are present. SOUND RECORDING, MARQUEE, THE DIG and ELEKING. The English -printed JAPAN TIMES writes a very good review about our gig on the following day. All the journalists who saw our concert of are full of praise and cameras flash.
Colin translates questions into the English. According to the strict rules of Japanese hierarchy, Mr. ASH RA TEMPEL, Manuel Goettsching-san is questioned first. The Japanese word san, used accordingly with the christian name or the first name, has two different meanings. I am from now on, called by close friends, Harald-san. For strangers and acquaintances I am, respectfully called Grosskopf-san. This is how I am called by Mr. Fujita and his men during all our meetings during the next few days.
After almost two hours, we are led into the wax museum. Photographs of us, in addition to the two made-out-of-wax heroes of the movie "Planet of the Apes". And there he is, our Manuel-san, made of wax, outfitted as he looked at the beginning of the 1970's. In addition to him is Klaus Schulze-san, who more or less looks like Bernd Kistenmacher, a musician and friend of ours. Vis-a-vis of Schulze, a very sinister staring GURU GURU, the good Mani Neumaier himself.
Many famous people are represented there. From Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Peter Gabriel, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, the Beatles, Mahatma Ghandi, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein to JesusChrist. Everything is densely packed together. Taka-san and a another Japanese person accompany us onto the balcony of the top story of the tower. What a view! Tokyo in all directions extends up to the horizon. It is nearly dusk and the gigantic neon lights and all kinds of spotlights are already turned on.
Close to the "Cosmic Joker" shop is one of these typical Japanese amusement arcades. Computers control the mechanics of the games in real-time. You sit in front of a giant screen and control some flight machine and mercilessly combat very athletic terrorists. Photographic automats have greatest success here. You place yourself in front of a video screen and watch your portrait. If you like the pose you snap the picture. Then you may choose various frames and backgrounds and in the end you receive sixteen tiny small pictures, which can be printed like stamps onto anything you like. The people stand in long line-ups to get to these apparatus. I receive a sample as a gift from Mr. Fujita-san. Kalle Becker-san and I decide to go to the hotel back on foot. A walk of twenty minutes. The air in Tokio is clear and fresh, because of its proximity to the sea.
Two days later each of us receives as a reminder gift, a individually chosen photo album by Mr. Fujita of ASHRA in the Tokyo tower.
Back in the hotel I take a fast hot bath. I just have the time to change clothes and get to the foyer for another appointment at 8:00 PM. We are fetched by Colin again. Mr. Fujita invites us and the SMASH WEST crew for dinner. Being very punctual is a necessity in Japan, otherwise one offends the host, who never would bring his frustration directly to expression. In Japan you never show what you feel in front of people. We do not get there in time...... Sorry Mr. Fujita!
A restaurant of the superclass receives us, arranged with a lot of plants, Japanese interieur designs and big fish ponds, which are admitted on the grounds. We are guided into a big, but narrow Separee where Mr. Fujita welcomes us. Table arrangement is pre-determined. We sit next to Mr. Fujita. The managers at the side of us. The crews are placed at the other end of the long table. Sake is brought. "Kampai Kampai". The finest delicacies I`ve ever seen and tasted in my life are served in small portions. I love Japan! One Sake after the other is brought. The food tastes excellent. For desert, there is ice cream made of green tea.....
Mr. Fujita has been an enthusiastic supporter of our music for years and provides, among other things with his wax-museum, for its effective distribution in Japan. He often visits Germany on buisiness. At 11:00 PM the table is closed. Mr. Fujita personaly accompanies us to the hotel. His good night is a cordial "Arigato goseimash'ta". I am a little tipsy from the Sake, but still feel myself quite fit. We decide to go into a club. Its named GAS PANIC and is not far from our hotel. The streets are full of people. The shops are partially still open and again one is constantly solicited by the whores. While passing by sex clubs, black americans out front push flyers of pornographic contents into our hands.
We take an elevator to the seventh floor. A muscle bound bodyguard scrutinizes us and lets us pass. GAS PANIC is full of high spirits. Hip Hop , Grunge, Techno. Loud, very loud! Many whites stay in the club. Some women dance on the bar. The atmosphere is great, everybody seems to have fun.
After two hours, Steve (Baltes) and I go back to the hotel. Next morning Kalle-san told us about a violent fight between Mexicans and Japanese. Tomorrow we go to Osaka. It's the 9th of February and at 3:30 AM. I place myself into the hot bathtub and decide to write postcards. Then jetlag strikes me, but I can only sleep only for two hours...
CNN reports about the Tamagotchi fever that broke out in Japan. A Tamagotchi is a colored, small chirping, electronic controlled plastic egg, with an LCD display that displays a small chicken. It performs some actions upon pressing the buttons, but if you make a mistake it perishes. It costs sixteen dollars, and because of strong demand has not been available for some weeks. Fanatics pay up to one hundred dollars for a one.
11:00 AM. Breakfast. This time French at the "CAFE DE PARIS", also situated just around the corner. At 12:AM we check out of the hotel and leave in taxies for Shin-Tokyo (Railway station). A railroad ride with the SHIN-KANSEN , one of the worlds fastest traveling trains (220 mph) awaits us. Again, everything here is spick-and-span. We take some souvenir pictures. Always Japanese background, in case nobody back home later believes us. Nambo, chief of SMASH WEST and tour manager bought tickets. In single file we follow him. Up the escalator up, down the escalator. Past a barrier. Past the controller in white gloves. Platform. No single cigarette butt on the railway tracks. The smoking zones on the platform are identified with a green line on the ground. On the opposite railway track, the coming in of a SHIN-KANSEN is expected. Pink dressed, well-behaved cleaning personnel, waits at the markings for the boarding doors. Those are positioned at the ground of the platform.
The white streamlined SHIN-KANSEN arrives and stops at the precise millimeter of the markers. We enter the air-conditioned chambers. Double lines of seats on the right, a row of three seats on the left side, adjustable seats, with ample room for leg freedom in front. An integated, folding table in the backrest of the seat in front of me. Precisely on the minute the train rolls up. Six hundred kilometers distance (370 miles) will be travelled. The ride lasts somewhat less than three hours. The train rolls very softly and smoothly. An extremely friendly, feminine voice conveys messages in Japanese and English. We pass infinite suburbs. The entire route of a few hundred kilometers appears as a single city to me. I doze off and am awoken by Gabriel, our former French manager and record company president (SPALAX), who offers me a glass of champagne. A panoramic view of Mount Fujijama is to be seen to the right side. Shit, I can not switch off my cameras autofocus , nor put down the window pane.
The train rolls on past Nagoya and Kyoto. We arrive at Shin-Osaka and are greeted by our guide Nambo who takes us in a taxi to check-in at the hotel which is clean, bright, classy. On the other side of Osaka lies, Kobe, the city which was completely destroyed by the terrible earthquake of two years ago. It is only twenty kilometers away from Osaka, on the other side of the bay. Steve and I start paying attention for earthquake aftershocks.
Up to 1000 small earthquakes occur here per year. That is on the average three per day. I do not notice it. It is 4:30 PM and we take a walk into the city centres pedestrian arcade. Approximately ten kilometers of length, it is like a colored science fiction world. I think of a similar arcade in Duesseldorf. Steve separetes himself and makes his way without us. Little by little we loose each other along the route. Manuel and I remain together and decide to eat odds and ends. We love Sushi. Friendly service, delicious taste. On our return path, another icecream. There it is, in addition to the green-tea-icecream, potato-ice cream. Correctly heard, potatoe-ice cream! We friendly refuse and have the more familair vanilla- and walnut-ice cream.
Not only cars receive police tickets here, but also bikes if they are parked wrong. They will be towed away and released only hours.
Luel disappeared. Our phone calls to his room are not answered. He doesn't appear the next morning for breakfast, nor did he join us for that evenings dinner last night. Everything will be fine with him we hope.
Bright sunshine awakes me the morning of February 10th. After breakfast in one of the numerous cafes, Steve and I take a walk for hours through the city. Everything is arranged in a square so finding our direction is easy here. We enter into one of these gaming halls, that sometimes are called ATARI-ATA and spend a couple of hundred yen on real time video-games. The quality of screen solution is incredible. We then visit a music shop and check the new JP -8000 by ROLAND. It is already available here in Japan and priced lower than at home in Europe. We meet Luel on the way, he has slept through until this morning and did not hear his phone ring. No matter he is back again, healthy, alive, wonderful. The people of SYSTEM 7 were in Kyoto during the day and went sightseeing.
We have another three gigs coming up. Again a meeting up with Steve (Hillage) and Miquette at the soundcheck in the BAYSIDE JENNY club. There was great joy at meeting again. Miquette had her birthday yesterday. We present to her a Tarot-game designed Swatch watch that Walter Wegmüller, a Swiss painter, with whom we produced twenty-five years ago a long playing record (LP) titled " Tarot", designed for the SWATCH company.
At the soundcheck the equipment is huge, but does not have the same quality as at the LIQUID ROOM in Tokyo. SYSTEM 7 has problems with the monitors. Something is broken and needs to be repaired by John. We loaf about and wait for our soundcheck. On stage, ready to check the sound Steve's (Baltes) monitor blows up. He then tries a smaller one, on which the sound of the ROLAND 808-Bassdrum machine is not reproduced so well. He is afraid he would incur volume control problems because of bad monitors during the set.
Here in Osaka, we learn, that only a short while ago the love for Underground music has begun. On average, the people pay 5,500 yen for our shows, that is more than 40 $. We play on time at 12:00 AM for one hour. The club is full. On stage we cook instrumentally. In some parts we get quite aggressive and the audience at the end demands encores. Everything, except some limitations in the sound as Steve feared, worked out very well. Our stay in Tokyo, and the whole experience in Japan added excitement and gave us a lot of vigour palying wise. The technical support facility of Sa-Sha and his stagecrew was perfect, always friendly and very relaxed.
Steve (Hillage) and Miquette want to help us play in England, they again say we definitely should play there. At the photo-session after the set we are interviewed by an American who lives here, speaks Japanese and writes for an English-speaking music magazine. It seems that he liked our show very much.
Last day in Japan for SYSTEM 7. The whole crew has to be at the Osaka Airport early in the morning. They have only four hours left. We say goodbye combined with the hope to meet again soon. It was a good thing to meet up with them here. Thanks to John for his support at the monitor and also a big thank you for your terrific lights Jonathan.
The 11th of February is a Japanese national holiday. One notices nothing from that. Shops are all open. The stupor of material consumption continues. We go to the seventh floor of a multi-story building, where SONY Showrooms preview the latest electronic innovations. We are impressed with the high level of development here. Japan is definitely science-fiction country. Products on the market here now will be available to us maybe in the next years.
The Japanese use modern technology very naively, and totally without reservations. According to their Buddhist sense, everything, including inorganic matter, is inspired by a vital life force. Consequently, things are not bad in principle provided that they are not abused. However, painful some experiences may be due to the result of abuses, they can result in a positive outcome for the life of the individual and the masses because they drive evolution forward.
At 3:00 PM, Nambo fetches us from the hotel. The CLUB QUATTRO is only ten minutes away from the hotel. We walk on foot and it snows briefly, the wind is icy cold this afternoon.
We have super sound at the club and play alone on stage this evening. Everything flows. We are all in a very good mood. Mr. Fujita has sent a gigantic bunch of flowers, a bottle of Napoleon champagne and a several examples from the TOKYO TIMES and other newspapers into our dressing room. The TOKYO TIMES, the biggest English-speaking daily paper in Japan, is full of praise for the gigs of ASHRA and SYSTEM 7 on our first day in Tokyo. The headline reads: LOST AND FOUND IN SPACE - Examples of old school-into-new school - High on the energy, a.s.o.
Taka-san and Keiji wear surprisingly very casual clothing today and film all of our movements on video. The show begins at 7:00 PM and goes on for over two hours. Everything works again in the best possible way. Our best gig to date. The sound is extremly good. Encores, autographs, interview. After the food buffet, we celebrate in my hotel room with Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin champagne. As a precaution, I had kept a bottle cool in my frigidaire. Luel had the same idea and therefore the second bottle is also well cooled. Manuel detected a giant bowl with a choice of exotic fruit in his room that Mr. Fujita had sent so he brings it along. We celebrate very pleased with our success in Japan and enjoy the delicious fruits. The usual ASHRA gab. I throw the whole gang out of my room at 2:00 AM because I am exhausted after three and a half half hours of drumming, including soundcheck, and in addition we must get up early tomorrow morning.
The next day Nambo fetches us from the hotel in the brightest sunshine at 9:30 AM. The SHIN-KANSEN, back to Tokyo waits for us. Taka-san lent me his video camera so I film everything I see: entering the taxi by the band members, taxi ride, Shin-Osaka railway station from the inside, the ASHRA gang single file marching behind Nambo, the roll in of the SHIN-KANSEN into the railway station, the entry of the entire crew, the ride, infinite cities, snow-covered landscape, and Mount Fujijama. The sunshine after a vehement rain and snow showers had cleared the air welcoming us back to the Shin-Tokyo station.
The hotel and the club lie in the Shibuya quarter. This evening again we will have a single show, with just us playing. As I once again go back to the hotel, I almost get lost. That can easily result in huge problems here as hardly anybody speaks English. Also in the once off the main throughfares one only finds undecipherable Japanese characters. After numerous cautious experiments searching in secondary streets, I find the hotel and still have a little time to go back to the club to check the sound.
I have a monitor problem. However, I ignore every trouble that it has given me during the gig and the people rage their approval. Encores. Enthusistic reactions backstage. That was it .....! We share the last two bottles of "Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin" champagne with the crew and say our thanks to every participant. Super work! `Til next time.
Kings Records, one of our Japanese record distributors invites Gabriel Ibos and us for dinner after the show. We have to pack everything completely for the departure tomorrow before we can take them up on the invitation. The fans do not let us pass on the street before we autograph a pile of their LP's and CD's. The food is superb again. Toby a young well known Japanese DJ, that calls himselves Tobynation, and who knows the German Techno scene, Oliver Lieb, and the people of EYE Q RECORDS from Frankfurt, sits with us at the table. " Kampai, Kampai". I am impressed how many people know about ASHRA.
We then decide to go into a club. However, it's not very interesting so in a pub next door we have a couple of beers and nice conversation about French existentialism, No-art, Kabuki and Butoh-dance with a strikingly attractive beauty. She speaks good English, is a poet that has accompanied Gabriel Ibos for days, and who caught my attention already on the first Tokyo gig in the "LIQUID ROOM". She is called Setsuko Chiba and has published a record with poetry and avantgarde music on Gabriel's French record label SPALAX. She intruduced our gig at the "ON AIR WEST" club this evening. Setsuko, Luel, Gabriel and I philosophize further for a couple of hours in Gabriel's hotel room. At 3:00 AM I go to sleep. It is my last, short night in Japan.
In the morning of the seventh day here in Japan, this amazingly wonderful, exotic country, full of surprises and unique experiences for me, we at last managed to assemble the whole ASHRA crew precisely on time, and in the same place, at the hotel foyer. Even Manuel is on time. Nambo and Colin then take us to the Narita Airport. The sun shines brightly again. It is windy and spring-like mild. I feel wistful. A last photo of the group at the Airport, a last "Sajonara", and a couple of "Arigato goseimash'ta" to Nambo and Colin. The next moment we sit in the Boing 747, JAL 407. Kalle Becker-San put us in "first class" of the jumbo jet directly behind the cockpit.
Bye, bye Tokyo. Bye bye Japan. It was an outrageous experience. I would not mind if the trip would go on right now for a while longer. They want to see us here another time, we heard again and again. The aircraft lifts off at 2:00 AM, on time of course. We have a drink called "Skytime", a yellow, fluorescent lemonade with a very strange taste. Not bad, from a visual point of view. Luel calls me Harald-Kiri. We all laugh about this funny joke...
Written and translated by Harald Grosskopf
© Harald Grosskopf, 1997