Playboy Magazine (2005.04): Part 1
Talking with Ohmura Katsumi, photographer & good friend
P: Ohmura Katsumi F: Masha
P: It’s been a long time since you’ve been on the metro.
F: I haven’t been on the metro for 15 years. The theme for me today is to buy my own train ticket, it felt just like the first time. I’d purposely put on a good pair of JPY5,000 underpants today.
P: Why is that?
F: Well I’m a very careful person. Every time I go on my motorbike, I’d make sure I have nice underpants on. Just in case I get into an accident and needed to be hospitalized, the nurses would have to change my clothes, I want to be prepared. The same for today, I haven’t been on the metro for such a long time and we’ll be taking pictures in such a crowded place like Shinjuku. If I was attacked or stabbed and had to be sent to the hospital, I’d like the nurses to cut open a good pair of underpants when they’re saving me.
P: Is that what you’re always thinking about? Goodness, it’s probably got to do with your loss of freedom in the past 15 years since your debut, hasn’t it!
F: Unfortunately, it’s true I can’t go on the streets freely now. The most I can do to look upon the streets of Shinjuku is probably like this, from the window of a skyscraper. I get the shivers sometimes, when I think about the vast numbers of people who know who I am.
P: But as a celebrity, it’s obviously better that more people recognize you!
F: Yes, at the beginning it’s true, you won’t be able to make it if no-one knew who you were.
P: At the beginning, you came to Tokyo on the Sleeper train. Why not the plane? Isn’t it much faster?
F: I had never been on the plane before. In my heart, the only way to get to Tokyo was by train. It was purely a “voyage of the heart”. The train fares cost about ¥20,000 and the entire journey to Tokyo took 18, 19 hours. I came almost empty-handed, other than the ¥200,000 stuffed in my sock. I was terrified that someone would steal my money when I was asleep, so I hid it in the bottom of my sock. When I first arrived in Tokyo, I didn’t have a wallet or a phone. My jeans pockets were filled with my money, coins and dreams.
P: Could you survive on just ¥200,000?
F: Well, that was all I had. The money came from selling my motorbike. Actually I had borrowed the money from my grandmother to buy the motorbike in the first place, so the moment I earned my first royalties, I immediately paid her back multiples over.
P: That is so cool!
F: My grandmother was so worried when she received it. She was afraid I must have joined the triads to get easy money. Last year I took my grandmother and mother on an onsen (hot springs) trip. I rented a car in Nagasaki and drove them all around the Shimabara peninsula. Perhaps Grandmother was not used to long car trips, it wasn’t long before she said she was tired and had to lie down on the back seat. I have never driven more carefully before, I didn’t want her to roll off!
P: You suddenly quit your job and left Nagasaki for Tokyo. Was there anyone in Tokyo you could go to?
F: None at all, there was just a classmate who had come to Tokyo earlier, he gave me spiritual support. My first job was a part-time delivery man at a pizza place in Shinjuku Hyakunincho. Once I had to deliver to the Yokogawa Electric Corporation in the Shinjuku Skyscraper District. It was related to the company I worked for in Nagasaki. After the delivery, I couldn’t find my motorbike. I didn’t expect even bikes like these would get stolen in Shinjuku. I kept looking for it, then finally found that I had mistaken the G/F with 1/F.
P: Yes, many of the buildings in Shinjuku don’t start from the ground floor, it can be very confusing to people who come here for the first time.
F: It’s easy now that I’ve gone overseas more, but it was a big shock to me then.
P: As a delivery man, you get to go to different places!
F: I’ve been to really small flats which were cramped full with Asian women. Some of them had very little on, it was just like the Tokyo I had imagined!
P: And then you joined the Amuse auditions and came into this business.
F: My debut piece was a movie about pachinko. I remember calling up my mother in a public phone booth, to tell her that I was going to star in a movie. Her first response was: “A porn movie?”
P: Then you became a radio DJ. And you even asked for an air conditioner in your programme!
F: I didn’t have one then! In the end, I didn’t buy my first one. Shibuya Kotono (涉谷琴乃) who co-starred with me in Ai wa Doda (愛はどうだ What about Love) had moved house and was left with an extra one, so she gave it to me. Although I didn’t have to pay for it, the installation fees cost me quite a bit.
P: Were you ever afraid that you wouldn’t get popular?
F: Oh at that time, I thought if I couldn’t make it in entertainment, I could be a male host! Of course, I was much too naive then!
P: Eventually, it took you 3 years after your (movie) debut before you became a real musician.
F: To be honest , I didn’t have any real strength at that time. In Nagasaki, I was in a “Copyband”, we covered other people’s songs. I had been praised on my guitar playing, but that was just memorizing the chords, nothing special. There was no way I could fudge it in Tokyo.
P: And you felt you really had no strength!
F: Yes, once in a music store called Ishibashi (石橋)* in Shibuya, I saw the salesmen all dressed up really cool rock style and I thought that’s all they’ve got: looks. That is, until they started tuning my guitar and just casually playing a few chords on it. Then I knew I was the ignorant one.
P: Your first contact with music was in the school band in junior high, right?
F: My elder brother was in the school brass band and they were short of people. So to talk me into joining, he promised to give me my own room after we expanded the house.
P: After that, you formed your own rock band with your brother and another friend.
F: Our plans at that time were to go to Hakata Fukuoka after graduation and play in the Live Houses which gave fame to many of the well known Kyushu musicians. We’d write our own songs to grab people’s attention, then move our gig to the Shinjuku Loft** and get the big record companies interested by word of mouth. This was my planned road to success when I was 17 years old.
P: Your intention at the time was to be a guitarist, right?
F: Yes, all I wanted to do was to play the guitar next to the lead singer / song-writer of the band. I had never thought about writing anything myself.
P: When did you start thinking about composing your own songs?
F: When the Company prepared other people’s work for me to sing. After I came to Tokyo and joined Amuse through the auditions, the company asked me to show them some of my songs. Although I had agreed without hesitation, I quickly realized that I had none. During the entire process, I became conscious of my total lack of capabilities.
P: Well, music creation is a process that starts from nothing. It’s probably really hard for someone who has neither the experience nor depth to create something out of it.
F: Music creation starts from zero and ends with the production of the CD. You could describe it as the transformation of something intangible, i.e. musical notes sung out from the mouth, into a concrete media, which is the CD.
P: To some people, it looks as though you did not produce anything concrete last year.
F: This is no excuse. In reality, during the process of music creation, the most important stage is the part where you don’t seem to be doing anything. If you want to be able to produce a continuous output, you will need a continuous input. It’s a bit like farming. My grandmother grows tangerines. Seeing her reminds me of how people usually just pay attention to the harvest, and overlook the amount of work she’s put into her crops during the year before. Every winter, when I receive the tangerines she sends over, I’ll know that she is still strong and healthy. Just like every time I release a CD, people looking at my CD cover may think: “This person has also worked hard to cultivate it!”
P: Have you noticed that all the songs you’ve written up till now, are positive and forward looking?
F: In this business, there are many staff and colleagues who help to take care of different aspects of my work, thus enabling me to focus on my music, without needing to worry about other trivial matters. Although I had not asked for it, it is indeed a privileged life for me to be protected and attended to like a wealthy kid. Say, riding the train or metro could be a hassle to many people, it’s crowded and full of drunkards, but if I were to write a song about their feelings, it wouldn’t be convincing at all since I don’t need to go on the train or metro anymore and I’ve never encountered any of those nuisances. Although I have experienced other types of unreasonable situations too…
P: Is that why you’ve not considered writing any political or anti-war songs?
F: I don’t see the need to write about these themes myself (***), but of course song writing is a lot about (the song writer’s) personal interests. For me, my approach to music is to make songs out of the tunes that people like to hum when they feel happy.
To be continued.
*** Glad to see how much Masha has matured in the recent years since this interview. Gunjou ~ultramarine~ and Michishirube are good examples of how he’s handling deeper themes like anti-war and living life in the face of hardship