What A Difference A Year Can Make

18 Sep

I’ve written a lot about my experience performing in Japan and how meaningful it was to me, and I’m sorry to tell you that I’m sure I will write about it more. It was, up to this point, the most perfect experience I’ve ever had in my life. So perfect, in fact, that I actually considered quitting “the Business” because I could not conceive that any other job or life experience could be so fulfilling.

That’s a lot of weight to put on one three-and-a-half month chunk of a person’s life.

Today I learned that the 2013 cast of Disney On Classic, the show that I was a part of in 2011, made that grueling, seemingly endless 14-hour flight to Tokyo to begin their tour experience. Fourteen hours in a cramped seat, trying to sleep, wondering what will be waiting for you when you step off the plane. Fourteen hours of nerves and excitement and reviewing your music and replaying those last few hours you spent with the people who mean the most to you before you essentially moved to the other side of the world. Watching the flight tracker on the monitor in front of you, realizing that there is nothing below you but the Pacific Ocean and that there’s still 5 hours to go, you study your basic Japanese phrases, marveling at how many syllables there are in hajimemashite. Looking back at it, it was the most thrilling, exciting and daunting flight I’ve ever taken, and I’d gladly do it again.

Now imagine the flight back. The night before, you’ve given an emotional final performance to an audience of 5000 people with a 74-piece orchestra full of friends you may never see again in your life. You and the cast pile into someone’s room for a final kampai and to watch surprise video compilations that somehow manage to cram the 4 best months of your life into 10 minute music videos. Holding Katie’s hand as you sob, remembering and reliving each wonderful moment, wondering if anything will ever be that good again. You rush back to your room to finish shoving all the souvenirs you’ve bought for your friends and family and all the little gifts you’ve been given into your already overstuffed suitcases and take a few minutes to say your goodbyes to the hotel that’s become your home-away-from-home. You take one last look out the window at the view that you’ve fallen in love with, remembering those first few days in Shinjuku when you went out to explore the new neighborhood and that first night that you all went out as a group for your first meal of oudon and tempura. Suddenly it’s time to drag your suitcases downstairs and check out of the hotel for the final time and take that long bus drive to the airport before boarding a plane to take you home, though you would rather stay.

Your flight leaves Tokyo at 11:30am on Tuesday. You arrive in Chicago at 10:40am on Tuesday. How is that possible? After 14 hours of alternately grieving and sleeping, you step off the plane and are greeted by security guards yelling directions at you and fat, sloppily-dressed Americans shoving McDonald’s into their faces and leaving their garbage behind in the seats next to them. You suddenly become painfully aware that you are not in Japan anymore and you gain some insight into what foreign travelers must think about us when they first arrive in America. What day is it again? You yourself go to the nearest McDonald’s because sadly, that’s the healthiest option the airport terminal has to offer for breakfast. Where are the immaculately dressed employees in their perfectly pressed Disney World-esque uniforms? Where is the chorus of “Irasshaimase!?” The girl behind the counter has barely even acknowledged your existence, let alone welcomed you to her store. You have culture shock in your own country. You want to go back. Now.

Returning home, you hope your roommates and family will greet you with arms wide open. That they’ll sit down with you and look through all of the wonderful pictures you took to document your trip. That they’ll want to listen to you relay every minute detail of your trip: how wonderful C.C. Lemon is; the time you ate a seaweed-flavored donut; the night in Utsunomiya that you and Tony and Joey ran out of Tony’s room, screaming like little girls because a giant bug flew in the window; how incredible it was to sing for the orphans in Kuji; about your friend Sasaki-san, who dressed like an anime character and spent his days off in Sendai helping with the disaster relief; about Magical Georgie and his rubber band trick; about how much you miss your friends. They listen for a while, but not as attentively as you’d like. No one wants to drop everything to listen to your CD. No one wants to look through thousands of pictures. No one cares as much as you want them to because no one knows how wonderful it was except the people who experienced it with you.

The jet lag sets in. You fall asleep by 5pm. You start getting text messages at 4am from your cast mates, but that’s OK because you were awake, too, and hearing from them makes you feel less lonely – makes you still feel connected to the experience. But soon those texts stop as you realize that people have gone back to the lives that they were living before Japan. But you don’t want to go back to before Japan, because before Japan you were working three jobs to make ends meet. You were lonely, you were broke and you didn’t have much to look forward to. Who would want to go back to that? So you go back to New York, you file for unemployment and you audition more than you ever did before – sometimes three times a day if you can manage it. You make sure you get to the Tokyo Disney auditions, hoping that’s your way back, but no one behind the table even acknowledges that amazing new credit at the top of your résumé. You’re in the best vocal shape of your life, but not one callback. Not one booking. The confidence you gained is depleting, as is your savings account balance. Things are not going well.

Two months after you get back from an experience you would give anything to relive, you get an email from your show’s director…one of your dearest friends. The casting notice for the 2012 tour is about to go up – auditions are happening in March and he wants recommendations from former cast members. You aren’t ready for that yet and it’s a punch to the gut, but you try to get past your own sadness and you try to silence the voices in your head and heart that are whispering, “Maybe they’ll ask you to go again,” because you know they won’t, and you submit a couple of names of friends, trying to pay it forward. Even though your brain knows it won’t happen, your heart still holds onto the idea that they might not find anyone and ask you back. But that doesn’t happen. A cast has been chosen and you’re not part of it. Everyone seems to be moving on, moving forward, but you can’t. And you’re gaining weight.

You make it through the summer, filling your time with work and moving apartments and suddenly it’s September. The new cast is in rehearsal and you’re back to working two jobs, which are barely paying your bills. You haven’t auditioned since April. You haven’t had a voice lesson or even wanted to sing since June. Everyone else in your cast has booked work and the seed of doubt is blossoming in your mind about your talent. And then the day comes – the day the cast posts on Facebook that they’re flying to Tokyo. In an attempt to be gracious and supportive, you post a nice boy voyage message for the group, but offline you’re heartbroken. Your grandmother happens to call that day and when she asks if anything is wrong, you have a full-blown breakdown over the phone, incomprehensibly mumbling things about Tokyo and flying and hating New York through hot tears and an embarrassing amount of snot. If you drank, you’d be smashed by now, but instead you order a pizza. Did I mention you’re gaining weight?

Two days later, your friends in Japan start posting photos on Facebook with signs that say, “We miss you, Jason!” Even though they bring on another wave of emotions, the pictures help reassure you that you’ve not been forgotten. Soon enough you become distracted with all the things you’ve been ignoring while you’ve been in your Japanofunk and you become less aware – it hurts less. Before you know it, you’re on another tour – not performing, but seeing the country on another adventure, constantly being reminded that you’re neither alone nor forgotten as you reunite with friends and family all across the country. And then the next September you read that it’s the cast’s travel day to Tokyo and you’re OK. No tears, no heartbreak – just the appreciation of how lucky you were to have such a unique, wonderful experience.


I miss you, too, Keiko-san and Sasaki-san!

To the 2013 cast of Disney On Classic, I wish happy and safe travels and a marvelous tour experience. Ganbatte ne!


One Response to “What A Difference A Year Can Make”


  1. Sunshine On My Shoulders Makes Me Happy | Confessions of a Merch Whore - January 16, 2014

    […] let alone one on the other side of the globe. I’m torn, though. Should I fulfill my dream of going back to Tokyo or should I save the money for my move to San Diego? I mean, I’ve been wanting to go back from […]

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