How I Stayed In Tokyo For Free Thanks To An Obscure Okinawan Song (Obokuri Eeumi)
Y ou’ve all heard the song Obokuri Eeumi, right? You know, the haunting Okinawan song, sung by Ikue Asazaki, that plays in the 14th episode of the anime, Samurai Champloo? It’s when the main character, Mugen, is about to die and sees a bunch of Okinawan Shamans about to take his soul to the other side. Well, don’t worry if all of that sounded like gibberish to you, because you’re probably not alone. In fact, when I had first heard Obokuri Eeumi, I had never expected to meet in real life, another living soul, who would’ve even heard of this strange and obscure Okinawan song.
Until I did.
Now, back in the day (in 2006), I was more hipster than a beardy manbun, drinking organic chai-tea-boba-latte out of a fucking light bulb.
I mean, my favourite musical artist was Yoko Kanno (you’ve probably never heard of her), my favourite TV show was Cowboy Bebop (you’ve probably never heard of it) and my favourite song in the whole world was Obokuri Eeumi (you’ve probably never heard it). I was hipster before being hipster was mainstream.
Naturally, I had a blog, where I’d post my inane ramblings (wow, not a lot has changed in 13 years!). My blog wasn’t called ranajaytravels or ranajayontheroad. Back then, it was psychedelicsoul.blogspot.com (RIP blogspot). And on that blog, I had made a very special post about my favourite song, Obokuri Eeumi.
Within a few months of posting it, a lot of people, from all over the world, found their way to that specific post. So popular was my post, that it ranked #1 on Google (for a few months) when people searched for the term “Obokuri Eeumi”. I was thrilled and I made sure that the link to that post always showed up on the first page of my blog.
I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone in my love for Obokuri Eeumi. There were people out there, other hipsters and weebs, whom I’d probably never meet in real life, who must’ve loved that song for the same reasons I loved it.
Betrayal, Most Foul!
Cut to 3 years later. The year was 2009 and I was about to embark on my first trip to Japan in a week’s times. But what was supposed to be a 2 man trip had suddenly turned into a solo trip. At the last minute, I had been betrayed by my friend, Agastya (who by the way is one of the most amazing and innovative people I have ever known, but at that time I hated him for his sudden but inevitable betrayal).
Everything had to be changed. All my hotel bookings for 2 people had to be changed to a single person. I didn’t have enough money to afford a hotel room by myself. So, I started hunting for all manners of cheap and last-minute accommodations.
I booked hostels, capsule hotels, temple stays and even kept aside a bit of money for a ryokan in Kyoto (ryokans can be expensive). My budget had been blown and I was on the verge of canceling my trip altogether. I mean, I had just started working a year ago, I had barely enough money to pay rent for 2 months, I spoke very little Japanese and it was my first time traveling solo. The odds were against me.
But then, it was Japan we were talking about here. How could I just walk away from my dream country without a fight?
Couch Surfing To The Rescue!
After a lot of frantic searching on the internet (“how to stay for free in Tokyo?” and “cheapest accommodations in Japan”) I found out about Couch-Surfing. Now, I’m not sure how popular couch-surfing was back in 2009, but I had certainly never heard of it. For the uninitiated, couch-surfing is a network of travelers and home-owners all over the world, who can host your stay for a night or two, free of charge. Typically, you sleep on your host’s couch, hence the name: couch-surfing.
I promptly signed up and set up my profile on couchsurfing.com. I made sure I included some decent photos of myself, my interests and also a link to my blog, though I doubted anyone would even click on it. After that I started sending out requests to the various people who had couches available in Tokyo and other Japanese cities I was visiting. It was slim pickings, honestly, and most people hadn’t logged into their account in months. I didn’t have high hopes, but I did what I could.
A few days later, one of the people I had sent a messages to, wrote me back. Here’s what she said:
She was the only person who had replied.
I flew to Japan, for the first time, a few days later.
Friends For Life
Thanks to my obscure blog with an obscure song from an obscure Okinawan artist, I was able to meet a person as wonderful as Kyoko-san. I only stayed for one night at her place. She cooked a delicious vegan dinner for the both of us. We exchanged stories about travel, Hinduism and music. She had burned a CD of Ikue Asazaki’s songs for me to take home. Trust me when I tell you this – I had searched high and low for her songs on the internet and I hadn’t found a single one save for Obokuri Eeumi. It’s one of the best presents anyone has ever given me. In return, I copied some songs by Yoko Kanno on to her laptop.
My stay at Kyoko-san’s house is probably why I love the people of Japan so much and visit Japan so often; Japanese people are warm, big-hearted and I’ve only met good people on my travels there.
At the end of my first visit to Japan, I was broke as fuck in terms of money; but in terms of joy, I was a hundred times richer.
I visit Kyoko-san every time I go to Tokyo. Even Agastya, the perpetrator of my amazing solo adventure in Japan, has met her on our trip to Tokyo in 2014.
Kyoko-san and I eating the best tempura don in Tokyo! (2015)
Kyoko-san and Ashita no Joe (2015)
Kyoko-san and I enjoying a picnic at Shinjuku gyoen (2014)
I don’t know what the moral of the story is. I’m not sure if this post even has one. Perhaps I could wax poetic about the wonders of travel and the magic of making new friends. Maybe I could tell you that true music transcends language, religions and even the imaginary lines we draw on a map to fragment ourselves. Or maybe I could end this post by telling you that you should never give up and always follow your dreams and that the universe will find a way to yada yada yada…
I think the best way to end this post is this:
Stop whatever you’re doing right now and set aside 6 minutes of your time.
Put your headphones on. Yes, put them on right now. Don’t read any further until you’ve done so.
What you’re about to listen to is a haunting Okinawan song.
In fact, it might be one of the most beautiful songs you’ve ever heard.
You won’t understand the words, unless you speak Okinawan, and you won’t need to.
Listen to the tremors of her voice.
Listen to the accompanying fortissimos of the piano.
Close your eyes.
Open your heart.
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