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Arigato Tokyo - Part 2

Arigato Tokyo - Part 2


I hope you’re doing well! I started to dress the table for you last week, telling you about Alex’s love and passion for Japan which organically grew from a friendship with this amazing lady who decided to translate Alex’s blogs in Japanese, knowing it would help others who, like her, were struggling with depression and even suicidal thoughts. 

Alex, being no stranger to these emotions and this state of mind, and being so generous of his time online, spent countless hours exchanging online with his new friends and constantly growing Japanese community. At some point, we were always surrounded, even at home, by new Japanese friends stopping by one after the other or even at the same time! It was amazing! We had friends who even stayed up to six months with us, helping with translation, being involved in our crazy weekly YFE-TV show, and educating us on Japanese culture. It was good for Alex to always be surrounded by those amazing human beings, bringing his love and passion for Japan to a brand-new level after each encounter. Within the band, we all knew how things would never have been what they’ve been if it wasn’t for this powerful connection between Alex and his Japanese friends. Countless boxes of gifts, cards, letters, music, movies, literature were sent to Alex on a daily basis. Everything was Japan driven — even our forks were ditched for chopsticks!

Amnesty International Japan welcomed Alex not only as an active member but as a spokesperson for different causes close to his heart as we were entering the second decade of the year 2000. It was during that time and through his work with Amnesty International where he strongly connected with a guy called Akimi, with whom he exchanged a lot knowing he was going though several severe phases of deep depression. He was a real music fan and the connection grew stronger after a few months, until… nothing. We had just moved into a former church near Montreal, and as we were almost ready to start working on YFE’s new concept album Vague Souvenir, Alex wanted to go to Japan and work on a short movie he called Voyage à la Mer. Alex kept chasing Akimi without any response, which worried him a lot, and started to ask around where he was until the morning of our departure for Tokyo, a message came in from his mother saying, “Please meet me, Akimi took his life a few weeks ago.”

It was with a devastated Alex that I left for Japan that fall, accompanied by a video team in order to shoot scenes of Alex all over the country. But first, he and I were invited for lunch in Shinjuku with both his parents, whom we had never met before. Put yourself in our position for a quick moment, as we arrived at this restaurant, located on the 42nd floor of a high building in Shinjuku, with a view on one of the busiest place in the country, maybe the entire world, with two parents who had just lost their beloved child and who had questions for Alex regarding the power of music and its meaning… 

The ambiance was so heavy when we arrived, even if we could strongly feel how both of them worked hard on making it as light as possible. Following the protocol welcome in Japan, the mother started telling Alex that she managed to get into her son’s MySpace account and read their messages and was very moved by those. She wanted to thank Alex for his involvement and perseverance and love toward her son, which definitely allowed him to live a year or so longer, one day at a time. She, of course, didn’t see this tragic act coming and wanted to hear Alex on what he mentioned a lot in his messages; the power of music.

Alex and I were both drying our tears non-stop from the emotions of this moment. He started slowly, and explained generously, with gentleness and as softly as possible, what he had personally gone through, how music and friendship saved him as well, how we met this Japanese lady who translated everything, and through whom we had the chance to meet so many inspiring people who all went through the same thing. He slowly talked for more than 90 minutes and both of them listened with their entire attention. At some point, as we were all so full of emotions, the mother asked us to follow her to the window, and as we were all looking down onto the beautiful city of Tokyo, and those thousands of people walking down the streets every few minutes, she started saying: “Look at those people in the streets of Japan… There are thousands of them, if not millions, like my son, looking for answers, looking for their place in this crazy world, and through this journey, they need you and your music. Promise me you won’t stop writing music for the sake of my son and all those other lost souls in search of answers.”

Every possible tear came down on Alex’s and my cheeks, as we could only move our heads up and down, meaning “Yes, of course, we’ll keep going on this journey, as far as we can. You have my word.”

This lunch moment kept resonating within me as we were traveling across the country filming its magic and wonders, and I couldn’t imagine how this was for Alex. So many deep things to process all at once… Alex decided to do a meet & greet in Shibuya to end this trip since so many people wanted to see him and we both thought it would be the best way to embrace and honor what we just shared and talked about with Akimi’s parents. So many people showed up, it was insane! Hundreds and hundreds of people kept coming all afternoon, it was above and beyond anything we could’ve expected especially on such short notice. Alex’s smile was brighter than the sun through all those pictures, hugs, and conversations which lasted for six hours.

It took Alex another year or so to be completely ready to dive into the new Your Favorite Enemies’ album Between Illness and Migration, an album based on our personal story, the entire band’s story, and this lunch we had in Tokyo…! We decided to launch Vague Souvenir, a project very dear to Alex’s heart prior to moving on to YFE’s original vibe. This entire thing, this moment has been so intense, it wasn’t something we could handle and go through easily. It was during the Japan tour of Between Illness and Migration that Alex invited Akimi’s mother on stage as we were playing in Tokyo. As she was on stage with Alex, holding his hand, Alex shared with the crowd this entire story, the lunch, and this moment by the window, and then asked everyone in the audience to welcome her.

He then turned to her saying “You’re about to understand the power of music,” and asked her to turn around, and simply let herself fall in the crowd, which she did…! Here she was, Akimi’s mother crowd surfing on her back, eyes closed, arms in the air, a complete let go in such fashion for the very first time in her life, as Alex continued talking, saying how the power of music was through people, community, heart and soul coming together and dropping down every possible boundary there could be between one another. It was so magnificent, everyone in the audience and us on stage were stunned and crying in front of such a pure moment of surrender, of enlightenment! A celebration of life, of people, of humanity, of community! I still have shivers as I’m writing this down! So powerful! Such a Hallelujah moment during which the deepest of all struggles and the divine connected in a unique way, simply because we had the courage to let go and abandon ourselves to what in the end matters the most.

This trip in early December was the first time we were back in Tokyo since 2019 where we went to start a promotion campaign around Alex’s album Windows in the Sky which came out in March 2020 in Japan. Then COVID started, and things got a little more complicated, as you can imagine. We were supposed to play at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which not being a part of was such a disappointment. So after all those years, it felt really good to meet all of our friends again and go through all of the pictures we took ever since we stepped foot in Japan for the first time as a band in 2008. Music, just as humanity, is so powerful and limitless, and it’s always through those meet and greets, like we did in Hamburg and Paris as well, that this truth grows deeper and higher…!

Thank you so much to you all for allowing us to live and share on such a powerful level. This year has been a very important one for Alex and us all in The Long Shadows, and as it’s about to end, and as we’re about to gather with families and friends, I just want to bring a light on that… We love you so much..! 

My next letter to you will be sent on Tuesday, January 10, 2023!

Thank you for your friendship! Enjoy your Holidays! 

Be great to one another! 

Your Friend and Host, 

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