family life- and a little back story

Yesterday, while “facetime-ing” with my son, Taiyo, he asks me, “Do you miss me Papa?”

“I miss you a lot Taiyo.”

“But it’s good that we get to facetime.”

He’s so right, and what an amazing difference it makes.  Just to see him, and make funny faces at each other, and say “lululululululu,” is such a wonderful treat when we’re apart.  I can’t believe how much he’s growing and changing already.  When I get to see him again around Christmas, he’s going to be a whole new kid. 

Yuki (my wife) and I are old pros at the whole being apart thing.  I’m not saying that it’s not hard, but our relationship really started with us having big chunks of time apart.

We met in Nov of ’97 in Tokyo Japan.  I had just gotten a job as a “JAMMitor” (a comedic trash can drumming group) for Tokyo Disneyland.  Our three person group had just flown the 14hr flight to Japan, checked into the hotel, and decided to go meet the 3 guys who we were replacing, because they were flying home the next day.  So we went to the “American Mura,” or American Village, house 16, and walked into a house full of people, American and Japanese, kind of partying, hanging out, and some packing suitcases.  We met Chris Carbonero- “Hey guys!  I’m Chris, this is my girlfriend, Kaoru.”  Cool.  Pete Sapadin- the drumming Jedi Master- and Matt Hughen, who introduced me to Yuki.  She was beautiful.   Yuki said, “Hey JAMMitors!  We had some awesome parties in this house!  You guys have some big shoes to fill!”

OK. Cool.  I guess the Japanese do speak English pretty well.  Then we met some other American performers, and in an attempt to be impressive, I went around the room and repeated everyone’s name, “Matt, Pete, Chris, Heather, Sarah, Billy, and …..  uh….   shit, what was your name?”

“Yuki.  Nice to meet you guys.”


Every Japanese name or word at first just sounded like “ka ki ku ke ko ma mi mu me mo,” nonsensical jibberish.

If you meet Yuki in America:  what’s your name?  “Yuki, like ‘you-key’,” it’s not too hard to remember.  But when you just landed in Narita, and took a ta-ku-shi (taxi) to Shin Urayasu, and met Saito-san, Hiroshi-san, Hiro-san, Nakamoto-san, Takeuchi-san, and everything you’re hearing is Japanese, you’re pretty much overloaded at that point.  Everything becomes “ka ki ku ke yu ki ko.”  (did you notice I put yuki in there?)  (if so, good for you!  bonus point!)

So I was a bit embarrassed, but ultimately forgiven.  (She’s been my wife now for 11 years. )

We met.  She had a boyfriend, but spoke English, (which it turns out most Japanese do not- although they understand some… but that’s another story) so we hung out.  She ended up taking me on a lot of trips into the city, and showing some really cool clubs, and different places in Tokyo that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.  And the best part is, there was no pressure on me to impress her, because she had a BF-  we were just hanging out.  So I was just me.  We became friends.  Friends who really enjoyed talking about anything and everything.  So when her BF was no longer, I saw my opportunity, and moved in.

At that point we had about 3 months of really intensely being TOGETHER.  Any time away from work, I was with her.  But an impending deadline was on the horizon.  I was to go back to America, with an uncertain fate.  So when our contract ended, and it was time to go home, which was Arizona for me, I decided to fly directly to Florida instead, where there were auditions for the next winter’s contract in Japan.  What can I say?  I had some serious motivation.

Luckily, I had just come from 6 months of drumming on trash cans every day, 8 shows per day, so an audition playing trash cans wasn’t all that hard.  I got the gig to go back.  But we still had 6 months before I would return to Japan.  Now, I don’t remember exactly where I had seen this but I remember very clearly someone on some TV show saying that one of the secrets to a long distance relationship is daily communication.  Keep that person involved in the daily ins and outs of your life.  So that when you talk about “ted from work,” they know who that person is, and how they always have coffee breath.  They’re involved in your daily life, and you can grow closer during that time.  I took that advice to heart.  Now remember, this is 1998.  The internet was a fairly new, and budding thing.  Yuki and I had AOL accounts, and the new hi-tech thing was AOL Instant Messages.  “Instant Messages?!?!   You mean I can type something on my computer here in Tucson, and she’ll get to see it instantly in Japan?!?!  WOW!!!”   This was unbelievable!   Oh, the technology!

Well, Yuki and I spent sometimes up to 4 hrs a day at our computers IM’ing each other.  And the truth is, our relationship did grow, a lot, as a result of it.  Now, our connection to each other was only conversation.  There was no physical stuff, no drinking, and no hanging out watching TV together to while the time away.  Just conversation.  Some of the things she would type at the time were so very cute.  Her english wasn’t nearly as good as it is today, but I got what she meant, and she got better.  With her permission I would help her out on how to say things better, and so she got better.

I also saw very quickly how important yuki’s family was to her.  And we spent a lot of time together with her wonderful, funny, and loving family.   I wanted to be able to communicate with them as well, so I started taking a Japanese course while in Tucson.  And that became the foundation for my Japanese language skills to this day.  I learned the simpler two of the three writing systems in Japanese: hiragana, and katakana; and I learned the basics of grammar.  From there I was able to speak to her family in very basic ways, and they were always patient enough with me to dumb their Japanese down to my level, and explain things in ways in which I could understand.

That period of time that we spent apart, was tough, but in a lot of ways, it was exactly what we needed for both of us to grow separately, and for our relationship to grow as well.

For the next 12 years our lives have seemed to follow a pattern of being together very closely for a while, then having a period of time where we’re apart.  So right now, with me on tour, this is one of those periods where we’re apart.  But it’s not as tough as you might think.  I’m here doing what I love, and I have the gift of time to get in shape, and lay the ground work for the next level of my own growth.  And Yuki and Taiyo will be having their own adventures, and growth as well.

Once again, I didn’t know where I was headed with this whole post-  but for those of you who haven’t heard this part of our story, now you’ve heard it.

thanks for reading,


Published by rionsmith

drummer husband father philosopher composer lover of life

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