Pop the Champagne (On Change)

By Kiki Murai


The name change was a biggie.

Somewhere in the past six months, I learned to meet and embrace Change at the door, which often arrived wet and shivering from the New York rain. I offer it piping hot tea, knowing what it has seen and lost in a short time span: a job, a home, hundreds of students, relationships, a television series (along with the television that aired the series), a Japanese-speaking iPhone, my car, eating disorders, recognition, pride and stress.

Things gained (and regained): spiffy new contact information, area code 917, new and old friends, an apartment, reality check in the form of NYC rent, an English-speaking iPhone, a refillable metro card, rain boots, yoga, therapy, time, and an authentic relationship.

And finally, out with the old, in with the name change. Without warning, I suddenly changed my name from Yuki to Kiki (a nickname) full time, and started my life over in New York City.


The first time I realized I wanted Change was when I jumped on a plane and moved to Japan in 2001 for a job.

The second time I learned I wanted Change was when I jumped on a plane and moved back to America ten years later, minus the job.

What happened to the years in between? I ran like hell every opportunity I had, traveling to foreign cities in between work to de-stress and reboot. Though actually, I was just looking for permission to be lost, legitimately. What better way than to enter a new land where everything, most of all you, is foreign?

There was the summer in Paris. I was lost in Paris, alright. The great city, however, didn’t bring about the change I’d hoped for, my rented Bastille flat morphing into a cheap bistro for a party of one, with red wine, croissants (the only French word I could say at the boulangerie), and several helpings of doom to go with my fromage. It was a lonely month.

The cities that also didn’t change me were Tokyo, Kauai, Hong Kong, Kyoto, Los Angeles, Korea and Sedona (where I was promised spiritual awakenings before breakfast).

I took in the magnificent waterfalls in Kauai, sipped champagne over the Seine in Paris with handsome strangers, climbed the great rocks of Sedona with my best friend as the sun rose, and prayed at numerous temples and shrines in Kyoto (in Japanese, so the gods would understand me).

I fled from city to city, in search of peace of mind, but who was I kidding? I followed me everywhere. There’s no answer for desperation.

I couldn’t flee a basic truth, that I was in a mentally and emotionally damaging relationship back home (meaning Japan) and didn’t have the courage to break free.

It would take me years to see this.


During our helpful trip to Sedona, my best friend and I decided to round up all the assistance we could possibly find for our troubles – including that of the spiritual kind. We might have done some yoga, even meditated.

We went to a psychic instead.

My best friend went in first, as her pain was far more urgent than mine. How she was able to pick herself up to get on the plane out to Arizona in the first place, I will never know. She walked into the reading, spiritually broken in many pieces.

When she came out an hour later, it seemed as though she had found maybe a small pint of peace inside of her, to at least temporarily diffuse the flames that had been raging for several weeks.

We hugged, and it was my turn. I had no urgent matters to attend to, not that I knew of. I entered the closet-sized room and sat down, closed my eyes as I was told to do, and concentrated, as told, on one thing that I wanted to change in my life. I did just that.

Suddenly, the seer woman blurted out in a manner that sent a panic through my spine, “Wait, I’m feeling sick. Open your eyes. Can we stop for a moment?”

I opened my eyes and stared at her. She looked frightened, and looking deep into my psyche, she said, “You need to get out of your situation.”

I wanted to ask her for my $90 back. She didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.


There were many reasons why I couldn’t leave my situation, though they can pretty much be packed up into two words: fear and guilt. Fear of being hated and a failure for the rest of my life, and guilt that everyone I left behind would die without me.

Thankfully, no one died.

I’m sure I disappointed those who had placed their trust in me, as a person, a partner, a friend, a teacher, a guiding light week after week. I did lose every title, credit, television program, musical production, and a general awe on the street I’d worked nearly a decade for. I imagined it might kill me.

But New York City has welcomed me, wet and shivering, at its front door. I’ve indeed started from the ground up again, relying on what I have (which resembled nothing for a long time) instead of what I lost, not totally oblivious to the attention-starved past that hovers over my right shoulder.

After several failed attempts to achieve any sustainable change, Kiki has stepped up to take over for a bit, while the highly publicized and overexposed Yuki heals quietly. Yoga and meditation help to keep the monsters away.


When I was traveling to all of those cities in search of Change, I wasn’t really serious about finding it. Or making it happen. I believed I was serious,  however, which was exasperating for those who loved me most. My biggest hint I was only half-serious? I sat there talking about it.

Now, as I sit in a café in New York City writing this, I’ve stopped talking dreams, as I used to do to anyone who would listen. I’ve decided to focus on what I’m doing today, instead.

Perseverance is a quality highly valued in Japanese society. I learned so, and still believe that much good can come out of it. But I also learned that “persevere” could just as easily turn to “grin and bear it, no matter the pain”, until you become numb to the pain (and a spiritual person has to remind you what it is). So I’ve opted for surrender instead.

I’ve stopped living with the idea of romance, and decided to go full-force into love, instead. I’m willingly and happily present in my relationship, and don’t have one foot out the door with a trunk full of excuses anymore. He shouldn’t have to battle my past. Whenever I flirt with the danger of going back there, I remember that Change has my back.

One thing I do hope is to someday is revisit those places, infusing them with hope and gratitude. Thank you Paris, and Tokyo, and Hawaii, and Seoul…

It’s time to pop some serious champagne.

To second chances.



Kiki moved to New York City in 2011 after ten years teaching aspiring performers, directing musicals, and producing television programs in Japan.  Born in Tokyo and raised in Los Angeles, she now writes and teaches yoga in Manhattan. She is finally grateful for her various identity crises growing up between two cultures.  Her blog is Kiki Orchestra, and you can tweet her at @kiki_murai.

“Champagne bottle” image by Oskay, used under a Creative Commons license.

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