Archive for November, 2005
Ah, music. “If music be the food of love, play on”. So said William Shakespeare, and he’s got a lot more readers than me, so there must be something in it.
Certainly, the Japanese are fond of music, in much the same way that a monkey is fond of throwing faeces. They do it and they love it, but it can be painful for the audience. We are talking here of the country that gave the world karaoke. The fact that the world didn’t really want it, is besides the point.
Of course, I’m not one to talk. My own voice has been known to kill cockroaches at sixty paces; but at least I have the common decency, not to mention common sense, not to sing in public.
My original apartment in Japan was situated next to a bar that offered karaoke, and many was the night I was kept awake by the wail of the banshee next door. While the best opera singers are said to be able to break glass, the blokes singing next door could break a pewter mug.
Which is why it is so astounding that when the Japanese assemble for a chorus, the result is actually well worth listening to. My only explanation for this is that most Japanese are only truly happy when doing the same thing as a hundred other people.
My junior high school recently held its ongakusai, or chorus competition.
For the three weeks leading up to the competition, I couldn’t walk through the corridors without hearing stirring renditions of various Japanese songs, and one rather disturbing version of Wham’s “Last Christmas”, which I cruelly dubbed “Rast Kurisumasu”.
I know; I’m a bastard.
The disadvantage of all that practice is, of course, that by the time the actual competition rolled around, I was thoroughly sick of the songs and sat in the audience yelling, “Play ‘smoke on the water!’”
Still, they’re a talented little bunch of angels and all in all the day wasn’t too painful.
Unfortunately I had also nominated myself to attend a recital by one of my elementary school students the next day.
The recital was a performance of traditional instruments. My student was playing a shamisen, a kind of three stringed Japanese guitar, all three of which appear to be A flat. Now, imagine what Jimmy Hendrix would have been capable of if his guitar had had only 3 strings.
Other instruments being used were the koto ( a kind of chinese harp) and Japanese wooden flutes. There were also a few old ladies singing in a particularly whiney fashion.
Individually, all these sounds are awful, but when put together, they somehow combine to make a not entirely unpleasant sound. It’s rather like popcorn.
You’d never eat plain popcorn, plain butter or plain salt. But put together and they taste okay.
So, that was my popcorn weekend.
The Cynical Traveller
My regular readers will, of course, realize that I have strong opinions on the objectification of women. However, I’m always open to new experiences, no matter how painful.
My previous school, Iruma Koyo High School, had one of the best cheerleading teams in Japan and were going to the national competition in Tokyo. In the interest of school spirit, and only school spirit, I agreed to tag along.
However, I am once again hesitant to include photographs of my students, so the visible pictures included are of the professional teams who performed a demonstration at the end.
Now cheerleading isn’t a big thing in Australia. To be perfectly honest (and this is probably going to get me in a bit of hot water here) I’ve always considered cheerleading to be the last refuge of a dull sport. It’s the only way they can mildly entertain the crowd.
However, that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate cheerleading’s more salient points.
While the benefits of being able to wrap your own legs behind your head may not be immediately apparent, a little careful thought can bring up several situations where it might come in handy. Such as scratching an unwanted itch, or escaping from the deathtrap of a supervillian.
The competition was held in a large stadium in Tokyo. My cheerleading club teacher furnished me with a pass and I arrived fresh off the train in Tokyo, ready for some
hot sexy action strong school spirit.
Strangely enough, I was stopped at the door by two security guards who wanted to know which school I was affiliated with. Who did they think I was? Some sort of ordinary pervert?
After assuring the guards that I was in fact, a very specific type of pervert, I was allowed entry and attempted to find my students.
My girls were all decked out in their costumes when I arrived. Basically, it looked like they had gone 10 rounds with a bedazzler and lost… badly.
The makeup had been liberally applied, in some case with a trowel, and they looked excited, energetic and, dare I say it, perky.
My girls were on third, so we sat down to watch the other competitors. Basically, it involved bouncing around the stage to techno music and grinning like a skull after a botox injection.
I’m not a huge fan of techno music, but if it has to be endured, I can heartily recommend it be accompanied by thousands of young women in short skirts. It somehow makes the experience more tolerable.
My team went out, pom poms flashing, and performed admirably as far as I could tell. To be perfectly honest, all the performances looked very similar and I have no idea what criteria they were being judged on.
Then, I was subjected to the worst occurrence of the day. One of the schools came out to Tony Basil’s “Mickey”. Now in my book, that should be grounds enough for immediate disqualification, but they actually got applause when they finished!
Anyway, my students came second on the day and there were numerous faces streaked with tear stained makeup. Luckily, there were plenty of people there to “cheer” them up.
The Cynical Traveller
Yabusame is the Japanese art of horseback archery. Myself and my friend from the Tokyo Times, decided to make a little excursion to the small village of Moroyama to see what all the fuss is about.
Despite Moroyama having a population of roughly 7, hundreds of people turned up to the festival, simply for the exciting prospect of actually seeing a live animal. To give you some kind of idea of the scarcity of animals in Japan, I’m going to completely plagiarise a story from a friend of mine.
This man, let’s call him Mr X, is married to a lovely young Japanese lady (whom I hope never reads this). Mr and Mrs X went back to Mr X’s home country of England.
When they saw some cows in a paddock, Mrs X was rather fascinated. Mr X asked her, “Haven’t you ever seen a cow before?” To which Mrs X replied, to the amusement of all, “Yes, in a zoo.”
Animals really are that scarce around here. So, it’s not surprising that people are willing to travel three hours to look at a horse. At least, one that’s not on a plate in a restaurant.
Moroyama lies on the charming, but rather inconvenient, Hachiko train line. Being a predominantly rural line, Hachiko trains leave once an hour in the mornings, have only two carriages and are apparently pulled by a team of oxen.
Still, we managed to leave on time and catch all our connections, only to arrive in town and be informed that lunch had just started and the yabusame would resume in 3 hours.
However, that gave us time to grab some lunch. We passed the usual stalls selling fried noodles, goldfish, and what my friend insisted were chocolate coated sausages. There were also a couple of stalls selling toy guns.
Let me tell you, we’re not talking about little plastic guns here, with blinking lights and semi realistic rattling sounds. Rather, it’s life sized sniper rifles, capable of shooting plastic balls up to a distance of 130 feet and punching through walls (albeit Japanese paper walls). Generally, they looked more imposing than the weapons carried by the Japanese GSDF into Iraq.
It’s an extremely dangerous and irresponsible toy in the hands of either an adult or a kid. Naturally, I was dying to buy one.
Being so early, we were able to get prime seats, right up the front.
This was my second yabusame festival and it turned out to be rather a disappointment. The previous festival was two years ago. That year, there were only two horses and one of them panicked, threw its rider and galloped off down the main street of the town.
Obviously I was hoping for a rather better show this year. Well, it must have been a bumper year for Moroyama, because this year they were able to afford three horses. There were also three riders; one was very good, one could ride but not shoot, and one who should probably just stick to baseball.
Three riders should have meant that there was enough action to keep us entertained. However, rather than send them down one at a time, they simply all thundered down in a row; the worst rider often cannoning into the back of the first two. Then you had to wait 15 minutes for the next bout.
Not that we got to see much of the event anyway, because for ninety percent of the competition our view was obscured by people leaning over to take photos. So much for those good seats!
The Cynical Traveller
Firstly, I have a confession to make. I’m not really into cars. In fact, I wouldn’t know a carburetor from a cam shaft, or an alternator from an altimeter (do cars have those?).
I’m mystified when people who know about cars say things like, “There’s your problem mate! You’ve got a faltermeyer in your axel foley”
So, bearing that in mind, it may seem rather strange that I should choose to go to a motor show. However, I have a very good reason: My friend assured me that there would be loads of scantily clad women there.
Naturally, I saw this as an opportunity to confront the misogyny of contemporary Japanese society and study the Freudian implications of vehicle addiction in the male psyche. If I had to look at a bunch of hot women in the process, it was a price I was prepared to pay.
Well, let me tell you, despite my most altruistic of motives, I was seriously disappointed by both the number of ladies and cars on display.
My friend had tried to go to the show last year, not realizing it is only held on alternate years in Tokyo. What he actually ended up attending, was the industrial vehicles show. So, he spent the day looking at light utility vehicles, tractors, industrial tyres and van for the disabled.
Despite this, he said that each display was still surrounded by scantily clad girls; particularly the tyres. “Well”, we thought. “If they have girls draping themselves over a set of Bridgestone radials, imagine what they’ll be doing to a Ferrari!”
The answer is apparently: “avoiding it”.
The show filled four auditoriums with cars and motorbikes. In between were the occasional hands on displays and driving simulators.
Taking up such a huge amount of space, you’d think they could spare one small room for vouyerism, but apparently not.
And while I may not be an expert in cars, even I was aware that there was a difference between cruising around the high street in this…
Still, despite the absence of the girls, there were enough cars to keep a motor aficionado happy for countless hours.
We left after 37 minutes.