My father told me that he disliked the overly polite service of the Japanese. He considered it to be “fake”. I, on the other hand, adored it. I’m a creature of routine so to be greeted and sent off with the same honorifics was comforting and pleasant. Sure, they probably picked up on the fact that I didn’t speak Japanese and they could have been telling me to “go suck a fat one” for all I know, but I choose to believe that’s not the case. I actually looked forward to shopping and eating out, something I can’t always say about home. In Canada, there is such an emphasis on individuality that that can translate into “I’m allowed to act like an a-hole.” I much prefer the false modesty of the Japanese over the up-front rudeness of North Americans. They’re brought up to follow an ideal and that’s a noble endeavour. Besides, when you’re asked to act like a decent person for long enough, you might actually become a decent person and I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.
This is my brother. He’s not big on smiles. We were both that way for the longest time. My house is full of pictures of my brother and me looking completely blasé in various situations. I remember when my mother would get the photo packages from our school picture days and she had to choose the least awful set to order. It’s not that we’re a couple of miserable bastards, we just find the whole process exhausting. There are so many muscles involved in a proper smile. I’m getting tired thinking about it. I know I’ve loosened up quite a bit over the years though and if I’m in the right mood you can usually catch me with the dumbest grin on my face. You might even see my teeth. I smiled a lot on this trip.
I WISH MY FAMILY GOOD FORTUNE AND THE NINERS WIN THE SUPER BOWL NEXT YEAR – NATHAN J.
I’m more of a Titans fan myself, but you have to respect the fan who invokes the Japanese gods to give his favourite NFL team that extra push. If San Francisco actually does win the Super Bowl, I’m heading back over there and covering that board with about a hundred prayers for the Raptors and Blue Jays.
This is the legendary Korakuen Hall and no, your eyes do not deceive you, it’s about the size of a public school gymnasium. The gentleman in the middle of the ring covered in confetti, standing next to the large trophy is Ryusuke Taguchi, otherwise known as “The Funky Weapon”. This is why:
The photo above was taken at the 2012 Best of the Super Juniors Tournament finals. Despite being a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, I’d never been to a live show before. Wrestling has an illustrious history in Japan and it’s not as taboo for a mature (or immature, in my case) adult to follow it over there. Considering the above clip it’s a wonder that it isn’t taken more seriously in North America. I was familiar with a few of the performers, whether from YouTube clips or their work with the bigger promotions. I was most excited to see Low Ki, a wrestler with a reputation for taking things a bit too seriously and putting on sickeningly brutal matches as a result. He made it to the finals where he seemed to have mistimed a chop and nearly took out Taguchi’s eye. You could see it swelling up badly by the end. Still, Taguchi went on to win and danced his heart out, God bless him.
If I were to describe live pro wrestling to someone who had no interest in it at all, my best comparison would be a “panto”. A panto is a form of musical theatre (occasionally geared towards children) that encourages interaction with the audience. It’s silly and lighthearted and if it’s done right, you’d be amazed at how engaged the audience can get, clapping and singing along with their favourite songs and hissing at the villains. Being able to relive moments from beloved stories is part of the appeal of musicals. Think about people who make it a ritual to watch The Sound Of Music every year.
Wrestling is much the same. I’ve seen thousands of matches in my life so when I finally got to see it in person it was like knowing all the actors lines and the words to every song. I knew when a guy was going to throw a clothesline or fall off the top rope or kick out of a pin or play to the crowd…and that knowledge only made things more enjoyable. I was like a kid again and not in that sense that “oh, this is so silly it’s something only a child would enjoy”, but that it reminded me how liberating it is to give in to your imagination and get caught up in the act. Korakuen was as loud as any sporting event I’d ever attended and you could look around and see people from all walks of life completely invested in the story that these guys were telling in the ring. I mentioned in an earlier post that there were few things my brother and I bond over. This was one of them.
I forgot to post a picture of my capsule before, so here it is. The photo was taken by a Korean fellow named Hector. I figure he must have been a student. He seemed nice and trustworthy and not uncomfortable with the idea of taking a picture of another man sleeping in a bed. I really should have made an effort to talk to more people. Wherever you are, Korean Hector, thanks for the photo, mate.
One of the most fascinating phenomena I came across in Japan was the pop group AKB48. Anyone who reads pop culture news sites and travel blogs are probably already familiar with these ladies, but if you aren’t I’ll do my best to catch you up.
AKB48 are a group of 64 girls (AKB = Akihabara, 48=…I have no idea where the 48 comes from) divided into 4 teams: Team A, Team K, Team B and Team 4 (obviously). There’s apparently going to be some shakeup with the groups soon, but I haven’t kept up with it and the four team arrangement is how it’s worked for the majority of their existence. Each team has 16 girls. The benefit of having this legion of performers is that it makes them more accessible to their fans (a huge factor in the idol culture of Japan) and they’re able to have performances every day. That’s right, every freakin’ day. So Team A might perform on Monday, then Team B on Tuesday, then Team K on Wednesday, then Team A on Thursday and so on. Or you could have two straight days of Team A and then the same deal with Teams B and K. All the while, members of Team 4 exist as substitutes, just waiting for misfortune to strike so they can get off the bench.
You would think that sort of strategy would quickly create oversaturation, but with Japan’s population, tourism and dedication to their young idols, the demand has actually risen to meet the supply if that makes any sense. The AKB48 machine cranks out all kinds of gimmicks to maintain interest: a lottery to determine who gets tickets to attend shows at the AKB48 Theater, fans voting to decide who gets featured in the singles and concerts, and singles being packaged with ballots to allow the fans to vote in the first place. Grown men (and make no bones about it, a large majority of the fans appear to be adult males) will buy multiple singles so they can have their say. Not to mention multiple albums, with the promise that some of the albums contain a rare ticket that gives you the opportunity to meet and shake hands with your favourite member. The fact that the entire operation exists under the guise of bubblegum pop and grade school dance choreography makes the whole thing utterly insidious.
It also got my gears going trying to figure out how this could work in North America. We love our pop stars, don’t we? Isn’t there a lot of money to be made here? But my brother kept reminding me that our continent is filled with selfish jerks and that getting 4 girls to work together in a group is hard enough, much less 64. I also remembered that we have a more cynical view of celebrities here. While the Japanese fawn over their idols, we are eager to burn ours to the ground. Both mindsets are kind of despicable.
When I saw the entrance to this mall in Harajuku, I urged my brother to cross the street with me so we could check it out. When we were actually passing through it, we began to regret our decision. It was a scorching hot day. Mirrors, as you may have heard, reflect light and heat. We may as well have gone down to the beach and wrapped ourselves in tinfoil.
The only picture Chris and I took together during the trip. He had just treated me to some delicious okonomiyaki. It’s one of those foods you prepare yourself that reminds you of the ingenuity of folks, especially when it comes to satisfying their stomachs. I can just imagine some poor farmer throwing a bunch of batter on a grill and mixing it with some crops and serving it up to his fifteen kids. “Eat up kids! Okonomiyaki!” I imagine pizza having a similar origin. You can blame the blurriness on the drunken Australian holding my phone.