The breaks between visits to Japan always seem longer than in reality. Actually, this kind of warp in time makes sense when faced with the futuristic setting that Tokyo continues to impress upon returning gai-jin (foreigners). Apart from New York City there isn’t a place in the world I miss more than Japan.
Take the food, for example. The mysterious, multi textured, multi-shaped, multi-coloured smörgåsbord that is a Bento Box can repel and delight in equal measure, depending on who is savouring its hidden treasures. A table/box full of assorted tastes and visual treats is my idea of heaven. The thought of putting something unknown into my mouth on the recommendation of Japanese hosts fills me with a joy that Xmas used to, about 30 years ago. And it is always, without exception, a culinary masterpiece jam packed with exotic flavour.
And the drinks? Last night I was drinking sho-chu (a strong wine made of wheat) mixed with vinegar and plum, and was made to feel like I’d just discovered alcohol again. Scott has got himself an addiction to sho-chu and oolong tea. And who could blame him? Without the bloated feeling of beer or the potentially hair trigger drunk that liquor can spring this stuff takes a while to get you there and is thoroughly delicious every step of the way. And all without the tiredness that drinking red wine can sometimes have on an evening out with friends.
Then there are the streets. A smoker’s dream. Nowhere else in the world are there so many people puffing on cigarettes. Indoors, outdoors. Young and old. Everyone is smoking tabs. And not to look hard.
People are also dressed in amazing clothing. Some merely stylish to the max and others kitted out in the kind of get up that American movies tell us people will wear 100 years in the future. And why the Hell not? Every store in Tokyo, no matter what they’re selling, from shoes to garden equipment, sells it with cute cartoons the likes of which are only seen by Western eyes on kids telly.
Society is structured on traditional values steeped in Buddhism therefore everyone takes pride in making the whole work effectively by governing themselves in a proper and respectful manner. Crime, while existing, is an organised and honourable vocation that the criminally minded can aspire to. There’s never been an ASBO written for a young thug here, the perks are just too great.
And then, of course, there are the fans. Loyal, respectful and diligent, they follow with patient tenacity, biding their time, determined to get a photo or autograph or presenting gifts laced with imagination and origami packaging.
And when collected in a venue, the cleanliness of which is completely alien to someone whose apprenticeship was served treading the beer and puke sodden boards of shit pits that make up most of the UK touring circuit, the noise they make is an ode to joy itself. Shrill and completely testosterone free the Japanese crowd makes a whistling squeal that sounds like a thousand kettles collectively and positively thrilled to make tea. Orgasmic and life affirming. This sound is one of the many reasons why The Wildhearts have stayed together for so long.
After a kick ass show at the Tokyo Liquid Rooms I’m startled to hear music business types charting out a three year plan of how the style of music will follow the current recession, based on previous recessions and the resulting shifts in style. The Japanese, it’s fair to say, aren’t a race of moaners.
Our hosts, the lovely Kaoru and the wonderful Coach, of Vinyl Junkie, follow us everywhere to make sure that we are looked after and the shows go off without a single hitch. Not many managing directors of record labels have this much of a relationship with the musicians they work with, maybe that’s part of the reason why the music industry over here is in such great shape?
In summary, I love this place. Fucking love it.
And it would appear, after 15 years of being invited back, that the feeling is entirely mutual.
Argita Gozai Mas, Banzai, Yopporai, let’s get high.