Wherein I Watch A Man Have A Box Of Pocky Thrown At His Stomach
October 3, 2009
Note: This entry might be a little more introspective/indulgent than others. You’ve been warned. But hey, it has been awhile!
I went on another “I really have no idea who any of these artists are but whatever” concert excursion into Osaka this weekend because the first one was pretty damn fun and I could always use material for this other blog I got going. Seeing as I slept in until 12:48 the day of my trip, this adventure also marked a first – what amounted to my first full day in Osaka. As long as we consider a “full-day” in terms of a welfare dude’s day.
Before the show started I had about an hour-and-a-half to wander around Osaka. Maybe I didn’t have my eyes open or just wasn’t blessed with enough rest, but this time around I really, really just gushed over the city. It’s just…so vibrant, so busy, so awesome. Every time I check it out the Chicago vibes get heavier, and this time wasn’t any different (stand on a bridge here and stare down at the rive and you might as well be in front of Tribune Tower). Except it dawned on me Osaka actually has a lot more stuff going on and is actually (gulp) ten times better than Chicago. Sorry to salt the Olympic-ring-shaped wound more, Chi-town.
Following a detour at a record store (they had the new Yo La Tengo!) and McDonald’s (they had a separate trash can for ice!), I walked town two flights of stairs beneath a bowling alley to the surprisingly large venue. I then promptly realized I’d found my home. Animal Collective’s “Summertime Clothes” blasted out of the PA system. I saw dudes wearing all sorts of awesome T-shirts, ranging from Teenage Fanclub to The Death Set. The DJs for the night, besides instantly finding a place in my heart for having “twee” in their name, played all sorts of twee music between sets (they also played a remix of the Ghostbusters theme, not sure what was up with that). People were dressed like hipsters but actually were into the music!!!! They had booze that wasn’t Zima. This was pretty much a scene I could love.
After discovering a niche group in Japan I could probably get on well with it dawned on me I would never ever be able to communicate with any of these people. Even in a hypothetical universe where I somehow become good at Japanese (a far cry from my current trajectory where I’ll probably be pretty good at it right around the time I’ll be leaving Japan), it still seems incredibly daunting to execute knowledge of a language in a way beyond “human practice.” But lets ignore the language barrier – how do you start a conversation? What do you say to someone when you have no idea if they speak English or not? And, if they do, what happens when they reach their language plateau? Nobody is coming up to me, except a photographer who thought, due to my whiteness, I was in one of the bands playing tonight. For literally a second I felt like a rockstar, it was awesome. Anyways, I’ve always been hesitant to talk to strangers (makes me feel like a creep), and this makes it seem even more hopeless.
This has easily been the biggest challenge to life in Japan to the point where it’s the one thing that can really throw me into a downtrodden mood (as, I hate to admit, I’ve been in for like the last week). I’ve met plenty of great people so far but I don’t want to stop their. But meeting actual Japanese folk and developing some sort of connection is, to understate it, tough. At this concert I was surrounded by people who clearly had similar interests as me…that removes the daunting meeting-people hurdle of “is there anything we share in common or are they just obsessed with buying handbags.” Yet I couldn’t talk to anyone. So close, but even further away.
Of course, having these thoughts at a concert at all probably also goes a long way to explaining why I’m standing off to the side by myself – who wants to hang around some privileged “oh whoa is me” dork consumed by existential bullshit at a concert? That’s no fun. And, thankfully, I shook off the dumb feelings during the actual performances. But it definitely weighed on my mind…until the end of the show, when a moment of lost-in-translation-ness so awesome happened I couldn’t help but appreciate my outsider status.
Following the last artist a guy came up to the microphone and started talking. I had no idea what he was saying until he announced “secret guest” (in English). Oooooooh, bonus music! Or…not. A guy who looked like the Japanese Jonah Hill sauntered out from backstage and a bunch of people who had been chilling on the sides swarmed to the front of the stage. He started talking and people started laughing. I deduced he was a comedian.
The audience loved him, laughing and clapping at nearly everything he said. Even when he started making unintelligible sounds (definitely not Japanese or of this Earth, even) they ate it up. I stared at him unsure what emotion to display. Should I laugh along even though I have no idea what is going on? Should I look baffled and hope they give me a translated gag page? Should I just throw something out of him because I’m confused? I ended up soaking in the moment because I’ve (surprisingly) been in very few situations where I’m completely out of place. But here I was at an impromptu Japanese comedy show, bewildered. Complete with laugh track!
After asking the audience questions and pointing at women for a few minutes (?), mystery comedian rolled the bottom part of his t-shirt up to reveal his rather impressive belly. He then picked up a plastic bag and pulled out a big box of Pocky. My interest was piqued. He then slapped the box against his girth and, whoa, it stuck to him like velcro. A true miracle. He then gave the box to a girl in the first row and gave her instructions. She then threw the Pocky at his stomach, in an effort to stick it on him ala throwing a tennis ball at those weird circle-toys you put on your hands. This led to one of the few moments of language-barrier-breaking comedy, as the box went too low and almost hit him in the nuts…and he acknowledged this. I like my comedy simple and involving the groin. He then had someone else throw the box at him with the same result. Again, I laughed.
He closed out his set by taking out a mini-bottle of Coca-Cola and taking the cap off by rotating the bottle in his bellybutton. This was the most horrifying yet hypnotic thing I’d seen since Transformers 2. Forget finding a way to talk with the Osaka hipsters, I just want to hang out with this dude.
(Japanese Fun Fact #22 – I shouldn’t be surprised, but you can straight up just look at porn on the train here. The guy in-front of me was doing it without reservation. To be fair, he also read the comics page.)