These days people are constantly taking photos, it’s just so easy with the likes of digicams and camera phones, everywhere snap, snap, snap. With all this amateur photography going on, I picked up pretty quickly that the Japanese also say cheese before taking a photo.
Armed with this knowledge I was very happy that during my first trip to Odaiba, a Japanese family asked me to take their picture. So I put the viewfinder up to my eye and shouted “Say CHEESE!”.
I got nothing, no response, no reaction.
Slightly embarrassed I took the photo, gave them the camera back and made a hasty retreat. You see, Japanese people do indeed say cheese, or more accurately “Hai, Chizu!”, before they take a picture. However it seems to be for no apparent reason. Saying cheese is an attempt to get the person whose picture you are taking to smile but in Japanese the ZU sound will only ever get people to make an O with their mouths and all look as though they have just solved a difficult problem.
Although it seems impossible, there is a way to get Japanese people to smile when taking their picture. All it requires is a simple maths problem. Just say “1+1 is?” (ichi tasu ichi wa?) and people will reply “2!” (ni). The “ni” should create a nice wide smile in your quarry.
Ironically if you tried this in England people would just say “two” and look as though they had just solved a difficult problem.
The iPhone has become mega popular in Japan, it seems as though almost everyone has one. Softback, the sole carrier of the iPhone in Japan, has made significant ground on its rivals because of Apple’s swanky device. This is despite (according to my friends) having much worse coverage.
DoCoMo, the number one mobile operator in Japan has decided to hit back with a multi-celebrity led advertising campaign. Who should they get in an attempt to muscle business back from Softbank?
Squeaky clean J-pop starlet (and guilty pleasure), Kaela Kimura.
Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader.
Tom Cruse’s mate off The Last Samurai, Ken Watanabe.
That’s just about the strangest combination of people I’ve every seen try to sell anything. Also they all seem to be saying: “I am <insert name here>’s mobile phone”. It doesn’t really seem to make sense to me.
Anyone ever seen an odder mix of people advertising a product?
Going to gigs in Japan seems to be split into two distinct camps, big concerts and live houses.
Up until fairly recently I only have been to see the big bands, the AC/DCs , X JAPANs, Radioheads and Shiina Ringos of this world. What all these gigs had in common was an insanely large hall, a funky stage and were all seated. When I first arrived at these gigs I was shocked, who wants to sit down to listen to rock music? As it turned out no one did. As soon as the music starts everybody stands up. Some jump up and down a bit, some have a wiggle but everyone basically stays in more or less the same place not really doing too much. The chairs thing really just seems to be there to stop people from moving around.
All the concerts I went to in the big halls I really enjoyed, all had great moments and were worth the (large amount of) money but I felt they were missing something. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was though.
And then I went to see a few gigs at live houses, with smaller bands such as GO!GO!7188, Oreskaband and Midori. These live houses are basically small stages in little empty halls with not much else in them other than a bar. It’s at these gigs I discovered what the bigger ones were missing, being up close and personal with a band and their fans.
These bands are less well known, the venue is smaller, the fans are generally more hardcore and have invested a lot in the band; the atmosphere is just more electric. The fans really seem to express themselves more. At the large venues people seem to call out things like “I love you” and “You’re amazing” or do the dance moves that are expected of them (The X Jump for example). While at the small gigs people are moshing, jumping about wildly, crowd surfing, and sweating like hell. So much so that most people carry towels with them, which I find quite cute.
I feel that the bands really get off on this atmosphere too. While the big bands are big bands for a reason and are generally great at what they do, everything is highly polished. With the likes of raising platforms, pyrotechnics and choreographed dancers, you feel everything has been rehearsed and rehearsed, not leaving anything to chance. The smaller bands meanwhile interact with the audience more, they have a chat, give them set list options and you can see them really get a charge from it. Some hang around after the gig and don’t mind people coming up to them to say hello. In the case of Midori, a band whose members I’ve discovered are a bit mental, the lead singer does things like crowd surf, strip to her underwear and push the drummer off his drums only to start playing them really, really badly.
I would have enjoyed that particular carry on a bit more if it wasn’t for the fact I had just lost my watch and been elbowed in the face, twice.
Who am I kidding? I loved it, every last second.
Now, I would try to compare going to see bands in Japan with going to see bands in the UK but honestly, I can’t. I mostly went to festivals while at home and can only remember seeing Metallica and Idelwild at their own gigs. The only thing I even remember about the Idelwild gig is that I enjoyed the support more than them. That point actually brings me to the only comparison I can actually make: I have yet to see anyone play in Japan with a support band, I should stop expecting any to be there.
Anyway, I leave you with some wise words from Mariko Goto, the lead singer of Midori.
Why is it that in the UK music in other languages rarely gets mentioned? A song can be popular the world over but just because it’s in German or something it is doomed to failure in the United Kingdom.
Since I’ve been in Japan, and even beforehand if I’m honest, I have discovered a fair number of great bands and singers and I think it is time to share them with you now.
JUDY AND MARY
Judy and Mary were a pop punk band mostly active in the 90s who had so much energy. The band’s front woman, Yuki has one of those voices, really high and it comes as a bit of a shock after a rocking guitar riff. If you look past that though you soon get used to it and can be treated to some strange and eclectic stuff. Since they disbanded Yuki has gone on to have a very successful solo career, but other then having fabulous videos, I don’t think it has been a patch on her work with JAM.
Go! Go! 7188
This band is a strange one. Apparently they started as a Judy and Mary cover band back in the day but then branched out and started to write their own songs. The thing I find odd about them is that while they have written some brilliant, brilliant songs the rest are just a bit samey and they stick to the same formula religiously. Another thing worth noting is that I once went up to the bassist (the girl on the left) and told her I loved her. She looked scared.
It’s hard to define Midori’s style of music. My best attempt would be to say it is Jazz played in the style of a death metal band. They seem to be very proficient at their chosen instruments but sometimes tend to ignore this in favour of just hitting them over and over. Their lead singers voice ranges from sugary sweetness to demon from the pits of despair. Probably the only band I know with songs that have cute duets followed by a girl barking like a dog for the whole chorus. Can be a bit hit and miss sometimes but it is wonderful that they are trying to do something so different.
Also whoever decided to do this photo shoot with them deserves a prize.
Have I ever mentioned I like this lady’s music before? Oh yes! Here, here, here, here and here. Go listen to her, she is incredible.
On another note, in this picture her right and left side look like two completely different people! For a woman who is so obsessed with symmetry I find this slightly ironic.
Ringo’s band. I once read them described as a multi-headed hydra, all pulling in different directions. In a way I agree, all of it’s members are very talented but together there is no leader and the music lacks cohesion and it dilutes everything they do. Saying that though it’s still Shiina Ringo singing. I think this band really does shine when it plays live, just search “Dynamite Out” on Youtube for some of the most wonderful live music (and the most wonderful hat ever too).
X Japan are pretty legendary, they more or less invented Visual-kei music but in all fairness that is more of a look and less about the music. In reality they are just a great speed metal band all of whose members are very, very talented at what they do. Yoshiki, the band’s main creative force, is both an excellent drummer and excellent pianist. It is sometimes shocking to so a man who plays the drums so hard he needs to wear a neck brace suddenly change instruments and play a beautiful piano piece.
The pillows were the first Japanese band I really got into. I discovered them through a quite barmy anime called FLCL. Their music is a lot of fun and for a time in the late 90s to the early 00s they could do no wrong and would pump out great album after great album. They are still active now but for perhaps the last 5 years their albums have seemed a little dull and by the numbers, which is a shame.
So that’s a few bands who have been notable in my Japanese music listening life. There are plenty more good’uns out there that I haven’t mentioned and hopefully that I’ve still to discover. Still I hope after this you give the bands I’ve mentioned a bit of a google, it really is worth it.