Sewing Machine Karaoke

Spring is a busy time in Japan, new school year, new college grads starting new jobs, moving, etc. There are all kinds of specials too for new school year clothes, new suits, shoes, business bags. With everybody so busy you might think there is little time for karaoke, so more than a few media heads turned when the mega karaoke chain Joy Sound offered a Brother sewing machine plus room rental campaign running from February to May. Why would anybody want to rent and use a sewing machine at a karaoke place?

There is a good reason behind it all. First graders are required to have a family made tote-bag. It cannot be store bought, and it has to be made by the family. Anybody will do, mom, dad, grandma, aunts, uncles and so on. The school teachers use it as an exercise to closely examine what the family comes up with. Is it sloppy or carefully made? Is it thriftily made with recycled cloths (high marks for that), or made with all new store bought cloth. You can tell a lot about the child’s family and parenting environment this way, and it helps teachers understand what the child’s educational needs are.

And so, spring is also sewing machine season to make all those first grader tote-bags. Offering sewing machine karaoke rentals is clever marketing because karaoke rooms are thoroughly soundproofed which small houses or apartments are not. And if the family member charged with marking the tote-bag wants to take a break, sing a song, order food, a beer, whatever, they can do that too. A win-win, though it does speak volumes on the current state of things when karaoke establishments need to with come up clever marketing ideas to fill their empty karaoke rooms.

Tricky time of year

The cherry blossoms in Tokyo are peaking today and while they are always enjoyable, the right weather rarely coincides for taking good pictures. The pink color only pops when there is clear blue sky that provides the right contrasting background and framing a picture that captures the expansive restless beauty is nearly impossible. For me the real beauty of cherry blossoms is how they constantly play with the light and wind. I find that video shot in the early morning light works best.

The Japan Gap

The energetic glam music lovin’ Okamisan of Matsuya Ryokan in Niigata

One of the fascinating things I find in Japan life is the delightfully unexpected mismatch of people and things that they do. I was introduced to this Japanese cultural phenomenon shortly after arriving here in 1984. A nice young girl who wanted to be a flight attendant invited me home for tea. I knew she only wanted to practice English but jumped at the chance. It was a nice time. I met her family and they were very kind. Her demure Junior High age younger sister said she wanted the honor of playing something for me. She got out her keyboard, hit the CD player button and started playing along with a screeching Twister Sister track, a virtuoso performance at top volume. After 3 minutes of mayhem she hit the stop button and transformed back into a polite demure junior high student.

Much later my Japanese partner told me lots of young demure looking Japanese high school girls love playing wild wooly heavy metal guitar solos in rock bands. “People like to have something or do something that isn’t part of their nature,” he said. It’s important to remember that the Japanese audience that went gaga for Queen and the Runaways in the 70’s was not guys, it was gals. I got a taste of it recently staying at the wonderful Matsuya onsen ryokan in Niigata. The Okamisan was a delightfully energetic woman who fed us well. After dinner relaxing in the common living room she asked if we’d like to listen to some music. We did and she put on a CD…Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody…at volume, this despite the classic Japanese ryokan atmosphere surrounding us.

At first I didn’t understand the phenomenon but over the years I have found Japanese culture and society to be much more accepting of human nature in many ways than the USA culture I grew up in. I think it’s part of the cultural DNA passed down from Shinto and Buddhism. Not that many westerners would agree with that assessment but is easy to see in countless manga and anime…if you pay close attention.

And so it goes that you find big beefy K-1 athletes who sport tiny cute Chihuahua pets, humongous Sumo wrestlers who like knitting and flower arranging, and little old ladies on the street taking huge dogs on a walk, with the dog walking them. In Japan nobody bats an eye at the Japan gap.

The Yesbutt

There’s a long running Japanese gag that goes like this: any discussion with a westerner is an endless loop of a Japanese person explaining something with the westerner cutting in with a ‘yes, but…’ hijacking the discussion without listening, a one way conversation. Yesbutt is the butt of the joke that is conversation with westerners…a comedy of yesbutts.

Once I was made aware that I was a yesbutt, I suddenly saw it everywhere, in my family, my western friends, and media in particular where ‘talking points’ are just endless yesbutts butting heads without discussion anything. Twitter of course is yesbutt heaven as is most social media. Why bother acknowledging somebody else’s point of view or opinion when social media ranking system ad revenue only rewards the biggest yesbutts?

Historically Japanese society has been very adept at dealing with yesbutts, and thankfully still have the ability to listen, though like most higher human behavior in the internet age, it has taken a hit. There is not much one person can do in the face of modern human society turning into one big yesbutt, but today at least, I endeavor not to be a yesbutt. And listen.

The Owakon

If you watch Japanese YouTubers like Heraiza you soon hear the buzzword ‘Owakon’. Owakon is one of those clever Japanese creations that combines ‘owari’ (over) + ‘content’ to create a handy new expression for ‘oh so over’ dead content. And it doesn’t only apply to things, it applies to people too, like ‘oh so over’ dead-tired, overexposed TV ‘talent’ living off the management company connections instead of real talent.

One of the many interesting realizations brought home by the COVID crisis: being stuck at home has only proved how dead Japanese TV is. Young people have turned it off and are streaming or watching YouTube. Proof? Look no further than the overflow of YouTube ‘Kaidan’ content. Kaidan (ghost stories), are a traditional folk performance so well loved in Edo era, also firmly engrained in the Rakugo cannon.

Kaidan YouTuber channels like Shinpei Shimada, Nana-fushigi, Toshi Boys (City Boys) Yachin no Yasui Heya (Cheap rent room) and countless others are fascinating…not so much for the content but the fact that these channels are pulling in viewers and ads. Money and eyeballs are going here instead of ‘Owakon’ TV. Nanafushiki is a duo who were working regional events and radio but never made it big on TV doing better than ever on YouTube.

Heraiza, as usual, deftly points out why Owakon TV talent does so badly when going YouTube. Her latest goes to the heart, er jugular, in her take down of TV comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako’s just announced ‘revolutionary’ new YouTube show: Farthest end of the world Restaurant. The problem? Nothing new and not enough sex, just tired old TV comedians and their management companies trying to escape Owakon TV.

Good luck with that.