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Apes Abroad

Traveling Jam e-mails Ape Culture about Pop Culture in Japan.


From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: South Paw
Date: Saturday, January 17, 1998 4:14 AM

I have been doing Taiko (Japanese drumming) for a couple of days - it's a lot of fun and the group is cool. I'm actually drumming in a festival next weekend. I can't tell if they are happy to have me or if they think I'm a pain in the ass. They would never say either way -being Japanese and all. One of the guys was trying to tell me he was a lefty and spits out: "I am a south paw" - the things you hear in this country!

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Television
Date: Saturday, January 17, 1998 4:13 AM

What's Japanese TV like? It's premiere week here. Thursday they are doing ER live-wowee! We get X-files - that's about the only current t.v. show on non-cable t.v. They show Star Trek- The Next Generation and My So Called Life late, late at night. We also get Growing Pains. Cable, however, gives us access to Lois and Clark, Friends, The Simpsons, and some bad made-for-t.v. Movies. I don't have cable, but Naoko does. She's gotten it into her head that I like Lois and Clark and calls me over every Sunday night to watch it. I don't love it, but it's better than nothing, right?

Non-English Japanese TV is insane. Insane, crazy and nothing like you've ever seen. They are very fond of game shows. Only these aren't game shows like Bob Barker and crew - these are shows where famous people come on and do crazy shit just for the hell of it. I am very fond of one show - they do many variations on the "telephone game." (You know, in school, the first person in the row is told something and they have to repeat it to the next person and then at the end of the row you see if what the last person says is the same as the original sentence). So, for this program, they show the first person a picture and they have to act out the picture to the next person, etc., etc. It's pretty funny.

There's another game show where women crush cans with their breasts.

They are also quite fond of sex. There's a really smutty soap on every Monday night. They have no problem showing a man bent over a woman doggy style, both of them moaning like it's the best (non) sex they've ever had. Every week, the same two people have sex. Then, in the previews for the next week, they show the same two people having sex. Only, this week, the woman and man were having sex and they poisoned themselves right as they were about to climax. I don't know what direction the soap will take now.

There's another show where they have all the famous people watching these videos and you see them in the corner of the screen laughing or opening their mouths wide in horror. I have no idea what the point is of this show, other than allowing us to see the reactions of the famous people to the stuff going on in the video. They usually show something nutty - like someone getting mugged or mauled by a lion. Last night, it was the crazy antics of one of the guys from SMAP (a very popular band). A lot of the shows seemed geared towards giving famous musicians/actors airtime. This band SMAP has their own cooking show where the band is divided into teams and both teams cook the same thing for people and then the diners have to decide whose meal was better.

The Japanese are huge fans of cooking/eating shows. During the day, you will see cooking show-upon-cooking show. Pretty dull. On one show, the hosts are famous comedians, and they have a famous woman and a famous man come to dinner. They then serve a whole crapload of food and the famous man has to guess what the famous woman doesn't like and vice versa. So the whole idea is for the famous people to eat everything with a straight face and say "MMMMM...Delish" so the other one can't guess if they like it or not. And there's another show where the famous people have to cook a "dish of the day" and do it exactly like a gourmet chef does. So they see a video of it and try to replicate it. Nine times out of ten, it gets burnt/destroyed and apparently that's the hilarity of it all. They always eat it and say "mmm...delish" (they don't really say that - but that's how I translate it).

Another interesting thing is they use Japanese pop music in commercials like crazy people. Apparently, music TV hasn't taken off, so they use the commercial as their advertising medium. I can't tell you how many pop songs I know just because they use them for commercials. It's really sneaky, if you ask me.

Also, I've seen a commercial with Bruce Willis in it and another with Antonio Banderas. Apparently these guys get paid BIG BIG bucks to be in the commercials. Can you imagine if they did that back home? I'm surprised we don't hear about it at home.

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Karaoke/drink pouring
Date: Saturday, January 17, 1998 4:13 AM

On Friday night, I went to Taiko practice and got home at about 11. My friend, Carey, who lives in the same town as Taiko practice (about 10-15 min. away) wanted me to come over. I let her convince me because she dangled the possibility of a "real" bar in her town in front of my face.

We went to this bar - called "Venus", scary name, but you get used to this stuff here. Anyway - we could hear the karaoke from outside, but we couldn't resist the temptation. What if it was a real, live pub? Of course it wasn't - we open the door to the wailing of bad kareoke and the Mama-san (female owner/manager of a karaoke bar whose sole job is to make the customer feel welcomed and to pour their beer). Pouring someone beer is considered the utmost in polite here - in fact, pouring your own beer is rude, and drinking out of the bottle downright disgusting. Mama-sans tend to be the ultimate in peppy and happy - (they overdo it sometimes, if you ask me). Mama-san practically splits her sides hollering "welcome, welcome, please come in" and the rest of the bar flies joined in hooting and hollering god knows what (about 10 people) - probably upon seeing our faces (which, if they reflected how we felt, was trepidation and fear). Being "gaijin" (foreigners) we're used to being stared at, but this was crazy.

We decide to sit down and have a beer - I mean, how could we resist such a greeting? Mama-san sits with us and chats us up for awhile, all the time refilling our tiny little beer glasses as we empty them. Considering she had probably been bought drinks all night, she was speaking surprisingly clear Japanese that even I could understand. I don't know if she was drunk per se - but man, this gal was brimming with joy and happiness. What made it a little unsettling was the fact that you knew she was only doing it because that's her JOB. Eventually, we reached a communication brick wall and she called over one of the girls that worked for her and that was it for Mama-san.

Anyway - her English was amazing. She was a little spacey and I had a hard time talking to her because she was dressed like Elvira minus the pushed up boobs and Caucasian face. She seemed uncomfortable and unhappy and I felt weird, again, because she was only sitting there because she HAD to. We eventually finished our beers, Mama-san came over again - I think to tell us that we had to leave because it was after 1 a.m.

Saturday, I went to an onsen and bathed in volcanic water. How I love this about Japan. It's just so relaxing!

Sunday was Taiko performance with my peeps. It went pretty good - everyone was nervous for some reason, so it wasn't perfect, but, oh well. Then we had a little party at the Japanese flute player's house. He must be loaded because we were there to celebrate the addition to his house (a kitchen, living room, dining room and, what was the most important - a new bath). We had a feast, drank lots of alcohol and made merry. Oh yes, there was loads of beer pouring going on. It's kind of a tricky way to get you plastered because the people pouring will make you drink out of your glass first, then fill up your glass. Thing is, when you've got several people going around pouring beer, it gets you drunk right quick. Plus, the Japanese are such lightweights, within a half-hour, almost everyone was red faced and happy.

From: Traveling Jam
To: apemail@apeculture.com
Subject: Taiko
Date: Saturday, January 17, 1998 4:13 AM

Saturday I performed in ye olde festival for the Taiko group. It was, overall, a smashing success. They dolled me up in a pretty goofy outfit, put some horrendous lipstick on my lips and put me on stage in front of 2,500 people (for the second show - the first was only 350 people). I did ok but was a bit thrown off for the second show. I wasn't really nervous, but when I walked on stage (I was only in the big finale at the end) there was an audible gasp from the crowd - I was a whitey and what was I doing up there playing Taiko? I suddenly became aware that all these people were watching me and what if I screwed up? Of course I did - but it's such a loud number and everyone's banging around, I doubt anyone noticed other than my co-drummers.

Sunday was the "culture festival" at my highschool. It's basically like a school carnival - they sell food, have activities, projects, a karaoke contest, etc. I got to make "mochi" - which is rice that's mashed up into this sticky, sticky ball that you can barely chew and you feel like it's going to pull out every filling in your teeth. I like it though. The old fashioned way to make mochi is to put the rice in a wooden bowl - a big one, then two people whack at it with big ol' mallets. It's fun.

Read Traveling Jam's Other chronicles of life in Japan:
Ape's Abroad 2: Loose Sock Girls, Trip to the Big City, and Doraemon
Ape's Abroad 3: Penis Shrines and Roadkill
Ape's Abroad 4: Top 13 Likes and 8 Dislikes

More Ape's Abroad articles?

Leave your comments about living in Japan.


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