Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Crazy Japanese band concerts

It never ceases to amaze me how crazy Japanese people can get! Underneath the surface of their carefully groomed, calm exteriors, are giggle fits, party animals, and even cravings for a good fight waiting to be unleashed!

OK, honestly, a school band concert can only get so crazy. But I was pretty impressed by the level at which they took it. It started off tame enough, very formal with lots of “speeching” (can’t do anything without a few speeches in Japan) and bowing. Here’s their rendition of a pretty standard American march:

Do they sound good or what? Did I mention that these kids don’t have band class? Only "brass band club" which meets after school, on weekends, and school breaks. Percussion has it particularily hard. Not only do they have to know the standard percussion instruments, but at least one of them has to play the harp because the Japanese add it to a lot of songs! They also use the stringed bass on most songs to fill out the tuba sound, and on occasion a cello and piano, so "brass band" isn`t really the best description of a Japanese school band. And every trimester they give a two hour-long concert! That’s in addition to other little performances they do at festivals, school events, and contests. If I ever hear an American band kid complain again I`ll tell them to appreciate how easy they have it! No marching band in Japan, though, unless you count marching down a one kilometer road during a festival.

The student classical portion was followed by the “OB” band. Apparently our brass band is so popular (it is number two in the prefecture) that parents and alumni just have to have their own too. Unfortunately I couldn`t get any of their songs to download because the videos are too long, but it was more jazz-type stuff, including a medley of Golden Age Broadway songs.

Then after a fifteen minute intermission, the bands combined for a “jazzed up” performance. That’s when things got crazy. Here’s the warm up:

Japanese people and mamba...interesting! But then I suppose they do have their own sort of tropical island culture in Okinawa.

And then add the cute little anime characters fighting on stage to a medley of cartoon music. (For those who don’t know, “anime” is the Japanese word for “animation” and their industry for it is about 10X that of the United States, no joke, probably making up over half of their network programming. I have no idea what this anime is supposed to be; I don’t watch TV).

There must have been about three of four anime songs, but I only recognized one: Sailor Moon. Watching that as a child, I had no idea that Japanese high school girls actually do wear sailor suits to school as a uniform and if they`re really rebellious, dye their hair blond. One more interesting thing about Japan: what was popular when I was a kid is STILL popular now. Nothing ever goes out of fashion. The kids at my school STILL watch Sailor Moon, Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Transformers, and a thousand other shows that went out of vogue ten years ago in America. Oh, that goes for clothing styles too. It’s not at all uncommon to see a family walking down the street together, the grandmother wearing a dress from the 1960s, the mother wearing a mini-skirt made of snake skin from the 80’s, and the daughter wearing some atrocious mishmash of fishnet leggings, ruffled skirts, feather boa, and gigantic sunglasses. The Japanese honestly have no fashion sense whatsoever. They just throw on whatever they think looks cool (or clashes the most; I haven’t figured out which). Anyway, that Sailor Moon video, though she doesn`t come on until the end:

Can you guess which one is her? That’s right, the blond. Why, oh why, do main characters in Japanese shows or comics or games and just about everything else almost always have blond hair? It’s not like any Japanese people naturally do, and the characters are all very Japanese. But then, why do some characters have blue or pink or purple hair? Honestly, I think it’s a cheat. Japanese animation tends to be very poor quality due to the mass production of it, and therefore they have to use something really big and obvious to make each character stand out and be recognizable (gigantic multi-colored eyes and completely unproportioned body parts help with this too). And how am I such an expert on Japanese animation when I never watch it (except for that one time last week with my host family)? Because Japan is obsessed with cartoon characters. You see them at the grocery store advertising products on wrappers and the mini TV screens, on kids’ and TEACHER’s pencil bags, on postage stamps, on bill boards, on road signs. I’m not exaggerating! In Tokyo and Osaka you can even see adults dressed up as their favorite characters on the weekend! They sell the costumes at my local super market. Despite all it’s austerity in the business world, Japan is waaay too obsessed with cute things. It’s called the “kowai” culture. OK, so it’s fun and I guess it’s how they “break out” of their rigid societal rules, but unfortunately it also leads to a subculture obsessed with pedophilia. Cute is associated with sexy. All the half-dressed models staring out at me from the convenience store’s magazine window either look terrified or are wearing some sort of cute, little school girl uniform with pigtails. The face of a child but a bosom the size of a boat. It’s more than a little disturbing.

On a lighter note, after that they did a Disney medley. Did I mention that they never outgrow Disney either? Every couple I’ve met says it’s their dream to go on a date to Tokyo Disney Land. Disney princesses aren’t just for little girls in Japan. I’ve seen adult teachers with Disney princesses decorating every corner of their desks. And then there’s the odd “Hello Kitty” weddings at Universal Studios, Osaka. Really? You want a cartoon character to marry you? That’s just too much.

Anyway, Japan also has a more traditional strand of cartoons too. (Actually, anime falls in just about every genre imaginable from historical to science fiction to reality TV, though 90% of them have to do with ridiculously cute underdressed high school girls fighting evil monsters and thus getting the tar beaten out of them and the other half of their clothes ripped off. Could this in any feasible way be a healthy obessesion?) OK, so America isn`t any better, especially when you look at popular comics like Sin City and what not. The very nature of animation and cartoon is to produce wild fantasies and distort the human body. But all that aside, this guy is a Samurai fighting ninjas, so it`s supposedly more "traditional" (but I`d bet anything he has a half-dressed female side kick or something). Here’s a video of that band piece, though I have no clue what anime it’s from:

But there is another thing Japanese people get outrageously crazy about other than cartoons. Baseball! Who would have thought? Anyway, here’s the baseball tribute, right smack dab in the middle of the World Cup Soccer tournament, no less. They didn`t miss this fact either and even pointed it out, stating that Japanese baseball beats any sport, any day. (I feel sorry for the soccer club members present.) The Japanese can be very unsubtle when they want to be:

And that’s when my camera ran out of memory. I didn’t get to take a video of the really sweet finale, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow!” sung half in Japanese and half in English. But here’s a really cool shot of the stage:

So the concert was from 2:00-4:15, a full two hours when you consider the intermission. As we left, all the band kids, in traditional Japanese fashion, stood outside the auditorium and in very practiced intervals shouted in unison at the top of their lungs “Arigato gozaimashta!” Thank you very much!

Thank you very much, band kids! That was probably the best non-professional band concert I’ve ever been to in my life! Normally I would have totally spaced out after an hour, but they made it entertaining for an entire two hours thanks to their creative gimmicks.

Prayer Requests for this week: I’m leaving to go camping this late Friday afternoon and am getting back on early Sunday afternoon! Pray for safety definitely. I hope it doesn’t rain. And Saturday is my birthday. I’m turning 24, wahoo! I think I’m right where I need to be for that age. Another praise I have is that the publisher I was desperately trying to get ahold of finally got back to me and they are reviewing my manuscripts now! Yes! But one of the ladies at the company, Kate Angelella, is on medical leave. I don`t know the details, though at the conference she had mentioned something about surgery, so please pray for her healthy and happy recovery. And now I’m going to get some free ice cream as Baskin Robbins thanks to their birthday club! Double Wahoo!

Until next time, stay genki (energetic and healthy) and keep praying,

Laura Jane Popp (L. J. Popp)

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