Orphaned Amplifiers is the name of a band I started with a friend in 2012. I’d always wanted to play in a band, and soon after I moved to Japan I was fortunate enough to meet a kindred spirit who had already played a few solo shows and was interested in recording music with a guitarist. Not being the world’s greatest guitarist, I was initially daunted by the idea of playing in front of an experienced musician, let alone playing shows, but I soon learned that it doesn’t really matter, and you don’t have to be an amazing musician to make music.
So we salvaged a half-working amp from a second-hand guitar shop and we recorded some songs and we played some shows. We met after hellish work weeks on Saturday evenings and let off steam, with screams and shrieking feedback and smashed saucepan percussion rackets. We sampled whale noises and set them to pained laments for a lost past. We sang songs about Donkey Kong and turtles. It was awesome, and we didn’t record a note while sober.
The music we made was unconventional, and not the kind of stuff that gets played on the radio. And the way we recorded (sometimes on a laptop through one mic, but more often through an iPhone in single live takes) ensured that it would never be easy to get much attention. And our band’s story lacked a compelling narrative. So we didn’t become rockstars. But as with many things in life, the arc from start to finish was more important.
Without going into all the tedious details, my life is much better now than it was when we started out, and a huge chunk of that is down to boost in self-esteem that being in a band gave me. So we never ‘made it’? So what? Some of my best memories came from making music, from making stuff that, even if no one else in the world liked, at least I liked. If you want to do something creative, do it. Who cares what anyone else thinks? Do what makes you happy. We’re all going to die anyway.
Sometime around midnight tomorrow we’re going to play what will likely be our last show. It’s kind of sad, but it’s also kind of fitting, since the venue is the studio where we recorded almost all our music, and the place where I eventually figured out that it’s alright to be a semi-proficient guitarist, and it’s alright to make stuff other people hate, and it’s alright to be yourself.
Studio Dom, Koenji, doors at 11.
A lot of people have a very mistaken idea of what Japanese TV is like, largely because of YouTube clips taken from bizarre Japanese gameshows and/or Takeshi Kitano’s 1980′s TV show Takeshi’s Castle. The basic format of these shows is that contestants vie with each other to complete humiliating and often impossible tasks for the amusement of the viewer. Takeshi’s Castle was very popular in Japan during it’s lifespan and the TV gameshows of popular Western imagination were briefly popular as well. However, the shows scandalised older viewers to such an extent that they demanded that the TV stations reign in their degenerate programming, with the result that, today, Japanese television is almost entirely beige vanilla nonsense.
Now ‘variety shows’ dominate TV schedules and, despite their name, they are all incredibly similar and predictable: they invariably involve some combination of a quiz, bad slapstick, loud comedians in ‘wacky’ outfits, near-silent beautiful women, ridiculous over-reactions and lots and lots of people saying “Eeehhh?!” in feigned disbelief at the drop of a hat. “The Czechs drink the most beer per capita” – “Eeehhh?!”, “Penguins don’t live in the Arctic” – “Eeehhh?!”, “Bears shit in the woods” – “Eeehhh?!”.
Sugi-chan, a typically “wacky” Japanese comedian who is not funny.
The other ubiquitous staple of Japanese television are cooking/restaurant shows in which some G-list celebrity samples a restaurant’s food and announces to the camera that it’s delicious. The format of this kind of show never changes, and everything is always deemed “delicious”. There are no exceptions, ever.
Finally, watching sports highlights on television here is quite perplexing because the TV stations usually only show the Japanese teams’ points/goals/passages of good play. This means that it can be surprising when the final score appears at the end of the highlights package and shows that, despite seemingly racking up a huge score against an apparently hapless opposition, the Japanese team has in fact, somehow, lost the match.
I’ve been living in Japan for the past few years and overall it’s been wonderful. Like living in an enchanted, high-tech lost country, apart from the outside world and time itself. However, nothing lasts forever and I’ll most likely be moving on within year, so what follows are some posts about life here and the general gaijin experience, starting with some belly-aching about Japanese television.