Thursday, May 19, 2011

Livehouses in Japan!

My interest in modern Japanese music

あぴ (Api (♀) ), vocalist and bassist of the band
1000say, at a small livehouse in Amerika-mura,
Osaka, playing this song I believe :D
I have to admit that music was one of my biggest factors in deciding to learn Japanese. I think my fascination started after hearing an ending song to an anime on television, but I have no clear recollection of which one exactly. Most Japanese animation shown on American television at the time was dubbed over in English, but the opening and ending songs remained in their original Japanese. At such a young age I had never really been exposed to a foreign language before. I'm sure I had seen some foreign movies or overheard conversations in foreign languages before (my mother occasionally spoke French with her relatives), but it was through these songs in particular that I became captivated by Japanese. I loved the sound of the language itself. I might have even had slightly unrealistic impressions of Japanese since I had been introduced to it mainly in well written song form. ^^ With all of these however  felt extremely disappointed that I couldn't fully grasp the meaning of them. Now, I do believe it's true that music can take on different meanings for others, evoke certain feelings and transmit meaning past language barriers, but I still longed to understand the lyrics of these songs. I've come a long way since then in terms of knowing Japanese, and consider myself very close to the goal of understanding most song lyrics (with the help of lyrics search engines and a trusty electronic dictionary). I used to think that Japanese music was excellent background/study music since I didn't understand the lyrics at all. Recently I've noticed that I can't concentrate as much as before since I can understand the lyrics now. I couldn't believe it, but I had partly achieved what I had first set out to do. It was a small goal, but one that left me with a feeling of accomplishment (though I will have to find some other background music now!).

'1000say' putting their heart and soul into the music

Coming to Japan was a dream come true, in one small part because I would be able to see some of my favorite bands in person. I've since attended 2 lives ("live concerts") of major bands in concert halls and "livehouses" (what the Japanese call small concert venues, and they can be very small), and a few other shows for less well known upstart bands. I've also had a tremendous amount of fun at small shows organized by clubs (like the Folk Music and Light Music Clubs) at Kansai Gaidai (more on these below).

An energetic live in the club building of Kansai Gaidai

Third-year Kansai Gaidai students covering songs of
one of my favorite Japanese bands, GO!GO!7188

The same concert in the clubroom, with around 20 people having fun moshing
(though they're careful not to bump into anyone not involved in the mosh)
 Similarities and Differences between Japanese and American live shows

Although I cannot speak about the concerts of every different genre of Japanese music (I am sure visual-kei and other genres not found so much in the U.S. are different), I would say that the similarities between the U.S. and Japanese alternative rock shows far outweigh the differences. The reasons for people to join bands and go see their favorite bands in person remain the same. "I love music, it's as simple as that", one student at Kansai Gaidai answered when I asked him why he joined the light music club at Kansai Gaidai. Many students I asked had always wanted to join a band, to have a feeling of membership in something. It was something that couldn't always be done before coming to college. This was their first real opportunity to meet people with similar interests as them and form a band as a way to express themselves. In my discussions with students around campus I also noticed similar responses to the question of why they went to see live shows.

"It's important to go see the bands live, support them, feel the sound of the music in your bones" they answered. I was surprised to hear another reason, to enjoy the show with fans of the same band. It seems that being identified as part of a group of people with similarly minded interests is important, but I find this true in America as well. I have certainly clicked with people who have the same music taste as me. ^^
I would like to share some very important differences that I find telling about Japanese society (or at least part of it; I don't want to generalize too much!). 
Seeing Chatmonchy (チャットモンチー) live in Kobe.
No photos allowed during the concert! ^^;;
  •  Japanese fans can attentively listen to the music when needed. That is, they're usually patient and respectful of the band and other fans around them. Westerners might find it unusual to see Japanese fans standing, attentively listening to the music and offering a round of applause at the end of the song instead of hooting and hollering. I've witnessed it many times and am still amazed by how quiet a Japanese audience can be when a slow, emotional song is played. I really enjoy this aspect of Japanese live shows. People can really get into the music (moshing frequently included), but when they need to be serious and respectful to the artists they can be. At concerts of similar size in America there would always be someone interrupting the quiet songs (at least in my experiences :) ). A Japanese student I interviewed say that he is struck by how even if fans are stuck in the back of the concert venue or field, they will still watch their favorite artists attentively and not push to get closer.
  • Expanding from the sentence above, there is much more order to Japanese concerts. The fans typically synchronize their hand movements, clapping or fist pumping in synchronization. I think this makes it easier for even shy people to join into the festivities. In America there's an emphasis on being an individual and differentiating yourself from others by dancing in a unique way. In Japan though I've found that there's a comforting sense to being part of a group. It may sound bad but it's far less so than I can express in writing. It's not that you can't be an individual at a concert in Japan. You can surely dance or enjoy the music however you want, but joining in the hand movements of the band members (usually the vocalists lead these) and other audience members gives a feeling of being connected to each other and the music. It also makes concerts a whole lot more fun if you can't dance (like me : ) ).
  • This point is very small but I had to say it. Towels!!! Small towels emblazoned with the name of the band is one of the most popular band goods sold in Japan. The fans usually wear them around their necks during the concerts as a kind of sweat band or fashion statement. This is something I definitely didn't see in music merchandise in America. 
I'll end this blog with the words (translated) of a Japanese student whom I talked to regarding popular music in Japan and the world today. "Regardless of the language or style of the music, its popularity or what others think or say of it, listen to music that really grabs (cries out) to you. Listen around, check out some live shows with friends, or meet some there! Find what music matters most to you and try making it yourself if you have the interest and time! And please come to our live shows here at Kansai Gaidai! 以上です!" :D

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