Sunday, January 16, 2005


The Sting concert tonight in Hiroshima was great. He sang a lot of fun new songs, but my favorites were the oldies. He played several Police tunes. He even said "Thank you" in Japanese (domo arrigato) after each song, and introduced his band as "Kipper-san", etc. I go to concerts here whenever I can, and I have issues when the artists don't even try a little Japanese.

Going to concerts in Japan is a unique experience. The Japanese are the most well-behaved audience you can imagine. They do get into it and clap their hands along with the music, but for the most part, it's the type of clapping one might expect at the opera. Also, I don't know how well this is going to translate, but something really funny happened tonight that I've seen before at other concerts. Sting was playing one song (I forget which one) and to get everyone pumped up, he had the audience chant part of the lyrics over and over. The particular phrase was something about living your life and not letting anyone tell you what to do. It was funny to me because, if I may, the Japanese are the last people who are going to not let anyone tell them what to do. Conformity is a proud part of their culture. I hope that comes across right. The same thing happened at a Bon Jovi concert I went to a few years ago. Bon Jovi has this rocker-anthem called "It's My Life" and it's all about doing whatever the hell you want. The Japanese kids around me at that concert knew every word to that song, and I just found it ironic to watch them pump their fists in the air and yell "It's my rife." Most of them still had their uniforms on from the school day.

One thing that was kind of irritating tonight was that there were monitors walking around the floor during the entire concert. I think they were there to correct people who stood too far away from their designated space. The chairs were tiny and, as I was on the end of a row, (and got tired of my neighbor being practially in my lap), I put one foot out in the aisle to get a little extra space. Immediately two men started walking towards me. I pulled my foot back into my designated space, and they just looked at me and then walked off. Along the same lines, on the way to find parking before the concert, I "cut" in line (with my car) to get into the cue to enter the garage. It's not quite as rude as it sounds (almost, but not quite) -- I'd waited for maybe five minutes blocking other lanes of traffic (I had no choice -- it's how that street is set up) while trying to catch someone's eye to let me into the line of waiting cars. However, the rule here is that you're not being rude if you don't look someone in the eye, so you can flash your lights or honk your horn (I mean, if you were crazy you could -- no one actually does that stuff here) but unless you catch someone's eye, you're not going anywhere. It's the same way in regular traffic when lanes merge. Every single driver tries to avert their eyes, pretending not to see you. If you finally catch someone's eye, they have to let you in. At that point, it would be impolite not to.

All of that to say that when I cut in line, a policeman immediately ran 1/2 a block to my car to scold me. He knocked on my window and, looking very distraught, started speaking a lot of Japanese to me. I played the gaijin (foreigner) card, which I very rarely do, and pretended that I didn't know that he was telling me that I couldn't cut in line. Gomen nasai. Nihongo wa wakarimasen. That is something like, "I'm so sorry -- I don't understand Japanese." We went back and forth a few times and then he told me that I could go. I think it's safe to say the policemen here don't have a lot to do.

All of this orderliness constantly makes me want to behave badly. I really have issues with compliance just for the sake of compliance, so I regularly find myself wanting to do crazy things. It's the "Question Authority" part of me. Or maybe it's the American in me. I'll post more on this later because it's really the one thing that I can't deal with in Japan.

Back to Sting -- something I've noticed at every concert I've gone to is a big bouquet of flowers when you enter the concert hall. I assume it's just to welcome the artist, and ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arranging with origins in Buddhism) is a big deal here. The flowers are always beautiful. I snapped this picture with my phone on the way out.

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