Monday, 8 October 2012

Sing me a song

In an effort to cast the widest net on possible random encounters, I like to do my kanji reps in the most conspicuous place possible. So far I've re-connected with a girl I met in Canada and had a student society ask me to pose for a picture, but my most fruitful catch finally paid itself off last night.

Tuesday afternoon, a big Japanese guy interrupted to ask if I spoke English. Less preferable than asking if I speak Japanese, or, better yet, simply assuming that I do, but I let it go. He was promote his friends' “live,” transplanting the word from its usage in Japanese. I think my favourite of all is Japanese people who insist on speaking English to me but can't.

It was in Umeda, making it a fairly weighty chronological and financial investment, but I was down. It does my old heart good to get into town sometimes, and I also love Oosaka. Trouble was, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to get there. The ignominy of being a grown adult unable to perform everyday tasks momentarily breaking me, I left Jugs the following Skype message to wake up to:

“i can't figure out how to ride the train to fucking oosaka and it's so fucking frustrating. fuck this, god fucking damn it. after looking at maps for the last hour and having it explained to me by two different people i still don't fucking get it. i mean i seriously can't make any fucking sense of it whatsofuckingever motherfucking god fucking damn it motherfucking fuck. fuck this, i mean why the fucking fuck can't i fucking figure this fucking stuff the fuck out, there's no fucking reason i should be fucking having this fucking much fucking trouble with this load of fucking fuck”

But in a flash of insight I spotted a circuitous, expensive dogleg entailing two line changes and a five-minute walk, but at least I knew what the hell I was doing. I departed at 4 pm, three hours early. I'd have a comfortable buffer if I had trouble finding the place, and if not I could enjoy a nice walk in my favourite city. My Kyouto map snapshot was uselessly blurry, my Oosaka one was tragically out of date, and I somehow caught the local train, but I finally made it.

Though not as grandiose as, say, Shinjuku, Umeda Station's above-ground portions alone occupy an entire city block. Merely breaking free of its grasp proved a task in itself, but after that I was basically there. It was now 6:30. Minoya Hall was said to be only about ten minutes “on your foot” in a straight shot down the road. All I had to do was head north and if I kept my eyes open I should find it.



Which way's north?

I spent the next hour and a half looking for it.

Umeda is very shiny.
Kinda like an Oosaka Times Square. Felt like such a tourist taking a picture of the stupid Coca-Cola sign so this is the best shot you get.
We all know about these but I'd never actually seen one before.
Some observations:

1. There are a lot more foreigners in Sanjou than in Umeda. That might have something to do with the day of the week (19:00 on a Sunday has to be the stupidest timeslot imaginable) but I went blocks and blocks without seeing another white face.
2. A corollary to the above, there's much less English signage in Umeda, despite Oosaka being a much larger population centre. Perhaps Kyouto is simply a more attractive tourist destination; after all, it was the capital during the Heian Jidai, arguably the most culturally important period in all of Japanese history. Kimono, tea ceremony, the Fujiwaras, a certain breed of samurai – you name it, Kyouto was the source of it. Oosaka, on the other hand, was a strategically important harbour.
3. Umeda is awesome. I've only been to Oosaka a handful of times and I've had a blast each one. There's a really great energy and exciting atmosphere and there's a lot more people. Actually, if I could have picked a university in Oosaka instead of Kyouto, I would have.

Unfortunately, I made no tangible progress whatsoever. I asked some police officers and they looked at me like I was fucking with them.

I caught a lucky break when I came upon Nakazakioho Station, and was able to kind of triangulate my own position relative to the venue. This was my last-ditch effort. I had to backtrack quite a ways to make sure I was on the right road, and soon another twenty minutes had elapsed.

“Oh, fuck this,” I finally thought. “At this point I might as well start thinking about cutting my losses and either finding something else to do or heading home. This is so fucking frustrating, I'm never gonna find this--”


My eyes cut off my brain in mid-sentence. No way. I got closer and scanned the ground floor. “Minoya Hall.” Holy shit, I'd actually found it.

Tentatively pushing past the people milling outside the place and in a little anteroom, I strolled inside and found it in intermission. Well, I was almost an hour late. I scanned the room and was pleased to see that of the fifty or so people occupying it, I was the only foreigner. Also, everyone was politely seated, whereas in Canada they'd be dancing, screaming and also probably tripping balls. I took up a chair, felt awkward, and was considering striking up a conversation when the lights dimmed.

The guy hadn't explained it very well, but I'd gathered it was a few bands playing at a bar or something. It transpired to actually be a number of a capella acts in a performance hall. Nowhere close to what I was expecting, but I was pleased. A capella is awesome. A couple of songs were tool-assisted and one guy had a harmonica (which he called something else – a “flute-sure” or something), but for the most part they were faithful recreations of Japanese and American pop and hip hop songs, and it's amazing to hear what they can do with their voices. I heard “Hot Stuff” performed by some definite hot stuff, Lady Gaga's “Telephone” performed by Ashlee Simpson if she were Asian and a little more attractive, and, by the same group, the perennial Black Eyed Peas favourite “Let's Get Re-started.”

Every group came from a different Kansai-area university, and it was pretty clear they were by and large playing for the same group of people who had been to their last zillion shows, saying stuff like “nice to see you again,” and bullshitting self-indulgently on stage, and in one case outright forgetting to introduce themselves, doing do only as an afterthought towards the end “for those of you who've never seen us before.” After the show they lined up on the sidewalk to thank everyone for coming by. I'd been waiting for this. So I got right in there.

I've been thinking I'd make a great groupie, because I love hanging around musicians. Their unique perspective on music is fascinating, and I also find it quite easy to draw parallels between myself learning Japanese and a musician learning an instrument, such as in the practise required and the value gained. And a musician who knows he or she has just played a good set emits an infectiously positive vibe that's a lot of fun to watch.

Finally, all you have to do is tell them you like them and they'll love you forever. One of the girls just about cried when I told her what a great job she'd done singing. She explained that she was worried about the differences between Japanese a capella and Western a capella, which she saw to be the “true” version of the genre, and had furthermore been sweating bullets over her pronunciation for the last two months, so having a native English speaker complement her like that was incredibly vindicating.

Hey, I mean, you know. I do what I can.

Everybody was decent but two groups in particular caught my eye, and I asked them when their next lives are. Gonna try and make it a bit of a regular thing. Of course, everyone I talked to asked if I did a capella (another parallel: One of the first things I try to ascertain when meeting someone new is if they speak any foreign languages.) Also, for some reason in both groups every single girl is extremely good-looking. I ran my usual game, such as it is, of napsing out some overly fluent Kansai-ben and managing not to talk too much. One of them wants to be my friend, so I guess there's that? The party broke up sooner than I'd have liked, but I walked away thinking, “This is why I'm in Japan.” To enjoy myself, to meet Japanese people, and to do things I'd never be doing in Canada. What better use of a Sunday night?

After talking to a few people I managed to find a couple of girls willing to help me divine my way home, which is good, because without them I'd probably have ended up in Nara or something. No, seriously – I've actually had this happen before, so I was only too grateful. Their smiles said “no problem,” but their body language said “let's hurry this up.” They were going to dinner afterwards, and I tried to see if I might be able to slide in, but they explained that everyone was breaking up by school and so it would probably be inappropriate. Naturally, the group from my school had already fucked off on home. Assholes. Don't they realise I need to get out more? Whatever, they were all guys anyway.

So I was able to make it back to Sanjou, where I tried and failed to run into anybody I might know, and then connected to the wrong train and ended up having to walk for an hour in unfamiliar territory, only finding my way back through logic, intuition and dumb luck. Baby steps.

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