I’m not a huge fan of ‘political punk’ or the ‘good ol days’ of MRR, back when MDC got called out on the front cover of the magazine for (gasp!) taking a plane instead of a bus to one show. "Sell-outs!" That shit was never my deal.
But I think Western punks take it for granted that “fight the fuckin’ system, maaan” is kind of the foundation of hard-core.
I don’t think that is the case with Japanese punk, however. I think most of these Japanese guys never had any fundamental beliefs like SxE, vegan, anti-war, anti-corporation, etc.
First thing is you have to understand about Japan and "punks-vs-society is" 転向 (tenkou). Tenkou literally means an abrupt 180-degree turn; an about-face. In contemporary society it means when you turn 22 or 23 you stop being a subculture person and turn into a housewife or full-time working man. This is true whether you are blue-collar or white-collar. In other words, society tolerates oddly-dressed young people with the implicit understanding that they’ll stop that nonsense when they turn 23. This tenkou system is breaking down a bit since the life-time employment system is ALSO breaking down, but tenkou is still a real thing.
I can’t speak for scenes in Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, etc. but in Tokyo basically the difference between a real and fake punk occurs when they get to that age. if they keep being a freak after 23 then they basically are saying, "OK, I’ll work construction for the rest of my life."
and that sacrifice = being a real punk.
The sacrifice to one’s career prospects, being forever barred from mainstream society takes the place of the ideas and philosophies (i.e. straight edge, anti-globalization, anarchy, etc) that are the foundation of western punk. Which necessarily leads to a kohai / senpai system (seniors over juniors): the only way you can have credibility is by refusing to tenkou, getting kicked out of society, and that takes time.
This ‘tattoos instead of ideas’ system is really,really good for weeding out those twin bogeymen of the scene: posers and sell-outs. (because society won’t LET you be anything else than a ditch-digging scumbag if you burned your bridges by refusing to tenkou.).
But it’s not good for booking the best bands at a show, antagonizing the squares, producing new styles of music, or – more important – attracting the energy , impertenance, and balls-out chimpanzee anarchy OF THE KIDZZZ. Serious , Try finding teens at shows here. Everyone is 30 or up. AT ALL AGES SHOWS.
I say this without anger : the scene is totally irrelevant to anything.
The punks here sequester themselves in their own little corner and basically scede from society rather than challenging it. . There are no politics in the western sense. Your politics is basically "Fuck society, I’d rather push a shovel forever than submit to your rules." This sort of passive-aggression is – well – very typically, traditionally Japanese.
So, that’s why you got these expensive limited edition records (because only them and their friends was SUPPOSED to have the records) , no photos allowed (because only their friends are SUPPOSED to take pictures) , and shutting out most newer bands instead of supporting them, because “They aren’t real.”
I’m not saying that those western beliefs (sXe, anti-corporation, vegan, anti-homophobia, anti-rock-star etc.) are all cool, or even interesting. I’m just saying that in a scene where older bands have goals of changing society, the older bands will be more inclusive towards newer, younger bands, and try to include new people in ‘the scene’, if only to try to spread the word about the beliefs. And that never happened over here. No incentive! Back in the day, if a punk band guy didn’t mingle with fans, he would (rightly or wrongly) be called a rock star. But Tokyo’s scene is more like rap than punk: As Ice Cube said, If you don’t know me, “get off my dick and tell your bitch to come here.”
At best shows are an expression of brotherhood, like "I love you, man! You guys are the reason my decision was worth it." At worst, it’s a bunch of angry grand-dads who literally are not allowed to go anywhere else on a Saturday, silently slogging through another long boring crossed-arms evening.
So, in short, don’t think about it like "fashion" versus "real politics." Only a Westerner would make that the particular line in the sand.
Making the choice to drop out, live a life of poverty, get tattoos and be exiled from most places is a real serious decision with real consequences. But – get this – to get inked up and say "fuck tenkou!" is seen as deeply deeply personal, and so the idea of music changing other peoples’ points of view is considered totally irrelevant!
I have never seen punks at marches or union events. People don’t do the ole’ “This is a song about. . . .” intros, nor do they hand out flyers for protests or call out politicians by name. They are still really fucking angry, though! But the battle is mostly internal – the fight to stay strong! to myself! for freedom! Fight everyday! Never give up! (as if a 30 year old dry-waller had Establishment types beating down his door trying to tempt him with offers of BMWs and cushy legal jobs – But whatever)
On one hand, I kind of get it: if Mr. So-and-So grew up in a poor family and was raised on The Streetz, running with gangs and shit, it makes sense he’d try to find the hardest ,heaviest music that he could, and go crazy at shows. But on the other hand, if there’s no revolutionary beliefs or goals behind the music, then how is Mr. So-and-So different from his dad, who also grew up in the ‘hood? And if he’s basically his dad, what’s he doing playing this crazy punk rock music? Why not play dad music? That is why I never liked Boston Hardcore, but that’s another story.
I guess that’s it: I’m not mad because I can’t become this big-shot scene guy, I’m just mad because I’ll never know how everyone is different from his dad.