Tokyo Damage Report

Japan book review 11: THE STATE BEARING GIFTS by Brian McVeigh


 buy it here.


This is amazing book about how Japanese daigaku (colleges) are "simulated learning" – teachers pretending to teach, to students who pretend to learn. That sounds like a pretty severe thing to say about a whole country's higher education system, but McVeigh lays down some serious evidence for it.

 

FRUSTRATING THINGS ABOUT THE BOOK

 

 First, all the sentences like this:

“Highlighting theoretical linkages between exchange theory and social dramatics has implications for comparative studies of political systems besides Japan’s, particularly in regards to modernity, social stability,and the ideological manufacture of legitimacy.”

 

Compare that to this Scientology training manual;

 

Once you've had the location cog, it is generally enough to just touch one and he realizes that he's not located, nor was he ever located in the first place and he frees up.   One thing that messes this up is to run NOTS processes "locating" BTs.   You can still spot where one happens to think he is, but if you push it, or search for one somewhere, you frequently find yourself forcing a BT to occupy that location.


Honestly someday somebody should systematically compare “out-there” academic jargon to rantings of Scientologists or schizophrenics just for fun. What rules of syntax make the two styles so eerily similar, and what social forces prevent us from stating that obvious fact out loud?

 

STATE BEARING GIFTS is interesting because out of all the “Japan” books I’ve read so far, this one is the only one that’s BOTH "liberate the people from capitalism! Speak truth to power and all that PC stuff!" but also totally:  “Japanese are all lying liars! Yeah, yeah, it’s their culture and yadda yadda, but so what: lies are lies. Call a spade a spade. I’m totally not interested in whatever ‘tradition’ you people use to justify this.”


The book’s main weakness is he didn’t interview anyone. He spends the first half of the book discussing abstract buzzwords like “performative circuitry” and “exchange dynamism in the ethno-educato-policracy”, and the second half of the book listing a huge number of too-short, out-of-context anecdotes that he pulled out of newspapers and other academics’ papers.

 

His method seems to be to skip all the nuances, context, or interesting details.   Reduce the whole anecdote to two sentences, which is enough detail for him to hang one of his buzzwords on it: “This is yet another example of blahblahblah.” And then move on to the next one. “I’m going to take your whole academic paper, steal your conclusions, leave out all your explanations, and then slap my own buzzword on it. My job is done here! Time for snacks!”

 

Like he complains that gaijin students at Japanese colleges are “segregated” into a “ghetto” – but doesn’t mention if those students speak Japanese or not. Um, dude? Don’t you think that’s kind of important when determining how racist or not that situation is? Man? Sir?

 

Another problem :  when McVeigh relates stories about daigaku doing shady things – he never distinguishes between the super-elite daigaku that all the kids go to cram school to get into and the barely-functional, seat-of-the-pants daigaku that do whatever just to survive on the streets. This omission is an especially big problem when he deals with the issue of entrance exam tests.

 

Also, he keeps complaining that Japanese daigaku aren’t serious about teaching useful skills, and that students aren’t serious about learning. True! But! Even the most noob-ish JET teacher knows that in Japan, daigaku is a reward for busting your ass through junior high and high school. It’s play-time. And also it’s a way to make connections with other students, who will help you get jobs. And in Japan, you learn what you need to learn on the job.

 

We all know this. But McVeigh persists in being shocked/scandalized by it.

The same way, he keeps writing about fakery, but acts like he’s never heard of tatemae and honne before, although I’m sure he has. It’s unclear if he simply thinks that “tatemae/honne” is some bullshit, or if he thinks that the problem of "simulated education"  is totally unrelated.

 

It’s like, OK, it is fucked up. Of course it’s fucked up. But don’t act like you don’t know the deal, McVeigh. He says 100 times, “Look, it’s phoney!” without even one time saying, “OK, here is the context of higher education in Japan, which explains quite logically the reason why it’s phoney.” 

 

I’m not saying he should roll over like “Oh, cultural relativism and all that, I’ll just show myself the door.”

But as an anthropolo-linguisto-scholo-teacher-guy, it’s his damn job to learn the culture that he’s trying to explain. He's all like, “The only analytical tools I will use are European anthropology and French intellectual tools. These are pure universal truth, and I don’t need to use anything else.”

 

It’s like he’s a parody of how Japanese people see westerners and our universal morals.

 

And then there’s this gem of a paragraph:

 

“The proclaimed aims of an institution bear little relation to its actual activities, and yet, in a certain sense, the institution still functions. . . . It should be stressed that to merely accuse Japan’s higher education system as suffering from bad quality hides and interesting truth about why institutions to not collapse even though they do not fulfill their stated function. The hundreds of daigaku that make up Japan’s higher education system illustrate well what I have elsewhere called “institutional mendacity.” I have argued that daigaku are beyond the mode of “institutional subversion” (failure) because they still “function” in a manner of speaking (McVeigh, 2002). Daigaku survive because though they may not function as learning sites, they are successful as institutions that employ professors and store students waiting for work.”

 

Rad things about this:

 

  • He’s openly pissed that daigaku can continue to function, even though they don't fit his theories.
  •  
  • He cites himself as a reference.
  •  
  • “institutional subversion” (failure) . . .He has to add “(failure)” in parenthesis, because he knows nobody uses his jargon of “institutional subversion.”

 

Anyway – I'll now move on to what the book is about, instead of just dumping on it.

 



 GIFTS.

 

McVeigh looks at Japanese education in terms of gift exchange. Why gifts? Because gifts were around before capitalism or communism – they’re the one constant among all cultures.

 

And all gift-exchanges (according to McVeigh’s theory) have three stages: 1) giving, 2) accepting the gift, and 3) reciprocating.

 

So McVeigh is looking at modern governments as very sophisticated gift-exchange machines: the State gives us an army, police, fire-fighters, hospitals, and education. And in return, the citizens reciprocate by paying taxes, fighting in wars, being obedient, and (of course) going to cram school 6 hours a day.

 

But, how to tell if the gifts are equal? If I give you dessert, and you want to give me some gay porn in return, how do we determine how many issues of INCHES equal one 2 pound pecan pie?

 

By the same token, who decides how much tax/dead soldiers/ hours of study is equal to the government’s services? The government, that’s who. And that’s how they get ya. Like how the odds of the games in a casino always favor the house.

Also : currencies. How do kids pay back the state? Not gay porn (anymore) . . . like other countries, they repay with good grades or lots of time wasted studying . . . But there’s also another form of currency that is unique to Japan is what McVeigh calls “dramatic presentations of self”: in other words, you don’t just have to do the work, but act (to your teachers, etc.) like you LIKE doing the work, like that is the most important thing in your life. Next thing you know – boom – you’re lying to YOURSELF about what kind of person you are. Alienation!

 

(Spoiler alert: He’s really against alienation)

 

McVeigh makes a metaphor:

 

Fair gift-exchanges are like this: I give you a nickel for a bottle of wine.

Unfair exchanges are like this: I give you a wooden nickel. Or I give you a real nickel but you give me an empty bottle.

“Simulated” exchanges are beyond unfair: I give you a wooden nickel for your empty wine bottle.

And that’s daigaku in a nutshell.

 

McVeigh says, “What’s the harm of pretending, if both parties are in on it? It is all just an act, a victimless crime of exchange.” But, he warns : this much fakery must harm society. Somehow. Down the line. Although he himself admits he can’t prove how. 

I get the sense he actually hopes it harms Japan, since Japan deserves it.

 

If he would just have stuck with “Teachers falsifying attendance and grades is bullshit,” then he’d have an open-and-shut case. But then, he wouldn’t need all this confusing and important-sounding “gift dynamic circuitry of the educatio-capitalist establishment” hullabaloo. And his book wouldn't sound properly "academic."

 

So who’s really putting up fronts, whitey?

 


 

GIFTS AND PATRONAGE NETWORK PARANOIA

 

One of the better themes of the book is how Japanese authorities are super-paranoid about outsiders giving gifts freely: The Man seems to want a monopoly on gift-giving, so that everyone owes only him.

 

The state is a jealous god ; thus the tax regulations about gift-giving (to impede the amassing of wealth in families) and laws about who can and cannot receive presents from companies and foreign nations (designed to insulate the regular Japanese gift-giving loop from outsiders bearing gifts).

 

He points out that the state doesn’t like juku (cram schools, college-prep tutors)  because the juku give gifts to students without official permission : the students start to owe the juku more than the state.

And then two more anecdotes on this theme, from his days as a professor at a daigaku:

When the daigaku president threw a small cheese and wine party for the faculty, and administrator complained. The real issue was how the president had circumvented the daigaku’s patronage network: by financing the party with his own funds, the president ‘s kindness threatened the administrator’s financial and patronage control over teachers.

 

A similar event occurred when a non-Japanese teacher planned at ea party that he said he’d pay for the tea: he was told that “food was not allowed” in the special events room, even though it was allowed for events which the administration held (meaning, that their permission was needed, and those events were ‘gifts’ from the administration).

 


 

CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME

 

A major form of academic corruption is just plain money. Surprise! Since Japan’s population is declining, colleges face declining enrollment. So! How do they deal with it?

 

“Some daigaku hold parties (not just on campus, but in restaurants, houseboats, etc.) and engage in ‘excesses of wining and dining’ high-school students.”

 

Also: bribing high-school teachers and guidance counselors to recommend a certain daigaku.

 

If that doesn’t work, the daigaku will advertise in China, Taiwan, or Korea. Sure, the students generally don’t go to class. They use the “student visa” as a work visa. And the daigaku becomes a "visa mill."

 

Like anywhere else, high-school students apply to many colleges. But in Japan, you have to pay upwards of $300 to take an “entrance test” for EACH daigaku. And many daigaku court high-school students that they know won’t pass, just to get that money. Not only that, the 'failure rate' of the exams is widely publicized, so the more students fail, the more prestigious your daigaku seems (high standards!), so the next year even more kids will sign up!

 

Then there’s a related scam: if you pass the exam to, say, 3 different daigaku, then you have to pay around $6,000 as a “deposit” to hold your place. If you decide on daigaku A, then the other two daigaku will keep your deposit. It’s unclear if this is legal, or Japanese people just don’t want to make a big fuss about it.

 

Another way daigaku get paid, is hospitals! Japanese hospitals need one or two doctors from high-prestige medical schools in order to attract patients. It’s good PR. But they can only get those doctors by giving lots of “research grants” to the medical schools.

 


NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO FAIL!

 

Once students are in,   it’s bad form to let them drop out.

 

Failing students are allowed to re-take tests, students who can’t even come to the minimum 2/3 of classes get their attendance records fudged, and even students who are accused of harassment or rape find their alleged crimes covered up.

 

“Also, many daigaku maintain two types of transcripts, one for the institutional face (a doctored version submitted to prospective employers that does not record too many failures and poor attendance), and the other for its interior (a record of a student’s actual performance).”

 

Furthermore, many students ‘double school’, that is, while they are formally going to daigaku, they simultaneously attend vocational schools to acquire ‘real’ credentials.”

 

Professors are typically told to give 20 percent A7s, 50 percent B’s, and 20 percent C’s. and some, I noticed, just skip evaluation altogether and give everyone the same grade.

 Other professors routinely give the whole class ‘A’s. McVeigh includes a copy of an adorable memo  where the administration encourages professors to give other grades sometimes.This is one of my favorite parts of the book.

 

A Japanese professor told McVeigh, “If I attempted to teach difficult material, the students would ignore me and others would suddenly ask to go to the bathroom and never return. . . . Just keep them busy and entertain them.”

 

McVeigh explains this ‘A-mania’ by saying Japanese professors don’t want responsibility for giving bad grades, since it creates conflict. Parents will raise hell:

There have been cases of teachers having failed students only to face repeated pressure in the form of phone calls, letter, and fax messages from school personnel – who often face pressure from parents in turn.

 

When students fail, they are asked to write a report, and still get to pass the class. This demoralizes the students who bothered to study.

 

At one daigaku, students who didn’t turn in their senior theses on time were allowed to graduate but were penalized by not being allowed to attend the graduation party.

 

The rule of thumb is, if you miss a third of classes, you fail. But not only do students routinely miss more and NOT fail (they write a busy-work paper instead), but faculty spend lots of time debating whether it would be rude to even TELL the students “You’re coming close to the 33% limit.”

 

Funny story:  conservative bureaucrats point to this poor attendance as the inevitable result of “Western individualist values” that are wrecking Japan, so the solution is: less of those. In other words, even more 'hollowing out' of the meaning of education.

 

Also: daigaku seniors routinely used to miss lots of classes as they look for jobs. There was an unspoken understanding that “job-hunting absences” are not “real” absences, and the students should not be punished for them, since the daigaku exists not to teach, but to keep Japan strong by getting everyone a good job. But since 1997, the corporations have fucked up the deal, starting to interview juniors as well. SO now both junior-year and senior-year absenteeism is at an all-time high.

 

To McVeigh, this shows that even Japanese businesses think daigaku is just "simulated learning": they know they are causing kids to miss class, but they think the classes are a joke, so who cares? Fuck your classes, professor!

 


QUESTIONS HE DOESN'T ASK BUT MAYBE SHOULD HAVE

 

McVeigh says this “never fail anyone” phenomenon “seems to be” more common at daigaku with “falling enrollments.” But there’s no data. How many of these shady practices are on the rise compared to 40 years ago? How many of them go on at big-name universities?

 

And how was it different around 1900 -1920, when Japan needed to teach real substantial stuff in order to industrialize and catch up to the West?

 

It would be nice if McVeigh had investigated how much of this type of corruption was all about the tuition cash, how much was the “If we admit there are problems at our shit, then we lose face, so cover it up” mentality, and how much was simply that “unspoken understanding” thing that the Japanese are so fond of (In this case, an unspoken understanding between daigaku and parents).

 

Seriously, though, what about the parents? Do they think, “Oh that happens at other schools, not my kid’s school!” or do they think, “OK maybe that happens at my kid’s school, but since MY kid would never fail an exam, or skip class, who cares?” Or do they honestly not know?

 

Are parents like, “Well, my son/daughter worked so hard in high school, he/she deserves some play time before entering the corporations”? Do parents understand that daigaku is all about connections? 

 

They pressured their kid to go to cram school 60 hours a week to get in a good daigaku . .. Do they apply the same pressure their kids to network with their classmates from more powerful families?

 


KIDS AND AMAE

 

The whole “never hold students accountable” thing is attributed to a Japanese concept: amae, which means mutual dependence (like between a child and mother). It's traditional,  but some Japanese say  that too much amae (especially amae between a grown-up and institutions) stunts emotional growth, rendering everyone a perpetual child in some ways.

 

The students are  allowed to misbehave on campus (not just poor attendance but violence and bullying) without any consequences, because they’re just big kids. The kids get the message and act childish. It becomes a chicken-and-egg question. In fact the whole daigaku system as described by McVeigh seems to be a classic case of Japan’s “leaderless society.” : nobody (not the teachers, the ministry of education, the administration, or the parents) takes responsibility for students who get out of line.

 

The concept that college is supposed to make you an adult (taking responsibility for yourself, learning how to deal with different types of people, how not to get taken advantage of in the real world, and so on) never caught on in Japan. Let’s keep them kids, so that they depend on us and are not able to develop into individuals.  

 

In keeping with the concept of amae, the students are openly referred to as children. In instructor at a graduate school noted that among thirteen students aged 22 to 26, only one said “I am an adult.” Eleven said “I am a child” and one said “I don’t know.”

 

But here's the thing: amae is ALSO a concept that is important when you join a Japanese company. Workers who are independent, even if they get things done, stand out and make everyone else look bad.

 

So it’s a question of, is the university’s priority supposed to be helping kids get good jobs, or making them not be ignorant?

Which leads to the other big question: do kids have to choose between being educated and being ‘Japanese?’

 These questions sort of hover over the entire book.

 

 


THE STUDENT’S POINT OF VIEW

 

But, McVeigh cautions, it’s not just that the students are lazy. Many are overburdened with studying – except that it’s pretend studying:

 

Enduring monotonous lectures, studying for boring materials and preparing for poorly designed tests. Moreover, students take between 12 and 20 different subjects per week.

And yet, the papers they write don’t have to be good:

Students are encouraged not to worry about such irrelevancies as clarity, organization , or logic. Papers may consist entirely of quotations.

 

Best quote of the whole book is an unnamed Japanese professor, which McVeigh cribs from another academic, and I in turn crib from McVeigh:

 

Rather quickly I began to get an image of students crowded like lobsters or crabs sloshing somewhat lethargically about in a large aquarium tank. Young yuppies in training for the boiling pot of company life. Undergraduate university here seems to be a yuppie holding tank, a place to put all these exhausted young people , while they wait for jobs. It’s a place of clubs of every type and description, numerous holidays (about 4 months of the year) and a policy of ‘attend and you’ll pass’. Little in our department at least suggests academic rigor, simulations of ideas, scholarship. Or much in the way of learning. These are the years the students get to “relax” after the tremendous effort to get to university and before the overwhelming dedication required in their future company careers. Mind you, if relax means over twenty classes five days a week, I’d hate to see what hard work is. It’s a strange combination of long hours of work with the atmosphere of a summer camp holiday. It combines the two overriding principles that I sense in Japanese society: appearance and endurance.

 

In other words, here's the priority: Attitude and scores at the top, actually being smart or curious or learning things you can use in everyday life at the bottom.

 

Which is, to be fair, what most corporations want to hire. In Japan, attitude, getting along with groups, and following proper procedures are important, while results, choosing your own groups, and being logical are not.

 

It was reported that students spend 26.5 hours per week studying. Since this includes time in class, which averages 24 to 26 hours a week, this number is not very impressive.

 

And as for the kids . . . All this cutting class and failing tests – is that a symptom of kids enjoying themselves too much, or a symptom of kids resenting the meaningless emptiness of it all?

 

In other words, do the kids have a consensus on the 'college is playtime for us, our learning is all simulated' issue? Do they think it’s good or bad?

 

Frustratingly, McVeigh doesn't go into this at all. It’s not clear to what extent the kids know that college is supposed to be a holding pen / playtime / place to make connections for future work.

 

 Towards the end of the book, McVeigh briefly examines why some students feel let down by the colleges they worked so hard to get in: Class sizes are huge, the professors drone on, heedless if the students are paying attention or not. Other students talk so loud that one can’t hear the teacher.  Asking questions is discouraged.

Reports which students work very hard on are seldom handed back. So the students don’t know what the teacher thought of their shit, or even if the teacher read it at all.

 

But McVeigh doesn’t say if these complaints are common (which would hint that the average Japanese high schooler actually wants  a western-style university) or uncommon (which would mean that Japanese high schoolers are savvy about the ‘real’ meaning of daigaku).

 

Again, the problem with STATE BEARING GIFTS is: no actual new research, no talking to real people.

 


LOOKING AT THESE PROBLEMS USING GIFT EXCHANGE THEORY:

 

I’ll give you the gift of “automatically passing the classes no matter what you do,” if you give me the gift of “continuing to pay tuition despite being overwhelmed with meaningless work and alienated from all the other students who just plain don’t give a shit.”

 


 

PROFESSORS ACTING BADLY

 

As for the professors, with all the kids texting, talking, and eating in class. . .they don’t seem to give a shit, as long as they have a captive audience, and they can talk about any old thing without getting in trouble or getting asked questions.

 

Bombshell: Very few daigaku professors hold doctorates.

 

The problems of Japanese professors could fill an entire book. Professors are hired and promoted the same way as salarimen: connections and seniority, not talent or published papers / research. So you wind up with  “elite” universities where around 80% of the faculty is made up of former students, who all got their jobs because they were students of  the department chair (the most senior professor of the department).

 

Pleasing the chair and waiting your turn for promotion is the most important. If you actually published papers and discovered new theories, you’d make the chair look bad by comparison.

 

Foreign teachers, on the other hand, are treated like all foreign employees: temporary, outside the patronage network, not told the reasons for decisions, and easy to fire. In contrast to foreign salarimen (who might be viewed as necessary in selling the company’s product to foreigners), foreign professors are basically decoration.

Since "University" is a Western invention, the thinking goes, we need some Westerners around to make it look authentic. The fact that university values re: education have been “hollowed out” and made Japanese doesn’t matter. Of course the gaijin – being prestige-enhancing decorations – have to have good credentials, published papers, and hopefully be bilingual.

 

Which is not expected of Japanese professors, because Japanese professors came by their jobs the right way: patronage networks.

 

Whereas , in the USA, we have so many foreign students and teach them so many legitimate skills, there’s a huge problem of all the good jobs going overseas, as foreigners leave America and go home to start their own high-tech companies, while American kids are so fat and lazy they couldn’t even get into the universities in the first place and wind up working at Foot Locker.

 


 

JUKU (CRAM SCHOOLS)

 

The role of juku in all of this is one of the best parts of the book:

Juku are cram schools that you go to after regular high school – why you see some junior high kids just getting "out of class"  at 7PM.  Certain juku specialize in training you to pass certain high-status universities' entrance examinations.

 

For years, the Education Ministry has been unhappy with juku, presumably because better-heeled families could use juku to give their children an unfair advantage. In the late 1990s, however, the Ministry changed its policy from ignoring juku to integrating them into the formal schooling experience. It recommended that juku start doing science experiments and field trips, and that PTAs work more closely with them. The state, apparently fearing that juku could short-circuit its own gift-exchange, felt compelled to incorporate them.

 

But then the juku flipped the script: around eleven high-status juku are now actually HELPING UNIVERSITIES WRITE THE TESTS. Which is like hiring a wolf to guard your hen-house. But then again, juku actually have test specialists on their staff, whereas university tests are written by professors with no test-writing or test-taking experience. It’s almost exactly like how the Japanese parliament is run by pols with no experience making laws so they let the bureaucracy write all the laws.

 

Needless to say, there are a lot of scandals with test questions being leaked.

 

 


 

 ENTRANCE EXAMS AND ‘EXAM HELL’

 

McVeigh drops the bomb:

 

The truth is that around 40 to 50 percent of students who are accepted into a daigaku do not take the exams at all; instead they are recommended by their high school teachers, or sit through highly perfunctory “interviews”.

 

Entrance exams are sold to the public as very egalitarian, scientific, and fair: anyone can apply! Even poor kids have a shot at the middle-class life! You don’t even have to be smart – as long as you make the effort you can get in! Tests are numbers, and numbers don’t lie!

 

However, despite the scientific and super-ritualized way the exams are conducted (armored cars to take the tests to the place they’re graded! The entire teaching staff monitoring the students for cheating! The entire teaching staff walks the students to and from the exam room! You have exactly 24.43455 minutes to finish this section! Place your pencils at an exact 94 degree angle on your desk (which must be 102.5 centimeters wide – the exact width scientifically calculated for optimum test results!) to signal that you have finished!), the actual way the daigaku are run behind the scenes is very seat-of-the-pants and do-do-doop-dee-doop-de-durr-durr.

Daigaku are expected to evaluate their own quality: how students are selected, credits awarded,and grades assigned.They could be spinning a wheel of fortune. Who knows? That's not disclosed to anyone.

Daigaku lack any sort of third-party evaluations to keep them honest. Although – speaking of honesty – I don’t even have a fraction of a clue if America’s universities have “third-party” evaluation, and how successful that evaluation is. You’d think that since this whole book is based on a comparison of “Japan=bad, America=good,” McVeigh would bother to explain how America does it. Does anyone reading this know?

He keeps saying that daigaku provide only “simulations of” learning, and that there is no system of measuring how effective the teaching is . . .but doesn’t compare them to senmongakkou (technical or vocational schools), which to me would be the natural thing to do. I mean, senmongakkou have to teach real skills: you can’t “simulate” knowing how to use a belt-sander, or you’ll lose your fingers.

 

And I’m sure senmongakkou also have a big bureaucracy. So how do THEY deal with it?

 

ANYWAY, returning to the "exam hell" :

Almost no entrance examinations are written by people who specialize in writing tests. The daigaku professors, who have not taken a test in decades, have no idea what makes a test fair or unfair, have never cracked a book about test-writing. . . .they just meet in a back room somewhere and throw out the most random questions possible.

 

For example in 1998, Meiji daigaku’s school of political science asked from which parts of the bible certain quotations came. Some multiple choice questions ask respondents to select from lists of options that often contain more than one potentially correct answer. Some questions expect examinees to have deep knowledge of subjects that were never taught in high schools, while other questions are too easy to be of any use in assessing a person’s abilities. In short, test makers seem to be giving little thought to their questions or to the realities of examinees.

 

(Again, though, this kind of arbitrary guessing-game  prepares students for the salaryman life where, “the boss says one, and the worker hears ten.”)

 

Examinations themselves have lost their original purpose and are not evaluating knowledge acquisition, but rather assessing one’s endurance determination and loyalty to the authorities that administer (those tests). This all concerns another myth about education an examinations: students may have suffered through rote memorization but having prepared for all those tests they must have learned a great deal. The truth is that examination preparation is not even rote memorization but more like an empty and highly ritualized drill.

 

Examples of these meaningless questions? Exactly none. God damn it.

 

Does anyone out there have a copy of English language questions from these tests?

 

Speaking of those who design English examinations, McVeigh quotes an un-named source as saying that professors ‘ . . .are concerned not so much with what an English text has to say, but rather with the frequency with which particular words or idioms are tested in these exams. Statistics replace meaning. In this process of converting words into numbers, some lecturers find an intellectual excitement peculiar to their occupation, a certain relief in what is held to be the reliability of the calculation. Some even talk with a complacent, almost tantalizing air as they explain their technique for deriving the correct answers for questions without having to bother to read the text the questions are being asked about.’

 

 

The contradiction of exam hell and yet not knowing anything;

50 percent of daigaku are taking some measures to bridge the gap between what students learned at high school and what they should have learned before entering universities.” In other words, remedial classes.

 

But wait , you say. Next to Korea, Japan has the most ruthless “exam hell” in the world. These students have to pass these exams to get into college, so how could they possibly be remedial??

 

McVeigh doesn’t say. Huh?

 

Reading between the lines, I am going to guess that the “stuff you are supposed to know by the time you get to college” is stuff that the high schools skipped teaching, in order to devote more time to helping students prep for the college entrance exams.


If that’s not the reason, then WTF?

 

exams and hensachi:

Japanese tend to rank daigaku by their hensachi. And what’s a hensachi? The ratio of students that failed the entrance exam for that particular daigaku. If 9 out of 10 students pass, that daigaku must be pretty desperate for students, thus low-class. But. If only 1 in 10 students passes, then that daigaku must have really high standards, and not only that, but it must be really popular, so I want to go there too!

Hensachi sounds very scientific, standardized and fair, because it’s a percentage. But. Since each daigaku uses a different exam, the hensachi number doesn’t really measure one school against the others. I mean, I could make up a test tomorrow that 99% of kids would fail, but that wouldn’t mean that my daigaku was the best, or even that I had a daigaku. Since all my questions would be based on Wu-Tang lyrics.

 

But, the more entrance exams that a daigaku schedules, the more money they make. And the more people fail, the more prestigious the daigaku looks. It’s a win-win!

 

To grossly simplify matters, in Japan’s schools there are two ways to judge people: nouryoku-shugi (ability-ism), and doryoku shugi (effort-ism).

 

The problem with doryoku shugi is that it makes kids waste their childhood competing to see who can waste the most hours, while holding back kids who are actually smarter.

 

The problem with noryoku shugi is that it’s elitist and not egalitarian.

 

Many daigaku are reportedly afraid of improving entrance examinations because this might scare away students (who have spent 3 years In cram schools dedicated to passing the current tests).

 

“Motivated by fears that the masses are not receiving a fair deal from officialdom, many Japanese people ask how exams could be made more egalitarian. Such discussions assume that the exam machinery itself works for individuals, and it just needs more oil to make it run smoother. However, the fact is, the exams and the education system work for state and capitalist interests. More than just a testing system, it’s more like an “examocracy.”

 

In other words, fucked exams are not a bug, they’re a feature. In order to pass the exams, you have to study until 7 PM for all your teenage years, all the while knowing that the information on the test is not useful in real life. In a way, the exams aren’t the point. If they were, they would be full of useful questions. The point of the whole system – test, cram school, and all – is to separate “kids who want to play” from “kids who have no problem giving up the best years of their lives for a reward that will come after retirement.”

The ’public face’ of education is that the system is designed to produce and reward smart kids. The ‘private face’, known only to administrators and bureaucrats, is that the educational system is designed to weed out anyone with a shred of individuality – anyone who wants a childhood, anyone who wants to leave school at 3 PM instead of 7,anyone who doesn’t understand that the unwritten rules are the most important. What the kid “officially” learns on the test is almost beside the point.

 

 Which brings us to . . .


MORE QUESTIONS

 

Why is it important to do all this soul-killing in the first place? Here lies an interesting issue, one which McVeigh totally doesn’t get into because he just blithely blames it on ‘capitalist forces’.

 

The bureaucrats would say that they’re just ‘preserving Japanese culture’. You or I might say that they’re really trying to make kids ideal obedient workers for big business, and that ‘real’ Japanese values might be a little more tolerant, sensible, flexible, and friendly. But, being a foreigner, I don’t know that much about the nuances of traditional Japanese values. And regular Japanese, I’m afraid, are trained not to even ask the difference between the two. So there’s a good debate to be had re: are pro-business, obedient values REALLY all there is to traditional culture?

 

And another, more general debate to be had about: should universities teach skills to get you a good job, and socialize students so they will blend in with society, and therefore be successful? Or should universities teach facts and make people smarter, more curious, and more able to explain the world around themselves?

 

And why do those two things seem to overlap more in some countries than in others?


And here's what I REALLY want to know:

To what extent is there a consensus among Japanese people about the meaning of daigaku? What makes this an interesting question is, YOU CAN’T ASK IT. Even discussing it would mean admitting that, right now, daigaku is not about education at all.

 

So you can’t even have a debate about, “Should we have daigaku to produce smart people or daigaku for playtime and networking?”

 

So to me, that would have been a good place to start the book. But what do I know, I’m not a teacher.

 


 

DISHING ON HIS FORMER EMPLOYER (nice work if you can get it!)

 

McVeigh spends not one but two whole chapters dishing dirt on his former Japanese school, Amadera Women’s Academy, which, try as I might, I keep reading as Madeira Women’s Academy, which makes me thirsty.

 

Apparently this is a thing with McVeigh: he has at least one other book (THE MYTH OF JAPANESE HIGHER EDUCATION) which dishes on a different Japanese university he taught at. And you wonder why they don’t trust gaijin!   According to the book jacket, McVeigh currently teaches at Arizona Univeristy. So maybe in another couple years we can read “WHAT THE FUCK, ARIZONA? YOU ALL CAN’T LEARN FOR SHIT: an Analysis of American Higher Education by Brian McVeigh, Professor at Munich University in Germany.”

 

But seriously though, I really like the dishing-on-work genre. I think it’s really under-rated. The whole “zines” fad of the ‘90s was as pathetic as everything from the ‘90s. But there was one zine I will never forgive myself for not copping: some anonymous gay Midwestern gynaecologist, talking shit about his clients’ repulsive lady parts.

 

So, back to Madeira, I mean Amadera Woman’s Academy. Apparently the school president  wanted to make a very western, feminist, girl-power school. Although you can by this point probably guess how that turned out, McVeigh’s eye for gruesome details is fascinating.

 

First: the idea that women having more power = less Japanese and more western.

 

Second : Both the library and computer lab were only open during class hours, and closed after class.

 

Third : The campus had walls on all four sides, and Students all had to come and to through one gate which had guards. Students didn’t have their own mailboxes “because it might lead to bullying.” Students could not have their pictures taken for PR materials, because other students might get jealous, and this too might lead to bullying. Still another excuse I heard had it that if their pictures appeared on such materials, men might consume the PR brochure as pornography.

 

Fourth :  there’s a RAD example of how Japanese have their own unique twist on things like “women's studies professor” and “union member”:   At a faculty meeting in which the application procedures of adult students was being discussed, all union members strongly supported the submission of an “employer’s permission form to attend the daigaku” by adult students. The suggestion by non-Japanese professors that having an adult woman ask her male boss permission to attend university during her free time violated the daigaku’s mission of women’s empowerment was completely lost on the union members. After the meeting, a Japanese female professor explained to me why she voted in favor of requesting the permission: due to Japan’s “unique culture”, workers “should give their all to their employers. We should be on call for them at all times.”

 

Female faculty waiting on male faculty – making tea, serving food, pouring drinks at social events – because it was a “Japanese custom.”  Foreign faculty's attempts to reduce sexist regulations in the student handbook were met with stiff resistance. Interestingly, it was not only the middle-aged males but also the female faculty and staff who were the most adamant in retaining and implementing such regulations.

 

Seems they were worried – at the feminist empowerment international school – that girls might go off campus and get some dick. Which, date-rape is a serious problem. But rather than deal with the problem by holding self-defense classes and raising awareness, they dealt with it the amae way : keeping the students childlike and naive about sexual predators, so that they could bestow the “gift” of safety on them through 24/7 supervision.

 

Well I still don’t agree with McVeigh's  method of writing the book, now I can totally see where he got his “Fuck cultural relativism, this is just bullshit” attitude from!

 


 

REAL DAIGAKU (hidden from all) AND BIZARRO DAIGAKU (students and teachers)

 

The main lesson from the downfall of Amadera is this :

The way bureaucrats ruin everything.

 

The Education Ministry passed all the president’s radical reforms. But within a few years everything was all back to normal. The reason? The president (like the Prime Minister), has very little power. In fact, the whole “teach kids things” part of the daigaku (director, dean, professors, students) is actually kind of a little useless appendix, dangling from the body. The real “body” of the daigaku is the administration, whose board of directors is , let’s assume, mostly Education Ministry amakudari.

And the real purpose of the daigaku is to support and nurture and empower the bureaucracy. Who controls the funding. So rather than fight the director outright, the Ministry allowed his reforms, then made sure the administration voted systematically to defund them. Doh! And in true Japanese style, McVeigh notes that as a mere teacher (and a gaijin at that!) it was like pulling teeth to even find out who in the administration was even making these decisions.

Teachers are outsiders. Power means you don’t have to tell outsiders who is making decisions.

 

Also: Because enrollments were so low, a fair number of faculty had no classes to teach. However, the Education Ministry has a rule: new daigaku can’t fire anyone for four years. So the classless teachers were given fake work to do: forming groups and having meetings all day. It seems that the teachers’ meetings and groups were bizarro versions of the groups that already existed in the administration, except the bizzarro versions had no power and didn’t do anything. For example, there was a teacher’s committee on admissions standards, but they merely rubber-stamped rules laid down by the administration’s own committee on admissions standards. Of course the administration’s committee was run by bureaucrats, whose only concern was financial, not educational.

 

Which brings us to .. .

 


THE WACKY ROLE OF THE EDUCATION MINISTRY

 

The Ministry does more than install its amakudari in all the top posts of University administrations (both public and private). It also “donates” about 50% of the funding for private daigaku, and can suddenly withhold those subsidies, should those private daigaku manage to tune out the blazhay blazhay of the amakudari.

 

But that’s not all.

 

The Ministry seems to be pursuing two contradictory policies at the same time:

 

ONE: keep on granting applications/creating new daigaku, even though it’s clear that student population is declining, and these new daigaku can’t succeed.

 

TWO: taking over the failed daigaku, the same way they take over failing banks. (see my report on AMAKUDARI for more of this). Basically they take two or more fucked daigaku and merge them, which is supposed to make them leaner, meaner, and more efficient. However, students now have to routinely commute between two distant campuses for classes, libraries, and student clubs. Also the new “merged” daigaku are run directly by the Ministry. And the Ministry folks, even more than their amakudari, are interested in totally sidelining what remains of education.

 

Their image of a “perfect daigaku” is one that cares only about the statistics : attendance, test scores, and so on. The actual content of the classes can’t be quantified as a number, so what use is it? Students come in, numbers come out, and as long as the numbers keep going up, we are getting more efficient! For example, since low enrollment is a problem, let’s dumb down entrance exams AND course content. Numbers go up, Problem solved! (the problem being the high numbers of bureaucrats and administrators who might lose their jobs if unpopular daigaku go under)

 

If the graduates can’t get jobs with their bullshit degrees, who cares? We’re the Education Ministry – our job is to help daigaku administrators. Let the Economy Ministry handle the unemployed graduates. Sheesh! Don’t act like you’ve never seen a bureaucracy before!

 

McVeigh also relates suspicions from un-named Japanese that the Education Ministry likes building new daigaku for which there is no demand because it helps the construction industry, keeps unemployed youth off the streets, and expands the Ministry’s territory all over Japan.

 

Another funny thing about bureaucracy:

 

There is a paradox that each time the nature of this structural problem manifests itself as a tragedy, tighter is exercised to further strengthen the very system which caused the problem.

 

In other words, too much centralized, top-down state control over daigaku keeps enrollment down, because students don’t have a choice over different types of curricula or learning styles. And the solution to poor attendance is to exercise even more top-down control, to “give guidance” to the ailing daigaku industry. A vicious circle.

 


HOLLOWING OUT THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM.

 

Yeah, most other countries of all races “get” the meaning of universities. And yeah, Japan has a long history of “hollowing out” foreign concepts, removing threatening foreign ideas, and producing a “Japanese version” which is sometimes unrecognizable. (which is also a phenomenon that McVeigh ignores). And yeah, if you remove foreign ideas from university – well, university is nothing BUT ideas, right? So that’s probably not going to work well.

 

Western university is kind of the super pure raw and uncut version of western Enlightenment values, so it’s gonna have an especially hard time in Japan.

 

The concept that naturally smart kids should beat dumb kids that try hard threatens the Japanese “kumi system” (where all people, (kids OR adults) that enter an organization advance together as one), the sempai-kohai system, and the all-important ganbarre!

 

The concept of “facts” being “right and wrong regardless of the situation”   (and the related concept of “flunking tests means flunking tests regardless of the situation) fucks with aimai, honnne-tatemae. . . the whole Japanese relational (or context-based) morality.

 

Also, the dreaded CRITICAL THINKING.

 

The idea that universities are supposed to teach individual-over-the-state, universal values like freedom, justice, fight the Man, and so on, is not going to go over very well either.

 

The idea that “knowledge is not a percent rank on a test to impress an authority, knowledge is power, to make the individual a stronger more independent person and change the world” threatens the Japanese idea of . . . oh, let’s say . . . amae, and also threatens the Education Ministry’s patronage system.

 

And : the idea that the university is supposed to be based on science, which is to say, inventing new things and concepts. As if that wasn’t bad enough, science can only progress if people disagree with each other constantly, junior faculty call bullshit on nobel winners who declare cold fusion is rad, and etc. This threatens, you guessed it, WA, giri, honne-tatemae, lord knows what else.

 

The western University is supposed to turn kids into adults, not by hammering them with rules but by making them aware of their responsibility to save the world, and forcing them to deal with all different kinds of cultures/ thoughts, so they can interact respectfully with all the different kinds of people that they will meet in adult life. This also horrendously messes not just with amae, but with group-consciousness (shuudan ishiki), and the Japanese sense of uniqueness. A triple threat.

 

I’m not saying that all American universities actually stay true to all these ideals, or that American students are all super hard working kids who try to promote academic freedom instead of taking bong hits while looking at facebook. Just  saying that the foundations of universities are not a good fit with Japan.

 

To return to the central theme: SHOULD UNIVERSITIES BE ABOUT MAKING PEOPLE SMART OR SHOULD THEY BE ABOUT GUARANTEEING THE KIDS GOOD JOBS UPON GRADUATION? . . . here’s another impossible debate: shouldn’t kids (or at least their parents) be allowed to decide for themselves if learning x,y,and z would fuck up their amae or not?

“Do you personally think that learning universal values and fact (rather than context based) reasoning would fuck up your  ability to work in teams?"

 “Do you personally feel that learning critical thinking, independent work habits, and individual responsibility would fuck up your future career and make you less Japanese?”

 It's amazing how many of these debates are impossible to even have!

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9 comments Tags: , , ,

gekiteki 9 : akiba kei

Akihabara style = akiba kei.  Music from the anime subculture can be gekiteki because people do acting: they pretend to be batman or whatever. . . they wear costumes and perform "in character." Within "akiba-kei", there's a whole genre of wanna-be teen idols that just sing one anime theme song after another, but the people I focus on tend to create their own unique characters and have a more consistent, conceptual,  rock-opera approach.

This is the last in the 9 parts of my GEKITEKI project.

It's also the least completed. Because I don'T know anyone from this subculture. Please help me out if you know a band that should be included in this category.

 

his is the end of the gekiteki project – but in a way it's also a BEGINNING- because from now on, we all have a resource. we all have this little corner of the net to point to. And hopefully in the months to come, maybe some new people will show up, or tell their friends . And in that way, I hope that new people show up looking for one band, and find dozens of other related bands that they didn't know about. and in return i hope that these people will help me fill in the many gaps in the information.

From now on , I'd like to see people sending in lyrics – especially lyrics that connect to themes that other bands also express. Also: album covers, especially if those album covers have some imagery or symbolism that connects to earlier bands. imagery that connects to particular avant-garde japanese theatre or design crews and etc. It'd all about building the invisible chains of influence!

 

Anyway, on with the actual report:


 

 伝承歌劇団 (denshouka gekidan)


MEANING : the literal translation is "Legend-song Theatre Troupe", but their "english name" is Legend of Europa.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1995
SOUND . . : power metal!
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : '70s shojo manga like SEINNTO SEIYA, ???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : members are characters, they have a 'narrarator' who explains the plot between songs
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 月影の深淵
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.legend-of-europa.com/p/index.html, myspace

TDR REPORT . . .:
 

These are 4 older guys who are dressed like European royalty. But European royalty as often portrayed in cheesy ‘70s girl manga, which makes their main influence Japanese!

There was a huge trend of “prince charming”-type girl comics back in the ‘70s . . .which these guys are doing a power-metal version of. For women? For men? Who knows? Apparently this band’s main inspiration is the manga called SEINNTO SEIYA ('saints of the constellations') which had to do with constellations taking on human form (as European princes. . . if European princes were played by the drag-kings from Takarazuka all-women’s vegas-style showtune theatre) and fighting elaborate battles with one another.

Apparently these伝承歌劇団 guys also have characters and the songs tell the story of their own epic battles. Are they also constellations? Are they fighting each other ? or someone else???

 

Let's let their Myspace provide the answers:

"Densyou-Kagekidan" have many stories of each work and performance.
One of them who is 'storyteller' is special part of them, tells their stories or its change of situation to the audience.
Then other members in the band express different scenes with their song and music.
This band is exactly entertainer!

 

 


 
SOUND HORIZON
 

 
MEANING :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2001~now
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . :  wikipedia, official page, fan site with intricate plot summaries of their "plays"
TDR REPORT . . .:
 
These guys apparently started out doing doujinshi (fan-made manga) and then started doing plays based on their manga, and now mostly put on these huge, Takarazuka-style plays, complete with dozens of characters! Amazing! The shows seem to be a mix of influences from fantasy-themed anime, mixed with Takarazuka theatre,  and a lot of "european" exoticism.

 

Sample plots of their albums (taken from their fan site, above)

 

Roman is the 5th Story CD of Sound Horizon released on November 22, 2006. A series of concerts soon followed. In year 2008, a manga based on the album was created with 2 volumes. The album was influenced with French language, making the songs speak a few Frenchwords. The whole story was based from a French custom, and it follows the story of Hiver Laurant, a child who died premature. He gathers Roman together with his two dolls, Violette and Hortense to know the mystery under Hiver's life in the real world. Roman is a French word for 'story", making the flow of how the stories in the album sung and told legitiamtely.

 

Any word that Sound Horizon recognizes denshouka gekidan as an influence? denshouka gekidan was around before, it seems.

Any word of any sound horizon influences, in comics, theatre, music, or costume design?

and how did they get the money to put on such elaborate shows?

how do they see themselves relative to western rock opera bands like tommy or anotherbrick in the wall, or  stalin claus superstar? or things like that?

 

 

 

 


split memory man


MEANING : :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2003 ??
SOUND . . :  glam rock
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara, visual kei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costumes, backstories of each character
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : no.
TDR REPORT . . .: YESSSSSSSSSS

Glam rock with an "outer space" theme and  some sort of  sci-fi plot that I couldn't understand when I saw them. THey were totally fun though!

 


 

 Planet gold 2008


MEANING : :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : the fuuuuuuuture, 2008???
SOUND . . : anime theme song
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara / theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: YESSSSSSSSS

 

Sort of the same deal as SOUND HORIZON, but much more low-budget, inept, Vegas-y, and intentionally campy. Here's what I said when I first saw them:

Their stage show was so ill-advised. They did one song, then spent like 15 minutes explaining about their superpowers and how they had like 18 strength or what their armor class was, and by the time they got around to winding up their elaborate back-story, it was time for the show to be over. I think they got half way through their second song.


It was like kabuki anime in vegas. The green lady was named like "Zebera Green Sex", and the blue lady was something like "Sex Zero Super Zebra". I think the red guy was just "Sex."


Apparently they came from some kind of zebra planet to teach humans more advanced fucking techniques.

Not pictured, the holes in the ass-cheeks of the red guy’s superhero uniform.

All their songs were karaoke-style, and the music was fake anime-theme-song-y. It was a glorious mix of bombast and ineptitude.


I should point out , in their defense, it was intentionally campy. Volitional camp, if you will. At one point they dragged a *volunteer* from the audience and inducted her into their fan club with the following initiation — the dude bent over her and emptied a small tin of semen-looking syrup into her mouth and made her chant "I AM FULL OF ZEBRA SPACE SEX SUPER! I AM FULL OF IT!"

 

 


CYMK


MEANING : : cyan yellow magenta black ???
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : 8-bit electronica
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara / theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below!
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : '80s

WEB . . . :  here
TDR REPORT . . .:  YESSS

 

These guys have a novel interpretation of nerd-rock:  they are really into '80s 8-bit (low resolution) video games. They  do all their songs with old-school, 8-bit synths, of course. But what sets them apart from the other '8-bit music' nerds is this: they do the whole show with a video projection. The video  is 8-bit versions of themselves as video-game characters, playing these imaginary famicom games that the songs are about. Is it a music video? Or a video game in progress? Are the songs about the game or is the game about the songs?   It's all very conceptual but too cute to be really pretentious.  The singer sings about jumping over a car, and lo! The video-game-character-version-of-the-singer jumps over an 8-bit car! The band and their 8-bit analogs do the same dance moves, they're dancing with each other!

 

 

 

 

again, like with the burlesque section (#8), this is really incomplete. Anyone who has any more ideas for bands, please leave a comment! Thanks!

5 comments Tags:

gekiteki 8 : burlesque and cabaret

Burlesque is definitely a part of gekiteki – especially when there is rock music and instruments involved! Unfortunately I have no idea of most of the burlesque / cabaret crews in Japan, and no idea of the "lines of influence" between them. So anyone who can help, please leave a comment!


 

情念 (jounen)

MEANING : : passion
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . :  from 2000???
SOUND . . :  motown / karaoke / cha-cha
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret / comedy
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : choreography, props, audience interaction
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here , here, and here.

 

The singer is some kind of fetish writer? She always wears her mummy costume, but usually  with some other costume over it. The backup singers do motown or doo-wop dance moves as they harmonize. The music is all taped, not live. It's kind of uh . . . .synthesyzers. But quiet, not dance-y. The lyrics are all comedy things about sex. Not sure if they are parodies of popular songs or what. They play live a lot.

A lot of the "appeal" seems to come from the main singer being clumsy or not being able to really sing. But perhaps that's true of Japanese pop generally?

 

 


 

花巻組 (hanamaki gumi)


MEANING : :  Hanamaki City Gang
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2004 ish???
SOUND . . : cabaret
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props, dancing, audience participation (willing or not!)
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : here
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrrrre

 

video (not embeddable) here.

Hanamaki-gumi is more of a traditional, french-style cabaret. They tease the audience and so on . . .hell, I'll just reprint what I said about them when I saw them:

 

with no warning, A BUNCH OF WOMEN came running in. they had identical silver wigs and granny-glasses, with matching white t-shirts and skirts. . . and were covered in white balloons. They danced around with a big red monster and lip-synched LAWDY MISS CLAWDY (little Richard) while popping the balloons. The grand finale: bowing with their backs to the audience, showing their underwears. Each bloomer had a big letter on it so when they all lined up it spelled 'B-I-T-C-H-(skull and crossbones). '

Then they ran away, only to come back with cheerleader costumes and do basically the same thing. Some amazing queen dragged a 5 foot wide white balloon into the middle of the crowd and popped it, sending goose-down everywhere: the balloon had been stuffed with feathers.

Their third number was some show-tune called 'money money money.' The leader came out with this absurd and nasty red lace outfit with a charming glitter-covered dildo. A two inch long glitter covered dildo!! Everyone else was wearing sequined-up cabaret style costumes. I think the gist of it was, the lady with the 2-incher was trying to pimp them out to the audience: pulling them up one at a time and gesturing for us to look at their sequin-encrusted boobies. . . but at the end they got even with her: they all dogpiled on her and ripped her clothes off. then, out of nowhere a mink coat appeared, and a bowler hat, and the disgraced drag-king ex-pimp turned into LIZA MANELLI. She sang some kind of Liza song, running into the crowd and harassing people. Then the monster came back and they all took a bow.

 

 

 

 


 

 デリシャスウィートス (derishasuuiitosu)


MEANING : : : delicious sweets
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1998~???
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
それゆけ!ハレンチ!スットンキョ!』1st Album
『デリシャスウィートス実録つっぱしれ!青春』DVD
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : '60s???

 

WEB . . . :  here
TDR REPORT . . .:

I  don't know what their songs are about or anything else . . . just that they're a swinging-'60s-London-themed burlesque crew.

 

 

 


1 comment Tags:

gekiteki 7 : retro japanese pop

Besides war nostalgia and religion, another  way to be "wayou" (east meets west) is to fuse rock with old-timey Japanese music.

 

Minyou kyoku= folk songs

kouta = early Meiji era : traditional short, fun songs

roukyoku =  also early Meiji : dark, manly ballads about duty and honor

Ryuukouka =  1920's music that sounded Eastern

Kayoukyoku = 1920's music that sounded Western

Enka = you know what that is

 

Given that Ryuukouka and Kayoukyoku (and the enka revivial of the '50s) were all about combining traditional older music with emerging pop forms to make something new, it's no surprise that  some bands are combining rock and Japanese music – usually with the scales and the singer's tone-of-voice being the Japanese part.

 

Frankly the only surprise is that there are not MORE of these bands.

 

If anyone knows enka/rock bands, please let me know and I'll try to add them. This page is wildly incomplete. . .

 

Readers wishing to know more about the history of Japanese pop music in the early 1900s can read my report on enka here.


 

氣志團 (kishidan)

 


MEANING : : medival knights
CITY . . :  Country suburbs of Chiba.
ERA . . . : 1996~
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  '80s gangster culture.
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :   the early '80s gangster world

WEB . . . : http://www.kishidan.com/
TDR REPORT . . .:

I think the '80s is old enough to be considered retro, so here is Kishidan. They are a big arena rock group.

Famous for their ‘juvenile delinquent’ costumes, their lyrics often borrow from or parody popular manga or kayoukyoku.

 

MASAMANIA has a superb collection of kishidan cos-play fans here.

 

more recent, funny:

earlier, perfect every juvenile delinquent cliche totally REBEL AGAINST FUCKING AUTHORITY ATTACK OF GANG FOREVER FUCKING MAN!!!!!!



  母檸檬 (haha lemon)


MEANING : :  parody of the "mama lemon" soap of the Taisho era.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2001 ~ ???
SOUND . . : kind of dumb pop, but not dance, more like random pop.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : flags, and sad Showa era girls, Terayama, Dazai Osamu.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry??
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 愛孕哀歌 (aihara muaika)
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Showa

WEB . . . : myspace,
TDR REPORT . . .:

They perform twisted versions of  童謡 (nursery rhymes)

They have a heavy Showa vibe. Also (along with afurirampo, inugami circus dan, and other female avant-garde bands)  they always seem to rock the red "under-kimono" look which I've talked about elsewhere.

Despite  being around for 10 years, and being big in the whole arty-farty scene (i often hear them mentioned alongside bands like  strawberry song orchestra or inugami circus dan), there is basically nothing at all on the web. Like not even photos. 

 

Anyone who knows more about the philosophy or influences of the band please get in touch.

 

 



  浅草ジンタ (ASAKUSA JINTA)

 


MEANING : : : Asakusa is a neighborhood in Tokyo famous for temples but also old-school working-class culture, yakuza, day-laborers, colorful drifters, etc. Jinta is a form of chindonya. Chindonya is a kind of small traditional marching band that stores would hire to stand out front to attract a crowd of customers, or to march around the neighborhood handing out flyers as they play.
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2005 ~ now
SOUND . . : enka-billy
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : デスマーチ 艦隊, 浅草ジンタ, QP crazy
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : ‘30s

WEB . . . : http://www.asakusajinta.com/, myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE

After Deathmarch Kantai broke up, Dynamyte Oshou formed a new band ? also a retro-‘30s rockabilly marching band ? but different: Asakusa Jinta focused more on enka-ish love songs, songs about matsuri (traditional festivals), and the Asakusa lifestyle.

 

 

 


 

アザラシ (azarashi)

 


MEANING : : : harbor seal (taken from the Stalin song of the same name)
CITY . . : hokkaido
ERA . . . :  ???
SOUND . . :  thrash (early), crappy fast glam (mid-period)
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  costumes only???
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 蛆蟲
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : myspace
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

need better picture!

My friend said they had  old-school pop (歌謡曲) vocals over hardcore music ???

But nothing I've heard by them sounds like that. Can fans of this band confirm or deny?

 

In any case, the costumes are from all different eras of Japanese history. Hopefully I'll have more about that later.

 

Lyrics are almost entirely about heartbreak, but in that very revenge-crazed enka way.

 

http://cosmichearse.blogspot.com/search?q=azarashi

 

nice gut-eating horror video:


 

 霞鳥幻樂団 (kasutori yourakudan)???

 

 


MEANING : :
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2008~present
SOUND . . :  happy folk/metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Edo, though I'd love to get a breakdown on all the individual costumes.

WEB . . . : myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: hhhhhhereeeeeeeeeee

 

A new band, associated with the ARTISM and A la mode folks. They play uptempo folk/metal, with a shamisen, accordion, and  a banjo?!?!? yes a banjo.

The shamisen and banjo play iron-maiden-like harmony leads. I don't know what the lyrics are about.

6 comments Tags: ,

gekiteki 6 : noise/performance art

I'm putting in noise bands that have a theatrical aspect – props, costumes, interacting with the audience, etc. Of course the theatrics come from  performance art moreso than  Shakespeare-type "theater"!

 


 

非常階段 (hijokaidan)


MEANING : :  emergency exit
CITY . . : Osaka
ERA . . . : late 1979~
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : japan wiki, http://noise.as/hijokaidan
TDR REPORT . . .:

This band took performance art and merged it with noise music (a form of electronic music that sounds like radio static).

There is a great English translation of the bandleader telling the story of the band at the website Psychedelic Noise From Japan And New Zealand.

 

Here is my favorite anecdote, but I really suggest you go to that website (wonder what it's about?) and read the whole thing.

In April 1981 an event called "Answer '81 Part Two" took place at Takudaku in Kyoto.  The performance-art aspect of Hijokaidan became more distinct at this show. In addition to the direct violence which they had expressed before, Oka and Zuke decided to convey physical loathing through every possible sensory medium. To this end, before the show they mixed garlic, raw fish and such like with buckets of putrid water. During the performance they started throwing these buckets around the stage. As it happened, I had not been forewarned about their plans and I was thus struck dumb with amazement. I remember being rooted to the spot, unable to move. Finally I drew some strength from the sight of Taniyan in his loincloth, his face shining with a certain type of innocence all the while continuing to wail on his guitar, and I was somehow able to continue with the performance. This show also marked the first time that Semimaru urinated on stage – a routine that at one time became almost synonymous with Hijokaidan. By the end of our performance, the entire venue stank so badly that it took over a week for the stench to fully dissipate. The next day we denied all knowledge of what had taken place.

another story, also from '81:

If I remember correctly we appeared fourth from last on the bill at the Keio University gig. However because some of our members let off a fire extinguisher they had found somewhere during our set, the audience (not to mention the band) found it difficult to breathe and we were forced to cut short our performance.It also seems that some of the members of Hijokaidan were themselves angry at the PA man's decision to leave and that they ran around breaking the windows in the classroom. The only direct danger that your writer experienced at this gig was caused by my climbing up one of the signboards that had been erected by members of the student protest movement. I was discovered by one of the students who had erected the signboard and he mistook me for a reactionary element. Fortunately one of the promoters of the gig had some influence with the student revolutionaries and things passed over without serious incident.

 

 I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this gig has now become legendary. Almost all the audience laughed with blank amazement at the sheer Kansai-ness of Hijokaidan. Then the next moment they were forced to flee in panic by the direct assault from the stage – at the same time they were unable to look away, transfixed as though by some terrifying sight. In a word I think their wide-ranging violent experience can be summed as being akin to extreme culture shock. The shaven-headed Oka and Zuke stood rigid in their combat clothing as they threw around buckets of gunge, ripped up raw fish with their teeth, using their own flesh as musical instruments.

 

Are there any Hijokaidan fans out there who can tell me what "using their own flesh as musical instruments" means? Did they tape contact microphones to their body, or just bash their heads with a microphone?

 

 

We bought some earthworms and lugworms at a fishing tackle shop and mixed these in buckets with eggs, milk, squid, salmon roe, raw fish and so on. During the performance we upended these buckets over our heads (in order not to damage the stage we had covered it with cardboard boxes we had found in the street. I remember fondly that Taniguchi and I had wandered around Shinjuku looking for these cardboard boxes and we sometimes came to blows with the homeless over them). It was too detailed a performance to be seen by the audience but I noticed that Oka carefully allowed the earthworms to hang from his mouth. The instruments we had brought along were soon unable to produce any proper sounds. In a gig like this where we were 200% hyped up we of course played our bodies and howled, resulting in a performance centred around badly connected noise. There was also an incident where Ebi-kun, a devoted follower of Hijokaidan and pyromaniac, got so turned on by the performance that he threw a firecracker on to the stage. The sight of him running around after the gig with a squid in one hand, a sea cucumber in the other and a big grin on his face, is one that has remained with me.

 

 

An 82 show with The Stalin:

 

Then it was the turn of Sta-Kaidan, eagerly awaited by the entire Kansai punk scene. From the Stalin side the line-up was Michiro, Shintaro, some guitarist I can’t remember, and Jun on drums. From Hijokaidan the line-up was Jojo, Oka, Yuka, Woo, and Hayashi. While The Stalin played songs such as The Jacks “Marianne” that had been selected by Michiro, Oka upended buckets of fermented beans, raw fish, milk, eggs and god knows what else over his head. In order to avoid defeat. The Stalin also started throwing around chicken carcasses and a pig’s head, and more buckets and flooring segments came flying from the audience. The Seibu Kodo and the 800 audience members dissolved into total anarchy. When a bucket thrown by someone in the audience hit me on the head, Hayashi charged out into the melee swinging a shovel. However this kind of chaos had been warmly anticipated by the audience and I believe that both they and the bands both enjoyed the show. I have very little memory of what we actually sounded like. Before the gig we had decided that this was to be a strictly one-off affair and so we purposely agreed not to record or video what happened. The event had grown out of the friendship between Hijokaidan and The Stalin and so we wanted to avoid it being turned into a commodity at some later date. Another episode that sticks in my memory – we had bought some shovels to use on stage, and after the rehearsal Hayashi and I put our heads together and dug a pit in the garden behind the venue. Ishibashi, one of the staff from the Seibu Kodo was good enough to fall into our pit twice – a comedy classic that still raises a laugh to this day.

 

But perhaps the most offensive part of their performance was : saxiphone solos. Not only that, but other noise guys like NIKUDOREI copied the saxophone format.

 

 


QP CRAZY


MEANING : :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 1994~
SOUND . . : hard rock
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here.

The Crazy SKB is the vocalist. He is a pro wrestler, on the indies circut. He also runs his own label, 殺害塩化ビニール (satsuga enka vynyl), which has a lot of "geki rock" acts of various genres, such as 大日本意識革命軍狂暴 (as seen Gekiteki 5), Shine Shine Shine Dan, and 毒殺テロリスト.


In fact, the Hijokaidan guy talked about Crazy SKB  showing up to their shows and being on their jock. I guess he was a Hijokaidan fan before he became a musician. But his pivotal insight was: marrying the high-art stylezzz of Hijokaidan to the low-art  performance style of pro-wrestling!


His live performances are full of wrestling-style moves.  Back-flip diving onto a "fort" of flourescent light bulbs a meter high, erecting a chicken-wire fence between stage and audience, filling the fence with firecrackers,  then attacking the fence with a spiked bat as the firecrackers go off and burn the audience. . . and hitting band members with flourescent lights.


When I saw them, Crazy SKB had a megaphone that shot fireworks, a giant flaming head of Asahara Shoko (head of the murderous AUM cult), and a bunch of Buddhist funeral sticks that had "666" painted on them. He finished the show by back-flipping off a speaker cabinet onto the giant Asahara head, which was on a giant sheet of glass which was on cinderblocks. BLAM. wtf!

 


 


肉奴隷 (nikudorei)


MEANING : : meat slave
CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 1996~present ???
SOUND . . : noise / performance
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : ???
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE

What are his lyrics about???

A classic noise act. His performances include: screaming while wearing nothing but a gimp mask, while being penetrated by a dominatrix with a dildo, setting himself on fire and being carried at a dead run to the nearest hospital (by ANOTHER dildo-weilding band, still in costume), playing with a succession of female saxophone players (including the singer of Gallhammer at one point), and other terrible incidents.

 


 

 

 ゴキブリ・コンビナート (gokiburi konbinaato)


MEANING : : cockroach factory
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2000~now ???
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷, QP crazy

STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 粘膜ひくひくゲルディスコ
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :http://www.geocities.jp/goki_con/
TDR REPORT . . .:

These guys are like an updated version of a traditional Japanese carnival freak-show (called misemono). But they generally play with rock bands, not with other misemono acts. They start out in contemporary street clothes and then usually get naked. Compared to traditional misemono, there is less actual deformed or handicapped people, and more vulgarity, almost a South-Park style button-pushing: they make fun of the handicapped or retarded people, suicidally depressed people, and people with “conjoined fetus syndrome”. . . and put on skits using “domestic abuse of the elderly” is the funny point. They take a popular kids’ song “dangosan kyoudai” about a kind of 3-ball shishkebab and change it so that the shishkebab pierces the cheeks of 3 members of the group, welding them together. Also their performances are in a “play” format, with the various grotesque acts being part of the “plot.” They also do occasional songs to backing tapes, but that is not their main thing.

 

The main guy also has a solo act, under the name of  病気マン (byoukiman, sort of a super-hero name like Sick-Man). I have no idea what that is about.


 

 

 関西ゼロ世代

MEANING : : : west-side zero generation
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : early boredoms worship.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise

 

West-side Zero Generation is a sort of clique or mutual-support group of Osaka bands with avant-garde or noisy leanings. Unlike most "scenes",  none of the bands sound the same. I'm including it here because so many of the bands are gekiteki. Does anyone know when this scene started? Or if they have a manifesto, something that explains why they think performance is such an important part of music?

Main Members: afurirampo, zuinoshin, oshiri penpens, Midori

Other members: azurashii, dmbq, bogulta, ワッツーシソンビ (WATUTSI ZOMBI) NECO眠る. 巨人ゆえにデカイ, パイプカットマミヰズ, アウトドアホームレス, N'夙川ボーイズ, 宇宙三輪車



あふりらんぽ (afurirampo)

 


MEANING : : :
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002-2010
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : 関西ゼロ世代, 鉄劇団
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : choreography, audience participation.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : wiki, http://www.afrirampo.com/
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre

No costumes or props, but choreography.  A lot of the songs have movements that go with the notes, which is quite an accomplishment since they are also playing instruments at the same time. For instance, in their Onigiri song, they pantomime making onigiri (rice balls). 

Do they count as gekiteki? I think so!

 

Here's an excerpt of a review from  the CLEAR AND REFRESHING website:


"It ends with drummer Pika leading a sizeable chunk of the audience out into the streets screaming "Puripuripu-pu-pu!" at all the stylish Tokyoites in the stylish cafes, then round in a circle and up onto the pedestrian bridge overlooking the venue, where guitarist Oni has led the rest of the crowd onto the pavement, thus commencing a nonsensical call and response shouting match."

This sort of take-the-crowd-out-of-the-venue was pioneered in Japan by guess who? Terayama. So there's that.

 



zuinoushin

 


MEANING : : :
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2004???
SOUND . . : noise
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : 関西ゼロ世代
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : here
TDR REPORT . . .: here

One of the Osaka west-side generation bands. . . way better than afurirampo, but they never got big because they're not cute girls.

 

Here's what I thought of them when I saw them:

 

kind of like early boredoms. Totally spastic and percussive but yet really tight. Too bad they decided to use like 39 effects pedals so we could not hear any actual notes. But still they got all crazy, plus the drummer had a fucking rayon SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK shirt. Fucker!

 

 



センチメンタル 出刃包丁  (senchimentaru dekabouchou)

MEANING : : sentimental big knife
CITY . . : Tokyo ???
ERA . . . : ???~ 2008 ???
SOUND . . : punk
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : none
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷

STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : myspace fan site
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

on that) this guy is the Japanese G.G. Allin, they say. Pissing on  and cutting up the audience, the whole 9 yards.

I have no information on him other than that. Total underground outlaw.
 



  組織暴力幼稚園 (soshikibouryokuyouchien)


MEANING : : kindergarten of organized violence.
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : ???
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : white kimono covered with writing, similar to those worn by singer of Junior High School Casket.
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷

STYLE . . . : noise/ performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
No JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : in the lyrics. unintelligible, but pretty sure he’s not happy.

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .:

They started as a rock band, who would scream abuse at the audience and finish the show by diving headfirst into the trash-bins and wearing it for a hat while rolling in trash. Of course there are a lot of bands who do that nowadays, but what makes Soshikibouroykuyouchien so special is a few times they’d continue the live-show by marching outside into the street (followed by the audience) and smashing shit until the cops came.

 


 

 

ブッシュマンズ・インポテンス (buschmann impotenz dv)

and the side project: 汚名らんど (omei Land)

MEANING : : Omei is named after a Lip Cream song.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2007 ???
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhere

 

The youtube is of them being less tribal, more slick, wearing matching fundoshi and welders' helmets. When I saw them – an April Fools' day show at night in a cemetary packed full of cherry blossoms – (!!!!) they played tribal noise – sort of like CRASH WORSHIP i suppose? Improvised tom-tom drumming with feedback over it, plus layers of pedal-driven "noise" over that, and the singer screaming.

 

 

There's an omeiland video, but it's not embeddable. go here to see it.

 


LOGISTICS


CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2008 ???
SOUND . . : butthole surfers
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : fundoshi, Japanese construction worker costumes, decorations of b-movie Japanese stars. (politicians?)
CLIQUE . . . :  QP CRAZY
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : multi-media, stage decorations, costumes.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here

 

These guys had a sort of psychedelic, multi-media performance (props, video projections, thrown objects)  that was like a more sedate butthole surfers, mixed with Weird Al comedy rock. Anyone know who those giant heads are?

 


1 comment Tags:

gekiteki 5 : militarist

These bands are "theatrical" because they are inspired by  the pomp and bombast of  – to say nothing of the shock value of – Japanese military culture from fascist era (roughly '31 – '45) 

Any discussion of militarist Japanese rock has to start with "the nazi thrash epidemic" of the late '80s: a sort of  'arms race' where each band had to take the gimmick further than the last band. I'm not so offended by the nazi symbolism. I'm more offended that the music combines really high-quality thrash (=good) with crummy glam (=bad).


 

mein kampf

MEANING :
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1985
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : metal archives,
TDR REPORT . . .:



ROSENFELD

 


MEANING : :
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1986=~
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : metal archives
TDR REPORT . . .:

 


ROMMEL

 


MEANING : :
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1987
SOUND . . : speed-metal, shred-tastic solos, kind of x-japan choruses
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : metal archives
TDR REPORT . . .:

 


harkenkreuz

 

MEANING : 'twisted cross' as in you-know-what
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

 

INSANE OMNIBUS PAGE OF ALL NAZI THRASH VIDEOS:

 

 


 さあぐ (殺悪愚,  pronounced SAAGU)


MEANING : : : literally “Murder Bad Foolish”, but phonetically “thug”, the English word. This sort of pun is called ‘ateji’ (当て字) and is a very very bousouzoku style of humor.

The English "translation" is Spiritual Agony Agitate Guerilla
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : ???
SOUND . . : hardcore
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : bousouzoku costumes, gunka
CLIQUE . . . : ???
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 異形, 唯一
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :http://sound.jp/saag/saagtop.htm
TDR REPORT . . .:

WWII army music plays on the intro. . . fade into the sounds of 100 motorcycles revving, singer comes in in full biker gear, throwing lite fireworks into the crowd, then into some old-school Japanese-style hardcore punk. There is no shortage of thug-core bousouzoku hardcore bands, starting with Anarchy (one of the first punk bands in Japan, before hardcore was invented). But saagu is noteworthy because they have a theatrical approach to the bike-gang lifestyle, and also a pro- (rather than anti-) authority attitude.

Pro-Emperor lyrics and such.

 


 

 

火の宮 (hinokyuu)
 
 
MEANING : palace of fire
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : ‘80s
SOUND . . :  punk
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  Workingman’s clothes:

wtf tall socks and knickerbockers? with head band. What does this mean???

THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :

HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
CLIQUE . . . : Taiyou records
STYLE . . . :  militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . : http://www.geocities.jp/ytaddb/A/sawaki.htm
http://park11.wakwak.com/~rock-daigaku/gj/gj0059hino.html
TDR REPORT . . .:
Sounds like the clash. 
 Band of Sawaki Kazumi, who runs Taiyou records.
 

 


デスマーチ艦隊 (desumaachi kantai)

 


MEANING : : : the ‘march’ was a popular form of SOUND . . : in the ‘30s. kantai means a Navy fleet, and ‘death’ refers NOT to a fleet that is all marching off to die , but refers to the fact that this band is the ‘death metal version’ or ‘heavy version’ of marching-band SOUND. Got all that?
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1997~2005
SOUND . . : gunka-billy ! standing bass, and horns!
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Showa-era marching bands, WWII.
CLIQUE . . . : デスマーチ 艦隊, 浅草ジンタ
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : navy uniforms with shironuri and faces covered in scars : zombie sailors!
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : ‘30s, ‘40s

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .:

They started out a psycho-billy band, and gradually evolved into a full ‘30s style marching band, with over 10 members and plenty of traditional Japanese instruments, tycho drums etc. The lyrics also evolved to be about the Imperial war ERA . . . :, including covers of gunka (war and military songs) of that time.

The band-leader is named Dynamyte Oshou, and his family is kind of famous for running a big butsudan company (butsudans are the family Buddhist altars one keeps in one’s home to pray to one’s ancestors).

 

 


 


大日本意識革命軍狂暴 (DAINIPPONISHIKIKAKUMEIGUNKYOUBOU)

 


MEANING : : Great Japanese Consciousness Revolutionary Army Frenzy
CITY . . : Nagoya
ERA . . . : `97-2004 ???
SOUND . . :  ???
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :  QP crazy
STYLE . . . :militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 97『時代錯誤』, 2001『原石の庭』, 2002 『誉-ホマレ-』
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : early Showa era ('30s , '40s)

WEB . . . : http://www.h7.dion.ne.jp/~kyoubou/,
TDR REPORT . . .:

the singer is wearing a cross between a Navy General WWII costume and a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit????

The guitarist is dressed like a kamikaze. The bassist looks like he collects every Evangelion figurine ever.

WTF. Even my Japanese friends who are familiar with the "nazi thrash epidemic" of the late '80s are puzzled that a band like this would be able to exist.

 

rad photos of them, more info than i seen anywhere online, but only recent middleage pictures

http://kurotokage.net/070815k.html


魔亜蛾麟
 

 
MEANING : literally, "demon asia moth mystical chinese beast" , but pronounced ‘margarine’. On purpose.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . :  trad. Jappacore
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  their uniforms seem to be a cross between bosozoku gear and WWII army gear.
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : aikokusha he no tsugu
WEB . . . : http://www.myspace.com/kyushuaikokuoukikaimargarine
TDR REPORT . . .:
 
I don't know anything about these guys. But I got their CD – the song titles and lyrics are like classic WWII gunka, but not cover versions. More like modernized  punk versions.  It's like they're some recruiting gimmick for some black-van group or something . . . ?
 

14 comments Tags:

gekiteki 4 : pagan

Religion is another way to mix up East and West. Some of these bands are serious, deep Buddhists, and some are metal-heads who embrace  Japanese pagan or shamanic stuff in order to reject Christianity and Christian Rock (this is a common theme of metal worldwide ever since Norwegian rockers started wearing Ren-faire garb and singing about Thor in the early '90s)


people

 

 

MEANING :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  1971
SOUND . . :  psychedelic
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Bhuddist sutras (shomyo)
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :  pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :  Buddha Meet Rock
WEB . . . :  prog archives
TDR REPORT . . .:

People was some session musicians who got together to experiment with the theme "rock plus buddhist sutras". It didn't go very well – lots of terrible blues guitar solos and confused minimal bits where nothing goes on. But hey – it's the first time anyone tried combining Japanese religion and rock. Here is the only halfway good song:

 

 


 


GARGOYLE

 

MEANING :
CITY . . :  Osaka
ERA . . . : ‘87~
SOUND . . : metallica
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : kimono
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :  pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :  aratama?? Only one I know of.
WEB . . . : http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/Gargoyle/15822
TDR REPORT . . .:
Cheesy visuals  . . .songs are all about  Japanese mythology.
 
Like a lot of VK bands, their fans were young girls, but as the band aged and the girls graduated to other things,  their fans turned into old nerd men. the same age as the band!
 
Same phenomenon as morning musume.
 
Wtf Japan?!?
 
 

 


五人一首 (gonin isshu)


MEANING :

literally “five people, one neck”, this appears to be a take-off of hyakunin isshu, which is a hundred-card card game based on the form of poetry known as tanka (sort of a grown-up precursor to the kids’ card-game karuta). Anyway there are five people in this band so it seems they changed hyakunin (100 people) to gonin (5 people)!
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1997~
SOUND . . : progressive melodic death metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : vocal melodies, 作務衣 (monk’s work clothes), yokai
CLIQUE . . . : sigh (same drummer)
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Naishikyo-Sekai ???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : general old-times Japan
WEB . . . : http://www.gonin-ish.com/ myspace
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

Their lyrics are about yokai (traditional monsters and faries of traditional folk-tales)
Their sound is very influenced by Dream Theater and kinniku shoujotai
 

 


 

凶音 (magane)


MEANING : : : most horrible or ill-fated sound.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1999 ~2005
SOUND . . : black metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Shinto mysticism, kimono, onkai (a Japanese scale)
CLIQUE . . . : sigh
STYLE . . . : pagan
Shinto. Early Japanese b.m.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Mortes Saltantes Full-length, 1999 , Beginning at the End Full-length, 2003
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : They’d wear kimono and shironuri. The vocal was a skinhead who would paint extra eyes all over his head.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : early Shinto times of Japan – I guess you could say it was Japan's bronze age.

WEB . . . : myspace , http://www.bekkoame.ne.jp/ro/yomituti/
TDR REPORT . . .:

The first black metal band in Japan, before Sigh, though they did often play together. Applying the BM idea of “pre-christian back to the roots of my people, anti-modern-society” thing to Japan. Most songs are about Shinto myths (shinwa), especially creation myths of various deities.

One of the guys is now in 捜血鬼, souketsuki, a gagaku black metal band!

The drummer was named 黄泉槌, yomitsuchi, literally hell hammer. Ha ha

 



  ごつとつこつ 元突骨


MEANING : : a famous warrior from the Chinese “sangokushi” (‘warring states’) period. Also the name of a popular videogame in Japan.
CITY . . : saitama
ERA . . . : 2000~
SOUND . . : death metal with slap-bass
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : samurai armor!! (known as yoroi 鎧), Lyrics about noble warriors from the Japanese (not Chinese) warring-states period, known as Sengoku (1467-1573)
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : Their between-song-banter is delivered in character, all SCA/Renfaire style, but very tongue-in-cheek. For example, they’ll refer to the ‘fast Saikyosen horse’ they took to the gig, Saikyosen being the railway that runs to Saitama.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Sengoku

WEB . . . : myspace, http://gotsu.komusou.jp/index.html
TDR REPORT . . .:

Bassist of defiled.

 

DLLLhttp://www.bloodyearsnbeer.blogspot.com/


picture ???

cavo

MEANING : : :
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2000
SOUND . . : doom w/ folk elements
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan (shamanic)
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costume ???
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : ancient pre-literate Japan

WEB . . . : discography here
TDR REPORT . . .:

The most underground , not-on-web, holy grail shit ever. no myspace, no fan pages, no torrents, no DLs, no youtubes, nothing. Fitting for a band that was very anti-the-modern-world.

Not only are the lyrics in a made-up language, but dude made up his own alphabet like tolkien. Why? He wanted to take it even further back than Magane: performing shinwa (神話= legends of the gods) from Japan’s shamanic cave-man era, before the Japanese language had even been invented! Shaman metal!

Members of cavo and tetsuo went on to form birushannah.

The sound is ritual sludge! repetitive low guitars and chanting. Hella ambiguous.

If you’re wondering why Corrupted began to do super long, almost ritual-sounding songs with 10-minute “dark” acoustic intros, it’s because of Cavo.

 

Cavo is the missing link between birushannah and corrupted.


 

birushannah

 


MEANING : : : ???
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002~still active
SOUND . . : technical folk metal with industrial metal percussion
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Buddhism, traditional Japanese tyko drums, Japanese melodies.
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : akai yami
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: YESSSSSSSS

the thing you got to understand about Birushanah is, they’re taking deep, thousand-year-old Buddhist, occult, living-in-the-woods Japanese folk melodies and melding them with NEUROSIS-style tribal metal sludge. That’s their deal. Also: fretless bass WITH STAINLESS STEEL MIRRORED NECK being fingertapped basically the whole time.

If that sounds too good to be true, it is.

I really want to like Birushanah because they are so deep and uncompromising, but their shit is all OVERPLAYED. That is to say, everyone plays too many notes and progs out too much and they are all in each others’ way. Too many chefs spoiling the pagan,neurosis soup, if you will. The bass is finger-tapping the whole show . . . every riff is too complex to be tribal or catchy- and to make matters worse, the "regular" drum guy, instead of playing accents, tries to duplicate ALL the bass notes. The "industrial" drummer just plays constant 16th notes no matter what anyone else is playing. the guitar was too distorted for me to even attempt to critique it.

On the other hand – the melodies are super long and complex – maybe they take 40 seconds to repeat. And: Lyrics about Buddhist philosophy. Also melodies have a little Indian influence.

They cover a kids’ song, カゴメカゴメ but their version is called アナグラ

 

 


pic ???


  緑血 (ryokketsu)

MEANING : : : green blood
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002-2008
SOUND . . : sludge doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Buddhism, samue (Buddhist monk’s work clothes), onkai
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : shinshou
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : prog archives
TDR REPORT . . .:

When I saw them, they were a 3-piece: bass (like Birushannah, fretless and mirrored-steel neck!), western drums, and tribal drums. A groovier, more chanty version of Birushannah, I guess you could say. Their lyrics are also about Buddhism.
 


 
陰陽座 (onmyouza)

 

 
 
MEANING : 陰陽座 ? yin & yang throne. Also, 陰陽師(おんみょうじ) where the shamans of the old days, usually pictured to dress like this band is.

CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2003~
SOUND . . :  visual kei with power-metal stylezzz and lady singer.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kimono, youkai lyrics.
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :

HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Heian period
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . : http://www.onmyo-za.net/index.html 
TDR REPORT . . .:
 
Catchphrase : “Youkai heavy metal”.
 
Lyrics in very old fashioned Japanese.
 
Lyrics about legends of youkai and demons.
 
Take inspiration from youkai researcher 京極 夏彦 and manga author手塚 治虫.
All songs are named after various youkai.

 
 

 



銀河 (ginga)


MEANING : : : the milky way galaxy
CITY . . : Kyoto???
ERA . . . : 2007
SOUND . . : insane finger-tapping, motorik prog metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : see below

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE

 

These guys seem to have teleported out of the medieval past of an ALTERNATE Japanese reality: they are at once very traditional and very surreal. Their kimonos are all crocheted wool with hoodies on, they have giant battle flags on their back (which is a real thing), but also dolls made of dried straw clinging to their backs like children (?!?!?!). And the singer showed up in a loincloth and a fox mask. Their music is equally uncompromising: non-stop finger-tapping for 30 minutes. Not like Eddie Van Halen style tapping – this was Krautrock style. They'd play a hypnotic series of 8 or 16 notes and just loop it for a loooong time. It sounded a lot like Tetsugekidan – another West Coast mystery group.

 

Francois writes that "the straw dolls could be Japanese voodoo dolls, 藁人形 "

 


 

zenithrash

MEANING :
CITY . . :  Osaka
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . :  epic melodic death metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese instruments and scales
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Restoration Of The Samurai World
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Edo era

WEB . . . : myspace, metal archives
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

a one-man band. Mixes melodic death metal with Japanese instruments and scales. Lots of layers.

sample song titles:

 

 

harakiri – the honorable death

pandemic scroll

invincible yamato

man with armor dignified

the samurai metal!

 


2 comments Tags:

gekiteki 3: literary bands

Literary bands  – for some reason all metalheads – use old-timey Japanese authors for their lyrics. Usually horror or surrealist writers from the Modernist period of the '30s.

Literature is a big part of ANGURA (underground) culture  . . .even if your band isn't metal, even if you don't  have literary lyrics, you're supposed to  know about 4 or 5 guys if you're any kind of hipster at all: Mishima Yukio,  Edogawa Ranpo, Dazai Osamu, Yumeno Kyuusaku, and Yoko Mizo.

 

And of course many "literary" bands take lyrical inspiration from even further back: traditional folk tales, yuurei (ghost stories), noroi (curse stories), and so on.


人間椅子 (ningen isu)

 


MEANING : : human chair – The band name translates as ' The Human Chair', it's taken from the title of one of Rampo Edogawa's novels
CITY . . : Aomori (many songs are in the Aomori dialect of tsugaruben)
ERA . . . : 1987~
SOUND . . : doom with folk melodies
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : fashion (often cosplay characters from folk tales or old horror novels) and lyrics, some Japanese instruments, and the authors Yumeno Kyusaku, Rampo Edogawa, and Yoko Mizo,
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . : first alb (ningen shikkaku) and kaijin nijuu mensou (man with 20 faces, based on the Yoko Mizo novel of the same name)
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : taisho era, edo era.

WEB . . . :http://ningen-isu.com/ , myspace
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

The two major literary influences are Yumeno Kyusaku 夢野久作 and Yoko Mizo, as well as – to a certain extent – Ranpo. Mix this with Black Sabbath and a little King Crimson, and you've got Ningen Isu.

Yoko was kind of the Flannery O`Connor of Japan. Ranpo’s stories were set in the cities, but Yoko’s were set in the deep countryside where every small town had terrible secrets and the traditional ghosts/monsters lurked round every corner. In other words, Yoko’s novels- although at the same time as Ranpo’s and in the same genre – were much more Japaneesy.

Also this band is one of the bands that got embiggened by mainstream TV talent show IKASU BAND TENGOKU – an example of how a mainstream TV show stimulated underground music in Japan at that time.

Because of their TV fame, they were able to kick off a whole "bunkei" (literary nerd rock) movement, which was a sort of counter-reaction to the more jock-ish metal and visual kei scene which had dominated the '80s.  Even non-metal bands such as Strawberry or Inagumi cite Ningen Isu as an influence.

 

Here's a video for a song called KAIJIN NIJUU MENSOU (The Beast-Man with Twenty Faces). Not only is it based on a horror novel, but each band member is cos-playing a different character from the novel.

 

 

 

 


 


ニンゲン・カクセイキ (ningen kakuseiki)

 


MEANING : : : it’s a pun ? they deliberately use katakana, forcing the reader to imagine the two possible kanji combinations which both sound like ‘ningen kakuseiki’: 人間覚醒記 (chronicles of human awakening), and 人間拡声器 (the human megaphones). But which is it really? Neither! The name exists perpetually in an in-between state of ambiguity and double-ness. This Hisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Shondigger’s-Cat-like property of the Japanese language is also a big part of the lyrics, which are also full of such kanji puns and double-MEANING : : s. Epistemological prog!

CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2000-2006
SOUND . . : fast metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : literary Kanji puns, Terayama, Natsume Souseki (author), Evangelion, Yukio Mishima
CLIQUE . . . : : jr. high school grave, Magdalena, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.ningenkakuseiki.com/
TDR REPORT . . .:

In the beginning, there was a big Terayama influence. They were called ニンゲンカクセイキ・CaptorCrat, and they wrote an entire new set-list of songs for every performance. The songs were playful and philosophical, full of puns and palindromes. For example, one time they'd do a Shakespeare parody. Another show would be about 人動説 戦争 論争戦 : the belief that humans make the stars revolve around earth (geocentrism?!?)

Then they got a new drummer, and made a stable setlist, mostly about “what-if?” scenarios involving famous historical people, both real and fictional:

Natsume souseki (author)
Kafka’s cockroach tale
Evangelion,
Yukio mishima.
Etc.

 

 


 

マグダラ呪念 (magudara junen)


MEANING : : : the curse of mary magdalene
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2003
SOUND . . : doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kimono, kayoukyoku melody, kabuki voice/kobushi (vibrato)
CLIQUE . . . : chuugakuseikanake, magudara junen, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . :2 eps 何の因果でこうなった and 念の音
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :http://www.gyokumon.com/bonten/index.htm ,myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: YESSS

Lyrics similar to chuukauseikanake, but more abstract. They do sing in different characters for different songs.no real literally or theatre influence.

 

 

 


 

中学生棺桶 (chuugakuseikanake),now known as 例のK.


MEANING : : : jr. high school casket
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2004-5??? ~ present
SOUND . . : doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kayoukyoku melodies, difficult, old-school Nihongo, Osamu
CLIQUE . . . : chuugakuseikanake, magudara junen, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 神頼みの似非不良に抗う
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Showa

WEB . . . :http://jp.youtube.com/user/haizanbu, myspace

TDR REPORT . . .: HERRRRRRRRRE

Big GG Allin influence attitude-wise, and big Sabbath influence in the riffs, but both filtered through this Japanese occult Showa-era filter.

Vocalist’s name is ようぞう, a character from an Osamu novel. The white kimono covered in chinese letters is a thing some of these gekiteki bands do. Is that a Terayama thing ???
The songs have a GG-ish theme of cursing society and having a huge grudge against everyone. But the songs are structured like stories where the singer isn’t “Me” , he’s a character who is literally placing a hex or curse on the world, and the lyrics are often invocations or chants. うらみぶし。

 

In the photo above, the singer is wearing a white kimono, called shinishuuzoku. The kimono dead bodies are buried in. The kimono is covered with writing. This sort of graffiti-ed death kimono is worn by several other geki-teki bands, such as Soshiki Bouryoku Youchien.  Mr. Mochi says there are two origins for this kimono;

 

1) a "kaidan" (ghost story) called Miminashi Houichi. About a demon that likes to eat people in the village. But a buddhist priest advises a villager to wrap his whole body in white cloth covered with Buddhist sutras, which will make him invisible to the demon. But the man forgets to wrap his ears, so the demon  says, "Hey look, two floating disembodied ears! I'll take them!" and thereafter the villager has no ears.

2) the funeral custom of writing buddhist sutras on the shinishuuzoku to prevent yuurei (evil spirits) from corrupting the recently deceased and enlisting them in the yuurei's campaign of revenge on the living. Also the family of the deceased would write good things on the kimono – things they'd miss about the deceased. Like a written eulogy.

 

Of course, the bands here write fucked up stuff instead.

 

No comments Tags:

gekiteki 2: shironurikei

shironurikei (白塗り形) means "white-painted face style".

The white face thing has been around forever – geisha and all that.

But shironurikei is not just a matter of doing geisha makeup. There's a whole  iconography to it. A sort of "japanese goth" that is different from your fakey Marilyn Manson-type goth bands AND different from your "gothic lolita" people. Shironurikei is a bit more theatrical,  literary, retro, arty, Japanese-y (as opposed to european), and  Terayama-ish.   That's why I'm putting these bands in here and not all the gothic bands that you like. Sorry!

Shironurikei is not just a music thing – you'll often see art or photography which uses the same atmosphere and visual vocabulary as the bands.

 

It's not really my favorite thing ever but it’s useful since it combines the theatrical stuff with the wayou mix stuff to the MAXXX.


 犬神 サーカス団 (inugami saakasu dan)

MEANING : : : Inugami is a traditional monster from “noroi” (trad. Ghost stories).
This then was used in a Yoko Mizo novel called “inugamikei no ichizoku”. That novel was then referenced in a TERA . . . :yama artwork called Inugami Circus-dan. From whence the band got their name.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1994 ~ ???
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese funeral rituals, Edo-era prostitutes, costumes, old horror novels, 'gaidan eiga'
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : ???
SOUND . . : no Japanese elements. Just visual fast. With random pop.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry and hino hideshi’s horror manga.
STYLE . . . : theatrical, shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Jigoku no Komoriuta (地獄の子守唄) – 1999
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Edo, Taisho eras

WEB . . . :http://www.inugami.jp/top.html
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

This was one of the first generation of literary (bunkei) bands.

When they first started, the band would play noise while Ms.  Kyoko (the singer) screamed long, non-rhyming poems or excerpts from old horror novels over it while wearing a schoolgirl costume and carrying her own fueral photo on her chest. Then they started playing more musically, and the singer would dress in  a bright under-kimono (and say saucy in-between song banter) in the manner of an Edo-era prostitute.

 

The bright-red kimono is called a  じゅばん (juban), which is a big re-occuring theme in this type of music.  Afurirampo, Haha lemon, and other female bands tend to wear it. It's kind of what you'd wear under your regular kimono. But in the Edo days, if you were a prostitute, you wouldn't have time to put on a proper kimono, so you'd just lounge around in your juban.  The symbolism is not "slut" so much as "the particular kind of unfairness or harshness of the Japanese woman's life." (because a lot of prostitutes were sold into sexual slavery as a result of high taxes, feudalism, or other forms of exploitation).

 

Also the singer has this crazy ear-to-ear lipstick. This is ANOTHER thing you almost have to do if you're a lady in a shironurikei band. According to Mr. Mochi, the ear-to-ear lipstick has two possible meanings.

 

One relates to an urban legend which circulated in the  late '80s, called KUCHISAKE ONNA.  Supposedly this was a lady who was beautiful but wasn't satisfied with her beauty so she had plastic surgery which became horribly botched. She'd walk around town with a big sars-mask on, and go up to strangers and ask them if she was beautiful. They'd say "Yes," then she'd rip off the sars mask, revealing a horribly deformed monstrous mouth and ask HOW ABOUT NOW? and then chase and/or eat them. So that's one possible origin of the crazy lipstick.

 

The other origin is, the idea of a retarded village girl who (ちしきが知恵遅れ) who falls in love with a "normal" man and tries to impress him by wearing lipstick, but doesn't know how to apply it. The appeal is a combination of the pathos (she's doomed to be rejected but too disabled to realize it) plus the naiive purity of her erotic desire. Anyway.

 

Then they went pop and it didn’t work out. Now they are indie again.

A lot of the lyrics have to do with traditional poetry, and “gaidan eiga” (movies based upon traditional ghost stories, which were popular in the taisho and showa eras)

 

 

 

 


グルグル映画館 (guruguru eigakan)

MEANING :  rotating movie theatre
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 1995~2002
SOUND . . : visual dorkiness with occasional kayoukyoku melody
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : just dude’s school-boy hat.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry, shinjuku gewalt, guruguru eigakan
STYLE . . . :  major label pop
ALBUM TO GET . . . : dunno but the cover is hella a typical traditional style. where does this steelo come from???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :  skits , terayama
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://guruguru-eigakan.syncl.jp/
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

Is there any other JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : to it??

These guys were a pop band, but theatrical: they would do songs from the points of view of various different characters. And before the song started (in concert), they would do skits where the musicians would talk "in character" about the song.

That wonderful album cover (above) is pure Tadanori Yokou.

Together with Kari Gari, these guys were the sort of major-label face of the shironurikei movement in the '90s.

 

 

 



新宿ゲバルト (SHINJUKU GEBARUTO)

MEANING : : : Shinjuku Domination (Gewalt is a german word)
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : late ‘90s.
SOUND . . : techno. Laptops. Happy.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Shinjuku gewalt, karigari
STYLE . . . :  major label techno laptop junk
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :  props, projections, costumes
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : showa

WEB . . . : http://shinjukugewalt.com/
TDR REPORT . . .:

Terrible music but a big influence on the costumes and artwork of shironurikei.

They were part of the whole "techno side" of shironurikei, along with bands such as Jinsei and Denki Groove. These bands were influenced by Uchouten, the prominent theatrical new-wavers of the '80s. I can't stand techno. But.  Shinjuku Gewalt wasn't just a copy-cat band, they had a whole "look" that was influential.

They had a whole generation of middle-class delinquent schoolgirls sporting racoon eyes and helmets. In the picture above, they have bats (bosouzoku!) replicas of the fucking jackets that Yukio Mishima's private militia group wore when he committed suicide, and the helmets? '60s communist radical style.

Their set design (when performing live) is just as confusing: lots of propaganda posters, crumpled up newspapers. . . as messy physically as it is conceptually.

 


:かりがり (cali≠gari)

MEANING : :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : '89 ~
SOUND . . :  major label pop-rock, the-cure-sounding-ass
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : Shinjuku gewalt, karigari
STYLE . . . : shironurikei.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 第5実験室
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :  wikipedia
TDR REPORT . . .:

Together with shinjuku gewalt, these guys were huge in the late '90s. And terrible.  But before they signed to a major, their original singer Mr. Shuuko  was amazing – he'd be on stage with the tattoos and the goth-loli drag. Apparently all the songs off the 第5実験室 album have totally ero-guro lyrics .

The song below is about being bullied in school. Also the guitarist wrote some songs dealing with homophobia.

 

 

 

 

 


 


ストロベリーソングオーケストラ, (sutoroberii songu ookesutora) often shortened to : 苺楽團

 


MEANING : : strawberry song orchestra
CITY . . : Osaka???
ERA . . . : 98~present
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : everything! costumes, Japanese instruments, Japanese storytelling, melodies, Terayama, Maruo Suehara.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry
STYLE . . . : theatrical, shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :

HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Taisho era

WEB . . . : wikipedia, http://www.kagamimachi.com/main.html, myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE

These guys have been going strong since the '90s. Their main influences are avant-garde flamboyant theatre guy Terayama Shuuji, and the horror manga artist Maruo Suehara, and the whole Taisho era (1910s and '20s).

STRAWBERRY is the main influence that other bands in this scene all copy. In the past – not that I've seen it – they put on full plays, spoken word events, spin-off bands where one of the characters in the play gets their own group for a one-time event, and other multi-media stuff, including a Strawberry baseball team. Like some Wu-Tang Clan shit where they sort of manufacture their own world.

This world is a fictional city called Kagami, supposedly in between Kyoto and Nagoya. The songs don't all follow one narrative (it's not a rock opera in that sense), but each song tells the story of one particular inhabitant of Kagami City.

 

The singer – head swathed in bandages, is named Kage Otoko (or The Shadow Man). He's a sort of human shadow, so if you unwrapped the bandages, there would be nothing there.

 

The symbol of the band  (four knifes coming out of the Chinese word for "strawberry") is interesting. Besides the swastika shape , the knives have little holes in them, for letting juices flow out of the cut things. These type of knives are called 穴開き 包丁 ( ana-aki houchou = the knife with the holes in it).But the pronounciation sounds like "anarchy knife", so that's why the band likes them.

 

 

which album to get???

 

 

 

 

 



 ゾンビ・ロリータ (zonbi roriita)


MEANING : : : zombie lolita
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2001~still
SOUND . . : power metal / light opERA . . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kimono, ???
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : no albums, but a lot of live DVDs
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : rock opera.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.nekoten.net/zombie/ZOMBIE.TOP.html, myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE

songs are written in character, and are all about girls’ feelings (they’re hurt!) despite being written by a man in his ‘50s.

 

 

 


 


  Candy Spooky Theater


MEANING : :
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2002~ ???
SOUND . . : fakey marilyn manson
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : none
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : characters, between-song narrarations, costumes
CLIQUE . . . : alamode
STYLE . . . : shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : myspace, http://www.thecandyspookytheater.com/
TDR REPORT . . .: yesssssssssssssssss

Not sure whether to include them. They don’t have any Japanese elements. Their style is American. But they DO have a dramatic side that is more than just just costumes and candelabras.

Apparently their whole thing is based on the American “living dead dolls” , which are a goth niche version of Blythe mixed with Garbage Pail Kids. I had no idea. The actual dolls come with a death certificate which explains how they died.

So the band members are all dressed like dead goth dolls (which come to think of it, dolls are basically tied with alice in wonderland as the center of Japanese goth so maybe that is the "japanese tradition" angle). Anyway each band member plays the role of a doll and they do songs (and in between song banter) which explains the circumstances of each of their gruesome demise.

 


7 comments Tags:

gekiteki 1: theatrical

This isn't ALL the "gekiteki" bands, just  the ones who are the most like "regular" theater troupes. In the next week or so I'll post the rest of the bands.

 


J.A. Caesar


MEANING : Terahara Taka'aki
ERA . . . : 60s, 70s
SOUND . . : : a mix of heavy Psychedelic and Japanese folk
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese instruments, melodies, costumes . . .
CLIQUE . . . : Terayama Shuuji
STYLE . . . : theatraical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : ???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : everything
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :
WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .:

DL: here
Seazer (real name Terahara Takaaki) (寺原 孝明) was the musical director and composer for Terayama Shuuji. Shuuji would write the plays and Seazer would compose the tunes. His tunes were 50% lame hippy psychadelic crap, but the other 50% were SO RAD. Like you know how in The Wire, Omar whistles a traditional European Kids' song (Farmer In The Dell) and it becomes really creepy? Well imagine that with traditional Japanese folk melodies added to repetitive, tribal heavy psychedelic instrumentation. So deep and yet new.

wikipedia: Seazer composed the score to the animated film adaptation of Suehiro Maruo's manga Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (also known as Midori or Shojo-tsubaki).

 


筋肉少女帯 (kinniku shoujotai)


MEANING : : : Muscle Girl Band
CITY . . :  Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1982~1999
SOUND . . : straight up visual glam metal.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : literary influence! Terayama (he's an author and poet as well as a theater guy), Dazai Osamu.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry, uchouten, kinniku shoujotai
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : ???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : ???
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : ???

WEB . . . : http://www.kids.co.jp/King-Show/, wikipedia
TDR REPORT . . .:

 

Kinniku Joseitai was a corny glam band, but they were a big influence on theatrical bands such as (???). Also, the lyrics are inspired by Terayama as well as the romantic gloomy novelist Dazai Osamu. Vocalist Ootsuki Kenji's lyrics are deliberately vague and ambiguous (漠然=bakuzen), because they deal with teenagers' uncertainty and anxiety about the future. He was a hero to '80s otaku because he articulated their frustration and "WTF am I going to do with my life?!?" problems. My friend also said the lyrics were どろどろ, meaning muddy or thick. If I understood her meaning, in this context どろどろ is how teenage outcasts see life: like it's a muddy fog, full of situations, rules, regulations, emotions, and reasons that they can't see or touch or understand, but just stumble around in.

Influenced Strawberry Song Orchestra (though they probably wouldn't admit it), Soshiki Bouryoku Houchien, and ???

The vocalist, Kenji Ootsuki, is a novelist. He writes science fiction, horror, and autobiographical books.

 

 

 


 

有頂天 (UCHOUTEN)


MEANING : : a sanskrit (梵語) word for one part of buddhist heaven, but is a used to mean extasy or rapture.
CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 82-91
SOUND . . : more of a new wave thing, but very mainstream.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . : uchouten, kinniku shoujotai
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .:

Contemporaries of kinniku shoujotai.  Uchouten were a big influence on shironuri kei techno bands such as Shinguku Gewalt, Jinsei, and Denki Groove.

did they have any JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE ???

The vocalist, Mr. Kera, ran their record label, Nagomu Records. That label had a sort of unique  new-wave sound, so the bands on it were called Nagomu Kei.  Although Uchouten was not a theatrical band, Mr. Kera also runs his own theatre troupe on the side, so it's unclear to me how much influence he had on the development of geki rock.

 

 

INSANE website with pictures of Uchouten as well as TONS of '80s pop images. Like a one-man (or one-woman) Tumblr. Even if you don't like pop or new wave, this is fucking interesting, man.

 

 


 

明和電機 (meiwa denki)


MEANING : : Meiwa Electrical Corporation
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1993~present
SOUND . . : : electronic
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : a deadpan parody of the salariman lifestyle
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they do the whole concert in character, with an elaborate script in between songs.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.maywadenki.com/english/00main_e_content.html
TDR REPORT . . .:

These guys are a whole category of music into themselves!

Their schtick is that they're not a band, they're typical engineers and salarymen working for a small electronics firm (SST and Greg Ginn???). They make their own instruments from scratch. The instruments are also art objects – more care is put into the concept and metaphors behind the instrument, and the physical appearance of it, than the actual sound of it. Their concerts begin with them acting like they are opening a business meeting or corporate sales pitch with the audience. They then explain about each instrument and instead of songs they do "demos" of the "products." It's intentionally funny but very deadpan.

 



ex-girl


MEANING : :
CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 1997~ now
SOUND . . : early: acapella, later: ‘60s garage pop
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : big when far, small when close (the acapella-with-tribal-drums one = straight dope!)
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they don't perform plays but they have a "background story" and crazy frog-alien-swinging-sixties-waitress costumes
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.exgirl.jp/
TDR REPORT . . .:

Ex-Girl are another "concept band." They are aliens who come to Earth from the Frog Planet of Kero Kero (in Japanese, frogs go kero kero instead of ribbit ribbit). Unfortunately they don't really do it up rock-opERA . . . : style onstage, but their costumes and frog-headed drummer get the point accross.

 

 



溺れたエビの検死報告書  (OBORETA EBI NO KENSHI HOUKOKUJO)

 


MEANING : : official death report of the drownded shrimp
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2001~now
SOUND . . : : avant garde art-rock.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : influenced by kaiju eiga (Godzilla-style Japanese monster movies)
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Still no album.

THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costumes, elaborate lighting design, and movies projected on a screen behind the band
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : Unfortunately the band's website just went offline. fuck!
TDR REPORT . . .:

This band is the total package: rad theatricals AND rad music. The tunes are equal parts Residents, Primus, and Count Basie, while wearing suits and monster-movie-quality shrimp masks.

The inspiration for this band came from the band leader's two obsessions : kaijuu eiga and tropical fish. (he is a collector of both). Since crustaceans look like kaijuu, he thought he should do a band with crustacean masks. All the songs are about various crustaceans, not just shrimp. Even though they don’t have lyrics. The wood-bass is used to make a Godzilla-like growl.

 

 

 

 

 


 

漁港 (GYOKOU)

 


MEANING : : fishing harbor
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2001 around ???
SOUND . . : rap-rock
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : props, costumes, Japanese fishing and working-class culture
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 2 out, currently recording major label debut
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below!
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://gyoko.com/xindex2.html , myspace
TDR REPORT . . .:

They wear traditional 漁業 GYOGYOU attire (fisherman’s attire), and all their songs are about fish, and for their encore they butcher a real tuna and feed the audience.

3 members : vocal, guitarist (who doesn’t usually play, just squats in a blue-collar style and yells at the singer), and the DJ. The emphasis of the muisc is not, well, music but comedy and performance. All the song titles are names of fish. The vocalist will yell SAKANA! And the guitarist will yell back the name of the next song’s fish: MAGURO! And the vocalis will assent, UN!! And then they start the song.

A typical theatrical number is ANKO (angler fish) : the theatre lights all go to black, ocean sounds play on the PA, and the vocalist tapes a flashlight to his head like the glowing lure of the angler fish. Then they start the song.

Gyokou is promoting not just traditional Japanese blue-collar workers, but they're also promoting a Terayama-like fuck-you attitude towards the separation of reality and fiction. The guys really are fishermen, but their "band characters" are sort of cartoons. The band's "official bio" mixes truth and outrageous exxagerations. They seem to delight in warping the line between real and fiction.

 

 



  rose de reficul et guiggles


MEANING : : ???
CITY . . : Osaka
ERA . . . : 2002~
SOUND . . : light opera
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : ???
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode goth Lolita burlesque
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they put on plays,dude
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://victorian666.com , myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE, and then HERE

These guys are a gothic drama troupe. The plays emphasize costumes and improvisation over "plot" and "rehearsal." The costumes are all lacey Victorian finery which has decayed and gotten mossy in a zombie-like state. They're basically like kids who broke into their grandma's closet, found a bunch of crazy props, and decided to put on a show in the backyard. And like kids, when they finish, the whole stage is a huge mess! The're not pretentious – they seem to really have a lot of fun doing it. There are some songs, (with prerecorded music) but mostly pantomime.

Quoting from my show review:

As near as I could make out, the story was this: king and queen relaxing at home, indulging in their hobby of sniffing roses and beating the help. Suddenly a Bad Guy (a truly inspired costume mixing Snidley Whiplash with Alex from Clockwork Orange) shows up and makes a Scandalous Overture to the queen. The king is subdued by some sort of Craven Minion (I should also point out that the king is Adam Ant). The King/Mr. Ant spends the entire rest of the play prolonging his death scene directly in front of the rest of the performers, as if to say, “Down here, you fools!! Don’t pay attention to THEM, you philistines! The action’s down HERE!!” meanwhile the Bad Guy ravishes the queen on a couch, and the craven minion chases around the servant. Then, songs! The play ends with the king and queen re-united on their Royal Couch, but the queen has been turned into a wanton harlot and the scenery has been reduced to rubble.

 

Oddly, I actually enjoyed it : in the end it wasn’t the costumes or the “gothic atmosphere” but the fact that everyone involved was shamelessly mugging and hamming the entire time, regardless of who was talking. Even the fuckin’ prop guy started coming on stage and mugging. I can’t help but think that the genius of GIGGLES is wasted on this small stage. I think their true calling is in Hollywood, helping big-budget directors. Any Tom Hanks movie would be 100% better if all the supporting characters were rolling around in agony, tearing up the plant-life, making sex-faces, and doing robot-dances THE WHOLE FILM.

 

 


 



PHANTASMAGORIA FAIRY TALES

 


MEANING : :
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2004???
SOUND . . : goth / industrial
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : ???
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Victorian?

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: YESSS

In the early 2000's, there were a whole bunch of these kinds of bands, none of which went anywhere, that would play Goth Lolita events. Phantasmagoria Fairy Tales is representative: the music is the least important thing, the costumes the most important, they seem to like 'acting' and making dramatic faces, but hate 'rehearsing' or 'making sense'.

Here is how Phantasmagoria does their thing: One woman would read out of a “fairy tale book,” while the other performed really awful charades. Their music was pre-recorded.

 

There are a handful of Japanese theatrical bands that do this. Either they have a giant flip-book of pictures, or they read text out of a giant prop book between songs. My friend Mochi says this either comes from American Beatnik culture (poetry readings and such) or from '70s girls' manga, which sometimes took the form of fairy tales, and the story would start with a fairy godmother reading from a book.

 

The funniest thing about this one was, the singer was trying to be goth but looked like fucking Stevie Knicks. I had to resist the urge to request “Tusk.” Their songs were good, but most of the time they deliberately did not sing.

 


 


 劇鉄団 (GEKITETSUDAN)

 


MEANING : : : Iron Theatre Group
CITY . . : Osaka????
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : I forgot!
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese flute, Japanese storytelling style
CLIQUE . . . : afurirampo
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : set design, props, narrarator, story.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE
 

These guys were kind of a rock opera. They had a lady on stage telling a story over minimal flute music, while – on the side of the stage- a huge picture frame displayed a selection of hand-drawn pictures which corresponded to what she was saying.  Another example of the "read-out-of-a-fairy-tale-book" staple of geki rock.

 

Also, I should mention the whole stage was covered with life-sized pregnant alien women, and the band-leader was a midget in a Mao Red Army cap with a miniature pez-dispenser flute which played tones only dogs could hear, and everyone was wearing stuffed-monkey neckties, and while all this was going on . . . they were in front of a video projection of skydivers. And when the accordion player starts jamming, watch out!!!

Eventually the whiny irritating vocalist left in disgrace, and the musicians could get on to the serious job of rocking. They played nothing but hammer-ons, of course. Just this intense rigid clockwork metronomic fast 16 th note figure which repeated over and over, but the guitarist would cue people to change key. It repeated for 20 minutes and was amazing!!

Oh, shit, I forgot the best part: EL MYSTERIOSO. He was a dude in a black hood and eyepatch who stood on the side and did not sing, or play an instrument, or even move. He just stood there, like, dude, I don’t NEED to do anything. I AM EL MYSTERIOSO. You should thank me for not doing anything, because if I really did my thing on stage here at this time, it would BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND. fuck, he should be in EVERY band.

 


 巨乳マンダラ王国 (kyonyuumandaraookoku)

 


MEANING : : mandala kingdom of giant tits
CITY . . : Osaka (originally) Tokyo (currently)
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : nerd style
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : none
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props for each song. Band members stay in character. No plot, though.
CLIQUE . . . :  gimmicky punk bands like s/m, Tokyo terebi, onanii machines, and QP crazy.
STYLE . . . : theatrical Comedy band.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 王国民洗脳教育セット
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props, costumes, different characters
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :

WEB . . . : http://www.kyoman.com/top/
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrre

Saw them live. They were just like an anime monty python skit. First they dress up in spandex Doraemon costumes and sing karaoke, getting all choked up with emotion and not being able to sing because they are crying. Why this is funny I have no idea. But it was. Then the rest of the band comes out ? an arab shiek on guitar, a transvestite and hippy backup vocalists, and on drums, a blow-up sex doll. Did I mention the SOUND . . : was all pre-recorded? And the lead singer is some kind of bodybuilding dwarf in a home-made superhero costume. The crotch of the costume is so narrow, that his testicles stick out on either side like miniature Daisy Duke butt-cheeks. It is just insane when you combine it with his French waiter moustache which is painted on to his face with graffiti pen. He is all whipping his cape around, bullfighter style and striking superhero poses and playing this kind of Korn-goes-to-the-circus big top rock and everyone is jumping up and down. The lyrics I could understand involved pubic hair.

 

9 comments Tags:

Introduction to 劇的なロック (geki-teki rock)

Gekiteki (劇的) means dramatic, or theatrical. 
 

 

 
 
Since coming to Japan I done seen a lot of "genre" shows: punk shows, metal shows, even shows with punk and metal on the same bill!   But every once in a while,  some wacky bands will sneak on the bill, bands that defy categorization. bands that are RAD.  But all these bands have some things in common:

They use some combination of props, costumes, choreography, physical performance (anything from "acting" and pantomime to breaking things which have been set on fire), audience-participation, and narration.
 
They are more about concepts (the "characters" they play and the back-story of those characters) than actual music. 
 
Who were all these people?
Where did they come from?
Why did they seem to not know each other,but have similar outlooks on performance?
 
 
What intrigues me about this gekiteki/theatrical rock business is, it's not a scene.
it's not a subculture.
 
Almost none of the bands sound the same as any other band.  
 
Some dress like shrimp. Others like dolls.
Some look like normal rockers  but have really deep lyrics about Japanese surreal horror novels.
Others dress up like characters from those same  novels, but their lyrics are about some other shit entirely! 
 
It seems like there are a thousand kids, in a dozen different cities,  playing all different types of music in all different decades, who just ALL HAPPENED TO HAVE THE SAME IDEA:  "LET'S EXPRESS OURSELVES IN THE FORM OF A ROCK OPERA."
 
In America, by contrast,  we have  GWAR and.  . .. well, that's it. For the last 30 years, all we have had is GWAR .
 
WTF America???
 
 
For years these questions buzzed in the back of my mind, and finally I got fed up and decided to  do a GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT
 
"The gekiteki rock project?" you say. "What on earth is that?"
 
 
THE GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT is an attempt to catalog all the bands, in order to answer these questions:

  • IS THIS A REAL PHENOMENON OR AM I JUST FUCKING IMAGINING IT?
  • WHY IS ROCK OPERA SUCH A BIG THING OVER HERE?
  •  WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT JAPAN AS A COUNTRY?
  • WHAT ARE THE INVISIBLE INFLUENCES THAT LINK THESE BANDS TOGETHER? 
 
 
 

 
DEFINING WHAT I MEAN BY GEKI-TEKI, ALREADY.
 

 

Gekiteki rock is a phrase I made up to describe these many diverse bands that have different themes, different images, different sounds, but all share something in common, something not found in other countries. Since Japanese people themselves don't realize that this is A Thing, they never came up with a name or category for it.
 
When I say gekiteki rock, I don’t just mean some fake KISS band with makeup and a wacky costume. While I’m sure those bands are (*sigh*) just fine, there are too many of those to even count. 
 
 
Gekiteki rock is a combination of  three elements;
First element: THEATRE
 
Not just costumes but also:
  • The band members portray characters who have a backstory and are ‘in character’ on stage
  • songs that are part of a larger plot
  • stage decoration or props
  • narration or acting between songs
 
 
second element : WAYOUMIX
Wayou (和洋, pronounced wah-yo!) is a word made from the characters for Japan (= wa) and the West (= You), and it means mixing eastern and western styles together. In this case, mixing western rock music with . .
 
  • Japanese costume (for example, kimono, samurai garb, Buddhist monk clothes, modern working-man’s clothing)
  • Japanese melody ( for example, melodies from minyoukyoku or enka),
  • Japanese scales (called onkei)
  • Japanese singing style (kobushi, a mixture of vibrato and kind of scratchy voice)
  • Japanese instruments (usually shamisen or shakuhachi)
  • Japanese deep culture lyrics (for example, old folk-tales, religious themes, historical or literary references, or old ghost stories (kaidan, noroi, or yuurei))
 
Third element  : ANGURA influence
(angura is a contraction of the word ‘Underground’  . . . but it does not refer to punk or hardcore bands. Instead it refers to a ‘canon’ of ‘classical’ dark, literary Japanese avant-garde artists from the ‘30s to the ‘70s).  Gekiteki bands usually have band-names, lyrics or costumes or cover-art inspired by ANGURA.
  • Artists : tadanori yokou,  hirano kouga.
  • Playwrights : (Terayama Shuuji, and his theatre group Joukyou Gekijo, butoh dance)
  • authors (Edogawa Ranpo, Dazai Osamu, Yumeno Kyuusaku, and Yokomizo Seishi,)
  • manga (hino hideshi, Maruo Suehiro,  古屋兎丸)
  • movie directors (Wakamatsu Kouji, Suzuki Seijun, Keiichi Tanaami, Kanai Katsu, Kazoo Hara)

usually NOT an element: actual music
 
These bands' music is usually (but not always) just a pretext for people to do performance art or theatre under the name of "rock". 
 
Heavy metal bands excepted, of course.
 
(you could reply that pop music in ANY country the music is just kind of an afterthought . ..  but the main point of pop is to get a Pepsi endorsement and a line of designer pants. In gekiteki rock, the music is sidelined to make room for actual CONCEPTS: the back-story, the characters' individual personalities, audience interaction, and so forth).
 

SUB GENRES OF GEKITEKI

Not every band has those 3 influences in equal amounts, of course. Some bands are more theatrical , others are more wayou, and still others are more angura. So I started grouping them by sub-categories. However, bands in the same category aren't  necessarily  copying each other or even friends. More often than not they came up with the same idea totally independently.

 

But, with so many bands (over 60 as of right now!), it's easier to start by comparing bands that have similar themes, so I broke the 'geki-teki world' down  into 9 sub-categories:

 

GENERAL THEATRICAL ROCK –  the catch-all category for rock operas or character-based bands

SHIRONURIKEI –  (literally 'painted-white face') the more art-studenty, retro-'20s,  Japanese-traditional-melody-having older sister of Visual Kei. Shironurikei combines wayou and theatrical rock in almost equal amounts.

LITERARY - combining western music (usually heavy metal) with lyrics inspired by Japanese surrealist and horror novels

PAGAN – combining rock with Shinto, Buddhist, or even older shamanistic Japanese traditions.

MILITARIST – doing Nazi or  Imperial Japanese Army drag. Just for shock or  . . . .?

NOISE/PERFORMANCE ART – because terrorizing the audience is a form of theater.

RETRO SHOWA/TAISHO POP – combines rock with retro-1910's / 1920`s nostalgia and old-timey pop music.

CABARET / BURLESQUE  – because burlesque has always been theatrical, based on teasing and interacting with the audience

AKIHABARA STYLE –   based as it is on anime, the performers are always "characters" and have a backstory, lines, etc. Also the audience gets so into the ritualized gestures and call-and-response that they do more work than the "performers."

 

Just in case that is not complicated enough, here is  a sort of "family tree" of Japanese gekiteki rock styles:


 

SO,  TO RETURN TO THE MAIN QUESTION : Exactly what is it about japan that makes “rock opera” popular?
 
 
To find the answer is a three-step process; a process  that I'm begging you guys to help out with.
 
ONE :  I'll make a list of all the bands that have something GEKI-TEKI  going on. I'll post this in a fuckin' minute.
 
TWO: now that the bands are lined up side-by-side for comparison, let’s  look at their music, imagery, lyrics, and  try to find common themes : symbols, clothing, lyrical phrases, etc. Are 2 or more bands imitating the same artist, playwright, movie, or something? 
 
THREE:  Each time we  find a common theme, symbol, or fashion, we can start asking our Japanese friends, “What is the historical origin of this particular theme? Is it a custom from  Edo times or is is based on a particular artist or pop culture thing?”
 
 
In other words, it's about connecting the invisible lines of influence  that link these bands, and figuring out what it is that makes up the "invisible something" that makes them seem similar.
 
So I need your help . . .
 
  • if you know bands that should be on here, please let me know!
  • If you have pictures of the band, cover art, or lyrics from them, please send it.
  • If you think you found a common point or repeating pattern among bands, let me know! And let me know what you think is the source or roots of the pattern.

 


 

A PERFUNCTORY HISTORY OF JAPANESE AVANT-GARDE ROCK
 
This is to help me (and you? if you're still reading) understand the cultural background and influences from which gekiteki bands sprang.
 
Let's start with traditional music: (or at least, those parts of traditional music that  lot of these bands seem to wind up using)
 
太鼓 : taiko drums
民謡曲 : Minyoukyokufolk music. Shrill!
童謡douyou – traditional childrens’ songs
声明 Shomyo – Buddhist sutras
雅楽 : gagaku – Shinto music
歌舞伎 – kabuki theater
 
音階 :Onkai – Japanese scale
こぶし  : kobushi – Japanese style vibrato
 
呪い noroi – trad. Ghost stories (lit. curses)
神話 - Shinwa – myths or mythology
怪談 - kaidan – ghost stories
下ネタ: shimoneta (crude material) : junior high kids’ or elementary kids’ immature playground songs.
 
And now, from the samurai times,  let’s skip right to the ‘60s, when TERAYAMA SHUJI dropped the bomb. This guy singlehandedly started the avant-garde (by which I mean, weird semi-illegal shit that wasn’t just a copy of Euro avant-garde) . He cultivated a crew around him that did shit in all formats: music, theatre, literature, whatever.
 
Also in the ‘60s there were a bunch of hippy/psyche bands that some people consider “avant garde” but fuck them. There’s a website that lets you download all the albums in the famous "japrock sampler" of Japanese psyche. I DLed most of them and they were just wretched. I deleted them. You heard me? I wouldn’t listen to that shit for free. 
 
In the ‘70s, the avant-garde shifted to prog rock! Most of this was just copies of foreign prog bands like Yes or ELP. . . there’s even a Japanese knockoff of BOSTON (they even got the same cover artist!).
 
But some bands like PEOPLE, AFTER DINNER, GEINOU YAMASHIROGUMI and EAST BIONIC SYMPHONY Infused the prog trend with traditional Japanese influences: mostly gagaku (a Shinto holy musical drone), and shoumyou (Buddhist sutra chanting). The results were not usually that good, but at least they were trying and they had moogs.
 
Around the same time as the prog guys were underground folk singers. Where prog was big and complex, folk went the opposite way: intimate and quiet.
 
I am frankly not sure why my Japanese friends insist that these folk singers are avant-garde or influential on gekiteki rock, but they insisted. I guess the folk-ers mixed up bob Dylan style with minyoukyoku (traditional Japanese folk) and had dark spooky or deep spiritual lyrical themes? I mean who cares, it’s just a douche with a guitar and no distortion. But anyway: the main people were
 
 
井上陽水 
Inoue Yousi – his fans liked  the band kinnikushoujotai
森田童子
Morita douji – her fans liked the bands kinnikushoujotai and uchouten
淺川マキ
Asakawa maki
友川カズキ -
Tomokawa kazuki – his fans liked uchouten
三上寛
Mikami Kan – his fans like uchouten.
 
Both Asakawa, Tomokawa, and Mikami came out of Terayama Shuuji's crew.
 
あがた森魚 (agata morio)
Fairly major folk singer. But conceptual (and therefore theatrical?)
Had elaborate stage sets. His catchphrase was “Taisho Roman” (taisho meaning the pre-war period of Japan, and roman meaning romance, meaning nostalgia Got all that???) . His lyrics and stage sets invoked the pre-war days of modernism, optimism and freedom of thought. But also kind of making his own world a la Tori Amos or whoever. Like he was invoking  nostalgia for a parallel universe Taisho.

Then late 70s: new wave! Rebelling against both prog and folk with sounds that were simple yet futuristic and new. And sideways haircuts for everyone!
 
 the big 3 wavers were P-MODEL, PLASTICS, AND HIKASHUU
 
Leader of Hikashuu was Makigami Koichi, originally a theatre guy, also a writer/ critic : he brought an avant garde, theatrical, kabuki influence to new wave.
 
 
But still they all –together with the avant- prog- and folk bands carried a lot of traditional Edo or Taisho imagery with them, and a sense of theatrical fun. Of which I am startlingly short of specifics. Any wavers want to give me a hand here?
 
Also can’t forget Togawa Jun and her band YAPOOS. Somehow they got a major label contract to make a rock opera about a sex android that fucks and kills its maker before going on a reverse-rape-and-hatchet spree. Unfortunately the music is just awful. YAPOOS were pals with p-model. And Togawa Jun remains to this day the template for every “wacky” female vocalist.
 
Then the ‘80s came and mainstream culture got taken over by anti-arty-farty machismo:  visual kei, bosozoku,  guitar solos and big hair,  etc.
 
The shironurikei trend was also started in the ‘80s, although it didn’t have the nerdy, gothy, anti-jock connotations it was later to aquire. It hadn’t really “jumped ship” from the regular rock and roll of the time.
 
Then the big 2 shironurikei bands of the ‘80s: UCHOUTEN and  KINNIKU JOSEITAI.
 
Kinniku Joseitai's fans were people that had grown up with  folk singers like Inoue Yousu and Morita douko
Uchouten's fans tended to more like  the folk singers Tomokawa kazuki and Mikami Kan. 
SO there's some "lines of influence" for ya.
 
Like the leader of Hikashuu, Uchoten’s vocalist also ran a theatre company on the side. I have no fucking idea what they did. Any theater goons want to help me out on this one?
 
Around, oh, let's say 1989 or so,  there was an influential TV program called : いかす バンド天国. (SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN ) 
 
This program was in large part responsible for the so-called “band boom” of the late ‘80s. Bubble economy didn’t hurt either. SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN was a battle of the bands, where the winner would get a major label contract.. but in the process it gave a lot of exposure to indie bands who also tried out, even if they didn't win. Of course indie (underground) bands had fans since the ‘60s, but now regular kids were getting into them and starting their own indie bands.
 
Also in the mid- ’90s was the bunkei boom. 文系 ブーム. This was a sort of nerdy, literary rock trend, led by  metallers Ningen Isu. It was a counter-reaction to the more jock-ish, yankii-ish metal and visual bands that had dominated the ‘80s. 
 
In the  late ‘90s, the shironurikei scene was big enough to split in twain: techno bands and rock bands. The techno bands were led by SHINJUKU GEWALT and the rock bands by KARIGARI. Neither of them were particularly good, but they influenced a lot of smaller bands that were, so please make a note of them in your ipad or whatever the fuck you kids use nowadays.
 
And after that, nothing happened.
 
OK. Now  I explained what the fuck this GEKITEKI BAND PROJECT is about,  this introduction is over.  I'm gonna give you a few days to let this sink into your heads and then start posting about  specific bands.
 
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