Life Updates (Again) -Flying Internationally in the time of COVID-19 and rueing the Olympics

Sleepless in Sacramento.

Well hello there. I’m curently writing this from the bed of my parents’ guest bedroom in Sacramento, California.

“But Stephen,” you say, befuddled but only a teensy little bit while you feign interest, “I thought that this was a blog/site about your life in Japan!”

Yes, well, I’ve been in America for the last month and a half and only feel a little guilty about it. Sometime around mid-April in Tokyo, things started to look a bit gloomy in Japan. Vaccination efforts were fully underway in California while Japan still seemed intent on doing it’s typical “Nihonjinron” thing and asking the stupid questions no one else dares ask like “Do these vaccines work on Japanese people?” (As if there are no Asian people in any of the countries where vaccination drives were in full effect) and “How long can you force people to ganbatte for the sake of the Olympics?”

COVID cases were reaching a critical tupping point in Osaka and rising in Tokyo, prompting the priime minister to declare yet another flaccid state of emergency, this time with additional special “Don’t sell alcohol at your restaurants please” provisions. So I did what any self-respecting coward/holder of a US passport would do and jumped ship (temporarily but we’ll get to that in a bit). Booking a ticket on the first flight out of Haneda Airport that was landing in the general vicinity of somewhere I could actually go, I hit up my local PCR test clinic (there was miraculously an open slot at the precise right time for someone looking to catch an international flight in the coming hours), hastily taught my Japanese grandparents how to use FaceTime, apologized profusely to my comedy partner, and, within two days of booking, was on a redeye flight from Tokyo to San Francisco.

Several things that stuck with me about travelling internationally from one of Asia’s major transportation hubs in the middle of a global superpandemic:

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“What about your career in showbiz?” – Working as a low level entertainer during COVID-19 in Japan

It’s day two of my new “write more crap!” mindset and, I’ve gotta tell ya, I’ve run out of things to tell ya.

In case you’re just emerging from a long medically-induced coma or living in the COVID-free paradise of New Zealand, the world has been in the grips of a raging pandemic over the last year, which isn’t really conducive to a lifestyle full of things for a random dude to write about on his site that no one reads.

Sure, Japan has thankfully avoided the full brunt of the pandemic but I’ve tried to my part to stay inside, wear a mask, and interact with as few people as possible. (In my defense, this was pretty much my strategy pre-pandemic as well.) The furthest I’ve traveled in the past year is probably my aforementioned long-ass trip to the Chiba countryside for a TV thing and even that was only an hour away by freeway. My travels within Tokyo itself have been just as limited, which is to say I can pretty much count the number of times I have rode the train in the last year on my fingers alone.

Really one of the best parts of this entire situation (if pandemics can even have good parts) has been the long walks I get to take on the abandoned Tokyo streets at night. Sure, it’s night so you wouldn’t expect many people out and about anyways but in the before times, an uncrowded Tokyo street was still crowded by normal human being standards. Now though? Pure solitude. And now I can laugh at dumb podcasts while walking without having to worry about drunk old salarymen giving me the stinkeye.

“But what about your career in showbiz, Stephen?” you ask, sleepily feigning interest as you read this while taking a poop.

Ah, good question! Let me see…

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Things you learn during a hellish 18-hour Japanese TV shoot

It has come to my attention that some people think my writing “doesn’t suck” or is even, as someone put it, “good”. You’d think I’d take that as a hint that I should write more often and consistently. (If I had an editor, they would probably tell me that often and consistently both sorta mean the same thing in this context and that a proper writer would never drop a ‘sorta’ into their work.) Hell, it’s almost been a year (the start of COVID-19!) since my last post (in which I promised to showcase some of those much ballywhoed Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy members in my next post but then summarily never go around to it) and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I got enough riding juice in me to squirt out all over this keyboard on a consistent basis (is that how sex/writing metaphors work?).

But look out world! Stephen was on a hellishly long 18 hour shoot for a TV show segment that he’ll probably be cut out of and he’s got some things to say!

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Keeping it Corona

I’d rather be alive and broke than dead and still in a functioning economy. In recent days as this whole new reality, this bizarre world of social distancing and quarantines and complete and total lockdowns, this thought has become a light sort of mantra, the general idea being that the economic sacrifice of shutting down restaurants, offices, and retail outlets to quell the spread of this new deadly virus (the result, I always finding myself thinking, of some dude somewhere in China deciding eating undercooked bat meat was a good idea) would be worth it in the sheer number of lives saved. Japan, it turns out, seems to operating under the complete opposite doctrine.

Dumb people DO exist in Japan.

Really I’d compare living in current bizzaro state-of-emergency-in-name-only Japan after watching things unfold (badly, it should be said) around the world to watching Jaws and knowing that there’s a giant rabid shark (can sharks get rabies?) swimming in the water where those teenagers are gonna try to get it on. Since Prime Minister Abe declared a State of “Emergency” earlier this week, it’s become abundantly clear that what he had in mind lies somewhere between an “Emergency” in name only and some oddball reinforcement of the tried-and-true nihonjinron concept of Japan being safe from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak simply by being Japan. Yes, it is the 21st century and, yes, just like the rest of the world, Japan is still being run by morons.

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Long time no see…

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and whatever other holiday greeting I forgot about in between.

Sorry guys, I’ve been really busy and I’m sorry to say that this blog has kinda been at the bottom of my list of priorities.  I have been showing up on the Big in Japan podcast a lot of late and have been on Twitter and Instagram if that’s the sort of stuff you’re into.

 

I’ve been busy going back and forth to Osaka helping prep the big show for the grand opening of Cool Japan Park Osaka.  Besides that, I’ve been busy with a bunch of miscellaneous translation jobs and English lessons and that’s just on the non-creative side.

My comedy career has always been a bit of a rocky road but more good than bad of late.  Oh I also happened to form a trio (something that somehow was the top entertainment news story in Japan last night).

 

不思議なタンバリン!! 宣材写真.jpg

 

Fushigi na Tambourine!!.  We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve Been Busy: Big in Japan, King of Conte, and All the English Classes in Between

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Like a nesting doll, only bald and lifeless.

I know, I know.  Long time no see.

In my defense, I’ve been busy with stuff.  My career as a comedian hasn’t exactly been amazing or anything but I’ve gotten increased work behind the scenes with English logistical stuff (surprisingly, or perhaps not, almost no one at one of the biggest entertainment companies in Japan speaks English) and teaching English lessons to company employees, spouses, et cetera.

It’s sho race (comedy contest) season in Japan and this year, my comedy duo somehow made it to the quarterfinals of King of Conte, a yearly contest to find Japan’s best sketch comedians.  Thanks to a variety of inter-agency political issues, we wound up having to go on first but it was an educational experience nonetheless and there was much rejoicing (and my comedy partner apparently dropping 100,000 yen, a thousand bucks, on celebratory bottles of champagne with his friends).

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Meanwhile, I (and Nick and Ann) have been busy building up Big in Japan, launching a Patreon, expanding our podcast content, and, perhaps biggest of all, working on the launch of our new online variety show with the alternative idol group NECRONOMIDOLStarting mid-September, the Witching Hour will be broadcast live every Monday (Japanese time) at 12 PM, with highlights of the show being edited and posted on Necronomidol’s official Youtube page.  Thanks to agency restrictions, I will not be appearing on the show (at least regularly) but I will be directing and producing it in addition to putting together most of the script.  This has, obviously, been a very time consuming process.

 

While I haven’t had and probably won’t have going forward much time to update the blog, I have been attempting to post more on instagram and always talk about my comings and goings on the Big in Japan podcast.

 

Stephen Starts a Diary: June 9th

6/9 Saturday

So I broke my phone and a wall today.  There are no euphemisms involved in that statement.  Today, for a plethora of reasons, I threw my phone and made it so my screen didn’t work anymore and punched a hole in the wall of the dressing room of a theater before a show.

My obvious anger issues aside (and now is probably a better time than ever to emphasize that your mental health should be your absolute first priority as a human being), the fact that I had to waste most of my Saturday (a rare half-day off) sitting in a cramped Softbank store getting a new phone (my phone was three years old and my contract was up anyways)  was what probably ground my gears the most.  I know that I have no one to blame but myself for the entire ordeal but there is pretty much no good reason someone should have to sit around and wait for anything for two-and-a-half hours, let alone a phone sold just about anywhere on a contract 90% completed while waiting in line.

Of course, as with any other country in the world, the phone guy’s gonna try to upsell you, trying to get you to buy the biggest, most expensive thing possible.  I suppose, then, that the phone guy would consider himself lucky as I preceded to upsell myself to the 256 GB version of the iPhone X, the most expensive option available, with little prompting from him on the matter.  What can I say?  I’m an easy mark.

Of course, in the few hours since I’ve had the phone I’ve been suffereng from phantom home button syndrome, aimlessly pressing the flat portion of the screen where the home button used to be on the older less fancy models of Apple’s ubiquitous smartphone.  It’s enough to make a guy want to punch through another wall.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 22nd

May 22nd Tuesday

So I suck at all video games.  When I was a high schooler, I had trouble beating Madden on Rookie mode.  Mario?  Only after a couple of years.  Zelda?  Forget about it.  What about first person shooters?  Forget about it.  Hell, I could barely beat Pokemon and that game is meant for grade schoolers.  Video games are fun, no doubt.  I’m just not all that good at them.

I mention all of this because, as I told you all yesterday, I got a Nintendo Switch.  I should say that I haven’t really played all that many video games since I moved to Japan, which meant that the graphical jump between the last time I played video games and when I played them for the first time today came as a major shock to me.

Playing Super Mario Odyssey, a couple of things hit me: (1) open worlds are now huge and open open and (2) years of not playing video games hasn’t made me any better at them.  My experience thus far playing the critically acclaimed game has gone somethign like this:  Stephen things “oh that looks cool”, Stephen gets distracted by cool thing, Stephen fails to succeed at basic game tasks, Stephen dies.  I think one of the problems about having an open world thingy is that it’s hard to find where the open world closes, leading to death after death.

Do you think Mario feels pain?  As graphics get better and better and programming improves to such a degree that artificial intelligence outpaces human intelligence, why is it hard to imagine a digital avatar feeling pain?