So What the Hell IS Manzai Anyways?

Don’t tell anyone now but this is apparently “real” manzai.

When we last left off, we were talking about the rise of a new batch of Japanese comedy stars, dubbed by the media as the Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy, a term determined more by savvy marketers than by any actual generational shift in how comedy is crafted in Japan.

I had originally planned on introducing some of the “top” members of this “new” group in a new post but while writing it, I had a long and deep conversation with my podcast co-host and actual Japanese comedy researcher Nick about manzai and its various evolutionary shifts as a comedy form. More specifically, we spoke about the act of performing manzai in the era of remote lives and plastic shields aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. (Side note, it was a great and really deep conversation about the craft of being a manzai comedian that probably only five or six people in the entire world would probably enjoy hearing.)

A long long time ago, Yoshimoto attempted to introduce the world to manzai via a Netflix “documentary” that I still have crazy stress nightmares about being in. In it, we said that manzai was one mic, two people, and the “Japanese Dream” (Note: I really wasn’t lying about those stress nightmares.). But is that really true? In the four years since then and in the last several months, I’ve given this idea a lot of thought.

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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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Matsudo Ramen Orgy, Part Two: The Best Tsukemen in Japan (とみ田)

With my belly (temporarily) full, I still had a full hour-and-a-half to kill before my seating at Tomita, the tsukemen haven that had brought me to the city of Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Japanese stairs are not for the faint of heart.

Matsudo is a bedroom community located in the greater vicinity of the Tokyo metropolitan area, funneling tens of thousands of salarymen and students to and from the capital city everyday.  This, of course, means that there’s not particularly much to do in the city of Matsudo proper that you can’t really do anywhere else in Japan. So I pretty much just wandered the streets for a few hours, no doubt freaking out dozens of pensioners on the street with my hulking foreign presence and having to climb lots and lots of stairs.

Finally, 4:30 came around and I meandered back over to the relatively humble storefront.  Finding myself immediately instructed to wait by one of the nice dudes working at the shop, I sat down at the head of a long row of chairs jammed unceremoniously between the wall and some space heaters.  I only lasted about two minutes before it felt like my legs were about to melt, mostly because the heater was approximately five millimeters away from my calves and was apparently cranked up to roast.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Second degree burns are no way to start a meal.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long, as the rest of my seating group (in order to ensure the maximum amount of quality control per bowl, Tomita seats its customers in waves, filling the cramped shop with customers, serving each and every one of them, wiping down and cleaning up, and then starting the process all over again) had all arrived right on cue, no doubt having been anticipating their meal for the past several hours.

I got seated in a relatively unexciting wall seat, pretty much coming face-to-face with a portrait of the (recently deceased) originator of tsukemen, which in terms of dining companions ranks somewhere between an actual person and a bare concrete wall in terms of being entertaining.

My dining companion.

My dining companion.

With my dining buddy for the meal being completely unresponsive (faded framed pictures generally don’t say much), I settled in and braced myself for an experience I’d assumed would be somewhere between face-meltingly amazing and alien ghosts implanting happy emotions into your brain good (that one was for all you Scientologists out there).  It was a relatively short wait until my food was placed before me.

I know you guys have come to expect a lot of words and sardonic turns of phrases from me but for this one, I’m just going to let the pictures do most of the talking. Continue reading

On the Eve of My Big Move

Remember when I wrote that I’d be a good blogger and update and write things on a consistent basis like a good boy?  I lied.  I’d like to say that I’ve been too busy to write but that’d be a boldface lie.  The majority of my days over the past two months have passed with marathon Doctor Who Blu Ray collection sessions and getting more in-depth into basketball statistics than is probably healthy for a normal human being.  But all those days, all those wasted hours have been done in preparation for this moment, this day.

As I write this, I only have about 20 more hours left in the United States before I haul two suitcases jammed to the brim with snotty office clothes that I never imagined I’d ever wear onto a plane bound for Japan and the high-stakes world of underground wolf wrangling.  Okay, so maybe I made that last bit up in a desperate attempt to impress you guys and not seem like a total sad sack.  Here’s the reality of my whole move thingy:

  • The destination: Mito-shi, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan.
  • The job: English instructor/ teacher at a large chain English conversational school (Not quite sure if I want to disclose which company at this juncture)
  • The salary: 250,000 yen a month (I think)

My contract official ends in March of 2014 due to a technicality but I’m actually probably signed until 2015, at which point, who knows what the hell’s going to happen.  Until that point, I’m going to be living in Japan, away from my family, away from my friends, away from my beloved American sports (which is probably a good thing because I swear I’m a bad luck charm for the 49ers), and more importantly, away from all of the people who have filed restraining orders against me.  In short, if graduating from college wasn’t enough of one, this is a brand new start from scratch (disregarding the four suits I’m bringing with me and the laptop I’m typing this on).  I didn’t really need a fresh start or anything but I find that concept all sorts of fascinating.  All those ties and social circles I’ve acquired over the years? Gone.  That safety net of family and friends? Adios friendo.  Now, if I screw things up (which I probably will… repeatedly), I’ve only got myself to blame and I’ll be the one suffering.

In writing this post, I’m once again procrastinating on the whole packing deal.  I’ve made the decision to take two suitcases, which I’ve found to be surprisingly empty, even as I do my best to fill them with everything I’ll need to be a professional in uptight business Japan, which means I’m probably forgetting something important.  It’s not money (I’m barely gonna be scraping together enough to survive for the first month there) and certainly not socks.  Maybe it’s something less physical and more… abstract.  I already know the most important thing: No matter how much I prepare myself, I’m going to be caught off guard.  So why worry about packing?  Once I have the big stuff down, what point is there in sweating the details?  I don’t want my last couple of hours in the states to be filled with dread and panic.  I want to savor that thick American smog, get stuck in the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic of the American commute, smell the roses undoubtedly doused with some drunk hobo’s urine.  If the time comes and I’m missing something crucial, so be it.  It’s not like Japan is a distant way station in the middle of the Sahara.  They have stores there too.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading the ramblings of a dude who’s low on sleep and high on impatience.  I promise I’ll try to write a bit more once I’m over there since I’m sure some of you will be curious about what I’m up to amongst the chilly natto-fields of Mito.  If that doesn’t appeal to you, why the hell are you even reading through this blog?

I know the impact of what I’m doing has completely gone over my head but oh well.  I’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on the deeper meaning of my job in Japan during my twelve hour plane flight.  Let’s just get this show on the road.


Something I probably won't be getting in Japan

Something I probably won’t be getting in Japan

P.S.  I should probably check whether or not I’m actually booked on this flight.

P.P.S. If anyone is reading this and has my phone number, just get rid of it.  My sister’s taking over my phone and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to deal with you guys texting her with your nonsense.

P.P.P.S. Whoever invented the Rice Krispie Treat deserves a Nobel Prize.