“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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The Comedy Landscape in 2020 Japan – The Seventh Owarai Generation and the Great Corona Pause

The “New” Generation of Comedians appearing on Ametalk

As pretty much any returning reader to this blog knows, I am an “owarai geinin” in Japan. Why don’t I just call myself a comedian? Because the more and more time I spend in the Japanese entertainment industry, the more I’ve come to understand that comedians and geinin are two completely different categories of roles/people entirely.

With the novel coronavirus pretty much putting everything on hold everywhere in the world, now is the perfect time to take of stock of how the Japanese entertainment world has changed or shifted over the last couple of years.

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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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Stephen Starts a Diary: May 8th

5/8 Tuesday

Today was a desk day.  I’ve been working part-time at Yoshimoto head office for about a month now, sitting at a desk in the Live Production Department under the guise of helping improve the entire department’s English on my free days.  Really, this job mostly consists of me sitting around on the internet all day, occassionally shouting basic English greetings to people as they pass by on the way to some place or another.

The work’s much easier on the body than my normal parttime job at a ramen shop so I’m not necessarily complaining but, after spending a couple of years away from the officework lifestyle, I’m finding it rough getting back into the flow of things.  Plus, getting paid (however little) to do literally nothing is better than not getting paid to do the same.

I went to work at ten and clocked out at six.  Literally nothing happened during those eight hours.  Yay me.

Being a grown-up: Slow and steady wins the race… or something.

Hi there.  It’s been a while.  How’s everyone been doing?

Oh really?  That’s pretty cool.  I’ve been good.  Going to work and not getting enough sleep, the usual grind, y’know.

What’s that?  You don’t know because you’re still putzing around in (university/high school/ unemployed) or busy raising a family?  Well that’s just fine and dandy.

***

So I’m coming up on the six month mark of the whole living and working in Japan thing and I think I’ve settled into what I guess people could call a generally adult life.  I wake up everyday at a certain set point in time (except for that one day that I slept through all twenty alarms and showed up to work half an hour late) and generally go to sleep before the sun rises (though since the sun seems to rise at three in the morning here, that’s not always the case).  I go to work, do my job, take long poops, spend far too much time on the internet and not enough time doing anything productive, I eat (a lot), then I sleep.  In other words, for better or worse, I am finally an adult (if waking up at 10 in the morning and going to sleep at 2 AM counts).

I certainly don’t feel any different than I did when I was in college.   Or really, high school for that matter.  Sure my hair’s a little thinner and I may be wearing different sized pants than before but I still feel like I did when I was in high school, overdramatic romanticism and unrealistic expectations included.  And yet, here I am, typing this up as I sit on the fifth floor of a non-descript office building but a few minutes away from the scenic (perhaps an overstatement) expanses of Mito Station, closing out a workday that I was supposed to have off (my colleague called in sick but that’s another story altogether).

Meanwhile, many of my friends are still grinding through college, though, let’s be fair, the hardest part of the college grind is largely the result of procrastination and binge drinking.  I mean, university was a freaking piece of cake.  I don’t know if I’m a genius or something (most likely not) but I got reasonably good grades throughout all four years of my university experience despite (a) not doing most (okay, all) of the assigned reading, (b) only studying the night before an exam, and (c) finishing the vast majority of my tepid, bloated, self-aggrandizing academic papers a whopping thirty minutes before the due date.  I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything (I hear Marilyn Manson had some of his ribs removed so he could), but just imagine how good my grades would have been if I gave two craps about them.

I mean, the typical college student’s day probably goes like this:

Noon: Wake up.

1 PM: Go to class (or in many cases, ignore your alarm clock and sleep off that hangover)

4 PM: Hang out in the quad

5 PM: Go to happy hour.  Get drunk.

6 PM: Ditch that discussion group meeting you reaaallly don’t like.

7 PM: Hangout with your friends.  Get drunk/high/arrested.

2 AM: Get home.

3 AM: Realize you have a paper due in the morning.  Freak the hell out.

And yet, half of the posts I see on my Facebook feed from my college friends are of the “FML” and “I’m so screwed” variety.  I don’t know man, maybe if you spent a couple more hours checking upcoming deadlines and a few less hours practicing for your Frat’s Beer Pong tournament, you wouldn’t be forced to pull three consecutive all-nighters and sacrifice a goat to an ancient Mayan god in order to pass your bullshit “Transexual Black Jewish Lesbians in Chinese History” class.  (No offense to those of you specializing in Black Jewish Lesbians and their huge role in defeating the Mongol hordes.)  If you guys think life is going to somehow get easier once you get your diploma, you’re in for a shock.

Paying all your bills on time and remembering to wear pants to work everyday.  Now that’s a real struggle.

College days.  So much overeating.  Not enough sleep.

College days. So much overeating. Not enough sleep.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, some of my friends have already gotten to the whole “settle down and raise a family and get that house with the whit picket fence” stage of life.  Sure, this was pretty much how things went in all of society pre-1950 but settling down, getting married, and having kids all in your early-twenties just seems crazy to me.  You can’t even legally rent a car at the airport for God’s sake!  Six years ago, you were the dude drawing in the back of books in the school library.  Now, you’re working really damn hard to pay off your mortgage and leverage your 401K.  Damn dude.  Adulthood must have hit you like a goddamn freight train.

I can’t even imagine having a kid right now.  I mean, I already have a hard enough time wiping my own ass, let alone that of a small cretin unable to clean-up after itself.  And where the hell would it even sleep?  I barely have enough room in my apartment for myself.  Shoving a wife and kid (or two) in there would probably result in a complete and total meltdown.

And the whole keeping track of your finances thing. What the hell?  I am by no means a big spender but I can’t even imagine keeping track of my own budget.  Asking me to watch my wallet for the sake of myself and two others would be like asking Hitler to imagine planning a Bar Mitzvah.  Jiminy Christmas.

And the giving birth thing?  Jeebus, ladies.  How do you do it?  The closest I’ve ever come to giving birth was that time I ate three burritos in one day and, after that, I couldn’t walk for a week.  Much respect.

Young married people, I respect the hell out of you, but what the friggin’ hell?

***

Being an adult means having too much chest hair.

Being an adult means having too much chest hair.

Now that I’ve successfully offended everyone, it’s time to talk about myself for a bit.

My twenty-third birthday is coming up in two days, which is really what kinda spurred this whole rant/thing on.  Where am I on the whole “College lazy person to upstanding adult” scale?  Somewhere in the middle or maybe not on the damn thing at all.

I’m twenty-two, completely un-relationshipped (That’s totally a word, right?), living a couple thousand miles away from most of my friends, really bad at doing my laundry, and spend most of my free time watching film of Sacramento Kings games or weird Japanese TV (I’m pretty sure most of the people running the entertainment industry over here are on some pretty hardcore crap), and shouting at people who have different opinions than me on the internet.

Sounds pretty immature right?

Sure, I have a job and, sure, I do everything I can to fulfill my responsibilities and duties to the best of my underwhelming ability.  BUT I also don’t have much of a plan for the future (scratch that, I just thought of a cool design for a Moonbase) and put far too much effort into doing trivial fun stuff that I really shouldn’t be devoting so much of my precious time to.  So, hey, maybe I’m a bit of a deadender at this current juncture of my life, but you know what?   That’s just fine.

I used to spend most of the time I now spend reading people’s dumb NBA trade ideas (“Let’s trade Demarcus Cousins for Bismack Biyombo!”) and tasting terrible popsicles (Beef stew? Suprisingly tasty.  Spaghetti? Potentially rancid.) on worrying about the future.  I mean, I spent a lot of time worrying.  Too much time.  Sure that worrying and constant fear led to a hell of a lot of creativity and some of the best writing of my life but it also led to depression, anxiety, and a whopper of a mental breakdown that forced my mom to fly all the way across the ocean to retrieve me.

So, hey, enough of the worrying.  Let’s just enjoy the present and worry about what’s around the corner when it sneaks up and sucker punches us in the balls.  Until then, these morons on the internet aren’t going to ridicule themselves.

Being an adult means baking your chocolate candy.

Being an adult means baking your chocolate candy.

Stephen versus the Japanese Apartment Key Part I

So, as I’ve made perfectly clear in just about every post before this one, my life in Japan’s been pretty cushy and awesome thus far.  While the weather’s been cold, it hasn’t been unbearable and, while my utility bills haven’t been cheap, I’m not really spending my money on much else at this point.  That all being said, a few days ago, I had my first Japanese horror story experience (aside from the unfortunate choking baby in the classroom experience, of course), an experience that I shall share with you as follows.  This is the story of the new David and Goliath:  Me and my apartment’s faulty door system.

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

#@$$ you, mother#!$$er!

As most anyone who knows me can tell you, I am among the most unorganized, scatterbrained klutzes you will ever meet, somehow skirting the line between being a functional member of society and being one of those people that winds up being on TLC for hoarding newspapers or whatever.  Thus, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I made it halfway back to my apartment from my office before I realized that I left my key sitting in the pocket of my sports coat (I like to leave one of my suits jackets at the office so I don’t have to wear one walkign to and from work everyday- I know, I’m lazy.  Deal with it.).  On any normal day, this would probably mean that I would be S.O.L right there and then as the office would have been locked up and the back entrance to the entire building shuttered for the night (Things tend to close reallllllly early in the not-Tokyo or Osaka parts of Japan).  As luck would have it, however, it was a Saturday, meaning I got to leave the office a half-hour earlier than most of my co-workers, meaning that I managed to slink back into the office and retrieve my key before the school manager shut things down for the night.

I bet at this point most of y’all are wondering what the big deal is with all this.  “Why is this even a blog post, Stephen?” you ask, one furtive brow furrowed in disgust at the minute of your time wasted on the previous two paragraphs.  “You got your key back before you got locked out of your office, dude.  What’s the big deal?”

The answer: Yes, I got my key.  But that didn’t prevent me from getting locked out of my apartment anyways.  You see, this being ultra-modern Japan, my apartment company couldn’t just settle for a normal phallic shove-it-in-and-turn key like the rest of the world.  No, they had to go all twenty-first century on our asses and equip each and every one of the apartments in their vast empire (some 60,000 rooms in all) with a hotel-style key-card system.  Sure this sounds cool and dandy on paper but, as anyone who has ever stayed at a hotel with a guy at the front desk who isn’t a meth-head can tell you, key-cards maybe the single faultiest product of human innovation since Caveman Jack invented the square wheel.  Seriously, for something created to make locking and unlocking things easier, having to re-insert your key-card twenty times until the door finally registers it and lets you inside sure is time consuming.  But since this is ultra-modern Japan (the 1980’s version of the future), they couldn’t just stop there.  No, my apartment lock combines the best of both words: electronic key coding AND turning things.  In other words, my door is malfunction/ pain-in-the-ass paradise as I unfortunately found out on Saturday.

I got home around 7:30, my innocence still intact, blissfully unaware of the ordeal to follow.  My first attempt at opening my door was met with mild amusement.  “Must’ve put the key in the wrong way,” I mumbled to myself, still thinking about what I wanted to eat for dinner.  So I tried it again.  And again.  By that point, I was pretty damn sure I was sticking the stupid piece of crap in there the way the apartment people had told me to.  Maybe I just wasn’t putting the key in fast enough.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

So I tried again.  And again.  And again.  Panic began to set in.  Even though it was below freezing outside, I could feel the nervous sweat welling up in my pores.  Where could I go?  What could I do?  It was a Saturday, was the apartment company even open on the weekends?  How about a place to stay?  Was I going to have to break the bank to get a hotel room for the night?  With the Kairakuen Plum Festival season in full bloom was there even going to be a room available.  Doomsday scenarios poured through my head lift mental diarrhea.  I was screwed, S.O.L.

Thankfully, that was the point where my hoarder tendencies finally came through.  (See mom?  I told you me keeping every single scrap of paper ever given to me would pay off one day!)  Buried deep within the recesses of my book bag was a crumpled copy of my initial lease agreement and on it my potential salvation: the phone number of the company’s national trouble line.

Maybe, just maybe, I’d be sleeping in my own bed after all.  Hope sprang eternal once again.

HOPE!

HOPE!

But, as with everything, life had a few more dog turds to throw in my path…

TO BE CONTINUED